Digital literacy: the first step towards ‘Smart Bangladesh’

Published : Tuesday, 7 March, 2023 at 12:00 AM

A decade ago, the Bangladeshi government, led by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, promised that it would transform the nation into “Digital Bangladesh,” and we have made significant progress toward that objective. A few months ago, Prime Minister Hasina declared that her administration would transform Bangladesh into a “Smart Bangladesh” by 2041. To make the nation “Smart Bangladesh,” the government has established four pillars: smart citizens, a smart economy, a smart government, and a smart society. But to succeed with this goal, ensuring digital literacy among the citizens will remain the greatest challenge and task.

The capacity to locate, assess and communicate information via computers or digital media platforms is known as digital literacy. Using information and communication technology to produce, assess, and distribute information requires a combination of technical and cognitive skills. Individuals must exhibit digital and media literacy proficiency in order to independently evaluate digital and media messages. The phrase is now frequently used in national and international standards for higher education and in educational settings.

Although we have switched from having a “Digital Bangladesh” to a “Smart Bangladesh,” there are still many gaps. Bangladesh’s government’s assertion that it has successfully created a digital Bangladesh and now intends to become a “Smart Bangladesh” is called into question by the country’s ranking as the 121st in terms of mobile internet speed. Bangladesh is ranked 121st overall and 5th in South Asia in the Ookla’s Speed test Global Index for 2022, which includes 141 different nations. The largest economic hub and country’s capital, with a maiden download speed of 17.8 Mbps, is rated 140th out of 172 cities. In 2021, Bangladesh had the poorest mobile internet speed among 110 nations, according to the Digital Quality of Living Index.

Global organizations view internet affordability, electronic infrastructure, security, and government as important pillars that define the digital quality of life and the state of digital democracy in addition to internet speed. Bangladesh was placed fourth among nations with the most restrictive internet usage policies in a Proxyrack report in 2022. A government that places so much emphasis on creating a digital Bangladesh has not only curtailed internet freedom but also made little progress toward increasing digital literacy.

Bangladesh has made good progress in digitalizing many of its public services to make them more accessible, inexpensive, and cost-effective, in accordance with the government’s passionate commitment toward a digital Bangladesh. According to the most recent BTRC data, Bangladesh has maintained an upward trend in indices including the number of mobile phone subscribers, internet subscription rates, and other metrics. These are all excellent points, but it seems we still have a way to go in terms of digital or internet literacy.

Nowadays, digital literacy is essential because virtual media are used for communication more and more. Access to digital devices and knowledge on how to effectively utilize them for communication, information gathering, and issue solving are the two key components of digital literacy. While the government has overcome obstacles to make significant progress in the first area, it lacks effort and control in the second.

A research titled “Digital Literacy in Rural Bangladesh” was conducted by the BRAC Institute of Governance and Development (BIGD) two years ago. The study provided visual representations of the level of digital literacy that prevailed in rural Bangladesh at the time. According to the study, 96% of rural families had access to a mobile phone, but a majority (59%) did not have a smartphone, which is a requirement for using digital services. According to the poll, adoption and use of e-services are still lagging in rural households. This is a result of inadequate access to information and communication technology (ICT) and a lack of knowledge necessary to utilize digital gadgets.

Additionally, it revealed the gap in the digital divide that still exists in the country.

The findings of a recent poll by the Education Commission of Bangladesh and the United Nations Children’s Fund only support the BIGD’s alarming findings about the low level of digital literacy in the nation. According to the study, 84.9 percent of young people between the ages of 15 and 24 lack the required digital abilities. According to the survey, three-fourths of Bangladesh’s 30.9 million youth under the age of 25 lack the necessary digital skills, which include the capacity to use, comprehend, and carry out fundamental computer-related tasks. This puts Bangladesh behind Bhutan, Sri Lanka and India but ahead of Nepal and Pakistan in South Asia.

The effects of poor digital literacy are wide-ranging, and they may not only limit an individual’s capacity to thrive in the modern digital world but also negatively impact an entire community or society. Employers today, especially in industrialized countries, check through social media activity and profiles of candidates to gain a sense of their work and life philosophies before favoring one candidate over another. Several examples show that inappropriate online activity not only distorts one’s social media self but also has grave repercussions. Improper online or social media behavior that results from a lack of understanding of the workings of digital media can occasionally cause social discontent that spreads throughout the entire community.

Unquestionably, one’s financial situation affects one’s ability to use technology. However, even when technology is available, usage might vary greatly due to variations in education and guidance. Children from educated, wealthy homes, for instance, not only have better access to technology than children from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, but also better parental advice and education on how to use it effectively. Individuals with poor levels of digital literacy, who are more likely to come from underprivileged backgrounds, are finding it harder and harder to get around in daily life, such as using the important services that are now available online. Yet, those who are digitally literate, who tend to come from more affluent and well-educated families, are using their access to technology and digital abilities to not just navigate online services but also to increase their capabilities.

We must prioritize the underprivileged and marginalized groups in order to realize the aim of inclusive human development, which requires that we pay attention to the rural-urban digital gap. Otherwise, only a select set of people can make the dream of a “Smart Bangladesh” a reality; for everyone else, it will remain just a dream. Research projects are being undertaken by an increasing number of nations worldwide to support their populations’ online literacy programs. Unfortunately, Bangladesh remains far behind in conducting top-notch research in this field.

The authorities and policymakers should take immediate action to smartly devise innovative solutions that will pave the road for the availability of information technology and connectivity throughout every rural community in order to eliminate the current inequities. A concrete master plan must be created by the government after comprehensive consultation with all necessary parties. It would be ideal to create a taskforce whose main objective would be to communicate with pertinent parties. Regulatory frameworks must be quickly updated to embrace emerging technology.

The development of human resources should also be given the utmost priority. Universities have not been able to integrate developing technology into their curriculum up until this point. The gap between academia and industry is still very wide and needs to be closed as quickly as possible. At all educational levels, the introduction of a required specialist course with comprehensive resources relevant to digital learning may undoubtedly do wonders to instill digital literacy in young generations. The key is raising awareness among the general public. Hence, strategic groups are required to raise public awareness.

Bangladesh has adopted a vision for creating a smart nation because it wants to be a leader in the digital world rather than falling behind. A solid basis in digital literacy, which comes from a relevant educational system, is necessary for it to happen. Without digital literacy, we run the risk of slipping behind and the idea of creating a smart Bangladesh might only ever be a fantasy.

By her brave efforts, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina elevated Bangladesh to the status of a development hotspot. We believe that with the correct desire and commitment, the vision of a “Smart Bangladesh” can also come true, marking yet another significant step in the nation’s progress.

The writer is Chief Editor at Mohammadi News Agency (MNA) and Editor at Kishore Bangla

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