The foundation of the education system of Bangladesh was laid first during the period of British rule. Later after its separation as an independent state, Bangladesh adopted an education system that followed its predecessor. The system had three levels – primary, secondary, and higher education. From the outset of the education system in Bangladesh, primary education has been one of the main focuses of the government. Access to primary education burgeoned despite a steady start since independence. In 50 years, Bangladesh has made extraordinary progress in enhancing access to education and equality. More families have been enrolling their children in primary schools as the growth rate of primary school enrollment increased to 116.47% in 2018 from 80.45% in 1988. However, the primary school completion rate was not at the confluence with the enrollment rate as it stood at 98.07% in 2015. [1] One of the stumbling blocks in primary education completion rates at present is the quality of education which is below par leading to lower learning outcomes and eventually, dropouts. [4] Inadequate infrastructure, the poor socio-economic construct of families, poor nutrition, a crisis of qualified teachers also lead to lower primary education completion rates.

In 2017, the percentage of trained teachers in Bangladesh was reported at 50.43% according to the world bank collection of development indicators. [5]

Figure 1: Percentage of trained teachers in Bangladesh from 2005-2013 (Source – World Bank)

For the huge inflow of students every year in the education sector, teachers should improve both in quality and quantity. The DPE’s Sector Performance Report 2017 recorded that 79 government primary schools had only one teacher while 721 such schools had two teachers. 7,764 schools were active with three teachers and 22,527 schools were operating with just 4 teachers, the report further showed. For any new education policy to materialize, the number of trained teachers should be an issue more focused on. [2]

The world is moving towards automation more and more every day. To cope with that, Bangladesh has been endorsing ICT education to support the fourth industrial revolution. The economy and society are undergoing a transition to a new phase of technology where life is data-driven and companies are managed online. The new era is going to affect Bangladesh one way or the other and to stay on its positive side, the country demands to develop in sectors that will help adapt to the future. Bangladesh government dreams of new technology conducive industries, a new generation of employees equipped with technical knowledge, and more foreign interests in setting up businesses here. In order to reach these goals, the government focuses on adding new aspects to education. As part of the plan to make education more intriguing while keeping in mind the vision of digitizing Bangladesh, State Minister of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Zunaid Ahmed Palak talked about the incorporation of programming in primary education from the next academic year. He also addressed the issue of improving women’s participation in the ICT sector and generating interest among youth about artificial intelligence and robotics, indicating a potential sector for Bangladesh. [6] The impacts of integrating programming in the primary curriculum will be manifold. If helmed to success, the plan will create a future-proof generation in this competitive century giving rise to new industries as well as appreciating current industries.

Potential economic opportunities

Human capital Development

Incorporating programming into the primary curriculum is a flagship reform capable of developing the cognitive skills of the students. In the longer term, this will result in higher human capital forging new sectors. Learning code from an early stage is a step forward towards the transition from a consuming nation to a producing one when it comes to technology. On international grounds, the USA, UK, Germany are formidable in terms of hardware, software, and services that constitute the digital economy. [7]

Figure 2: Attributes leading to human capital development (Reference- World Economic Forum)

Besides enhancing aptitude, learning code is undeniably time-efficient and simultaneously helps increase analytical and critical thinking. It is like how Steve Jobs once said in a documentary that coding helps people structure their thinking and problem-solving skills. Apart from developing problem-solving skills, by coding, students will develop vocational skills. Moreover, learning code may enable a gateway to the subsequent study of STEM topics. [8]

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The prolonged future impact of coding will be an increase in human development concurrently increasing labor productivity. Coupled with that, labor productivity and GDP growth in an economy are contiguous. Therefore, future projected growth shall rise in the longer term.

Transition to high-value service

Bangladesh and India are two of the world’s largest and most prominent freelancing hubs. That said, Bangladesh is known mostly for its low-value services online. To define, Bangladeshi freelancers offer their services at a relatively lower rate than their overseas competitors. The argument of becoming a producing nation also applies here as well. The incorporation of programming might change the role of Bangladesh in the international platform. If the new curriculum is administered the next generation will become profoundly competent in terms of ability and knowledge. This will by default enable foreign investment to grow in our ICT sector. The future market value of Bangladesh in terms of Information and technology will appreciate. According to the Oxford Internet Institute (OII), Bangladesh became the second largest supplier of online labor. Among 650,000 freelancers around 500,000 are working regularly enabling the economy to generate $100 million annually, according to the ICT division of Bangladesh. Globally, Bangladesh (16%) is right behind India (24%) and ahead of the USA (12%) in supplying online labor and services worldwide. [9] This indicates how much the country can have advantages from this sector if the stakeholders were edified technically even further. Integrating programming in primary education will appreciate the freelance division engendering new products and services nationally. The number of educated unemployed will also reduce.

The outsourcing industry in Bangladesh is also exalted globally being ranked 21st in IT outsourcingbusiness process outsourcing, and software development according to the Global Location Service Index, a market analysis tool offered by AT Karney (2019). In addition to that, data from the Bangladesh Association of Call Centre and Outsourcing (BACCO) indicates more than 40,000 people working in the outsourcing industry, earning more than $300 million (267 million euros) every year. BASIS states that many firms are involving themselves with the Internet of Things (IoT), artificial intelligence, blockchain technologies, etc. as demand for these services elevates every year. BASIS estimated the industry totaled revenue of $1 billion (around 890 million euros) in 2018 which they projected to leapfrog to $5 billion in 2021. The promising industry will be further benefitted by students learning programming from an earlier stage. It will diversify the range of products improving net exports along with the domestic economy. Bangladesh has globally acclaimed software brands in service such as Data Soft, Reve System, Tiger IT, etc. They all have been exporting products to places like the Netherlands, Norway, Finland, England, the USA, Ukraine, Belarus, and African nations. Data Soft’s endeavors led them to build face recognition systems for some schools in Florida. They also manufactured an IoT-based toll management system for the Democratic Republic of Congo. Reve Systems developed export quality antivirus software while Tiger IT developed voter registration systems for Nepal. This is how the present business is diversifying and will soon become a more esteemed contender generating greater revenues in the global market if the education system foments spreading more technical knowledge like programming into the curriculum. [10]

Further economic developments in progress

Besides potential GDP gains, Bangladesh is projected to gain global confidence through improvement in various rankings. The Global Competitiveness report (2018) published by the World Economic Forum indicated Bangladesh as the 105th globally competitive country among 140 countries. [11] In the Measuring the Information Society report, Bangladesh came 27th among 29 nations in the Asia-Pacific region with an ICT development index (IDI) of 1.97. [12]

Bangladesh had a rocky start in the ICT industry from its inception. The major challenges were electricity, high cost of obtaining internet bandwidth, internet speed, country image or branding, shortage of skilled manpower, lack of proper infrastructure, obtaining permits, enforcing the contract with clients, etc. The reforms will make the future more convenient, increasing the rankings as our services and knowledge improve. Enlightening students about programming in primary education will be a great start as the education will improve children and parent’s willingness to be a part of the future digital industry which will stir economic growth all over.

New industries, new competitions

India has rapidly grown in the ICT sector, even more so in IT education penetration. India will be one of our regional rivals. According to the 2020 IMD World Competitiveness report, India’s placement in the Digital Competitiveness Ranking is 48th among 62 countries. Singapore was ranked 2nd being the most digitally competitive nation in Asia. India’s IT and media stock market capitalization was ranked 13th and in Funding for Technological Development, they were ranked 33 as opposed to 26th and 3rd positions of Singapore. [13] Among 67 countries India was ranked 60th in the Global Finance Ranking of National Tech Strength. [14] Bangladesh in this case failed to meet 3 out of 4 technological metrics hence did not account for a position. This explains to what extent our technological infrastructure is falling behind in comparison with our global competitors.

Bangladesh’s latest rank in the ICT Development Index (2017) was 147 among 176 countries. [15] The country was ranked 73rd among 79 countries in the global connectivity index with India being the 63rd nation (2020). Bangladesh lays behind India in terms of the four technology enablers and the four pillars of tech. The impact of ICT education relating to coding and AI skills will improve the 40 indicators that project the GCI rankings along with the enablers and pillars of tech. [16]

To create a more convenient pathway of education for children in primary schools, Bangladesh can adopt analogous strategies of its competitors. [email protected] is an Indian project initiative granted to facilitate IT education inside the state of Kerala which has a population of over 31 million. Primarily using free and open-source software, they are considered as one of the largest educational programs enabling ICT education to 1.6 million students per year in the state with the help of the Indian government. The Smart School project in Malaysia is another flagship project that can be taken as a role model in disseminating coding knowledge among children in school. [17]. Estonia and the UK also included programming into their primary school curricula. 

Figure 3: Developing these enablers determines the country’s productivity and competitiveness in world arena (Source – GCI 2020, Huawei)
Figure 4: The pillars encompass the entire chain of ICT development and digital transformation providing an overview of the digital economy (Source- GCI 2020, Huawei)

This reform proposed by the government has the potential to give rise to AI-based companies, software industries and develop more data science-oriented firms keeping in line with foreign markets. It will motivate investors to funnel their money into upcoming tech industries as well.

Towards a more resilient labor force

World Economic Forum (WEF) estimates that by 202550% of all employees will need reskilling as the adoption of newer technologies increases every year. Critical thinking and problem-solving skills are most prioritized among the list of top skills by employers. Materializing the new concept of coding in primary education will prove conducive to a skilled generation 10-15 years later if not by 2025. It is estimated that by 2025, 85 million jobs will be displaced by machines. [18] Therefore, Bangladesh should try to become more production-oriented. In achieving that, integrating coding into education is a good first step as coding encompasses all fields of study.

WEF also refers to 10 go-to skills that employees will need to equip by 2025 which will also prevail in more years to come. Programming skills will be promoting those 10 skills as well.

International Labor Organization visualizes Bangladesh’s gradual move towards a more service-based economy.

Figure 5: The service sector having the most contribution in GDP (Source – International Labor Organization)

The country has made endeavors to make a transition into a more service-providing nation. This goal will be broadened by the new academic reform [19]. Through further involvement in the digital sector, the country can produce more output not only in the service sector but in industrial and agri-businesses as well. The future labor market will be more progressive than the current due to the imminent addition of programming into the curriculum.

Samin Mahmud Khan, Content Writer, and Sanjir Ali, Senior Business Consultant & Project Manager, at LightCastle Partners, have prepared the write-up. For further clarifications, contact here: [email protected]

References

  • 1. Bangladesh – School Enrollment, Primary (% Gross) – TRADING ECONOMICS
  • 2. ICT opens up new prospects in Bangladesh – The Daily Star
  • 3. Bangladesh – Primary Completion Rate, Female – TRADING ECONOMICS
  • 4. Quality, continuity for primary education – UNICEF
  • 5. Bangladesh – Trained Teachers In Primary Education ( % Of Total Teachers) – TRADING ECONOMICS
  • 6. Programming, coding in primary education from next year – Dhaka Tribune
  • 7. Our children must learn to code but the future lies in being human – McKinsey Digital
  • 8. Learning to code vs. coding to learn – World Bank Blogs
  • 9. Freelancers turn Bangladesh into a hub for ICT outsourcing – Dhaka Tribune
  • 10. Bangladesh emerging as a new IT hub in South Asia – DW
  • 11. Bangladesh Completeness Rank –  TRADING ECONOMICS
  • 12. Bangladesh ranked among lowest in global ICT usage –  The Daily Star
  • 13. IMD World Competitiveness Ranking 2020 – IMD
  • 14. Most Technologically Advanced Countries In The World 2020 – Global Finance
  • 15. ICT Development Index 2017 – ITU
  • 16. Global Connectivity Index – GCI Huawei
  • 17. ICT & Education: Eleven Countries to Watch and Learn From – World Bank Blogs
  • 18. These are the top 10 job skills of tomorrow and how long it takes to learn them – World Economic Forum
  • 19. SEEKING BETTER EMPLOYMENT CONDITIONS FOR BETTER SOCIOECONOMIC OUTCOMES – International Labor Organization
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