Bangladesh is a densely populated country moving from an agricultural to an industry-based economy, which has been expedited within the recent decade. Is this high time in focusing on education in Bangladesh?

The economic structure of the state has changed, and it is now mainly dependent on the service sector and industry. From 1971 to 1980, the share of GDP in the industry was 11%, which has moved to 34% in 2018; in the service sector, it was 45%, which moved to 52%. With such a change, the volume of GDP has increased, per capita income raised, and the demand for quality human resources has increased. Recently, infrastructure development has been vibrant, strongly uttered, and visible. Then, focusing on education should be our priority?

The two phenomena moulded the whole world with so many changes, struggles, risks, and challenges and may have some positive ones also (use of the internet, distinct connectivity). These two phenomena are corona attacks, and the second one is the Ukraine-Russia war. In addition to recent turmoil, Bangladesh gradually faced socio-economic changes in terms of women empowerment, GDP growth, infrastructure development, the transition from agriculture to an industry-based economy, amplified literacy rate, etc.

Keeping all those in grip, fundamental and sustainable development would be ensured through developing quality human resources, and education is the source of this sustainable development. This crucial need has been once again uttered recently by the US Assistant Secretary, Mr Donald Lue, who urged to increase investment in education for future sustainable development.

The supply-demand chain

With the policy change, geo-political situation, and relevant factors, direct foreign investment (FDI) has increased from below 500 million in 1996 to over 3500 million in 2018. Certainly, this investment enhanced industrialization and the service sector, and eventually, the demand for skilled human resources increased. Think about infrastructure; 100 economic zones have been established where many multinational organizations and companies organized and reformed lands after allocation to establish factories as well. Definitely, these huge economic zones require thousands of skilled labourers. Are we prepared to supply those ever-intended demands?

The fact, as mentioned earlier, is for domestic requirements. However, what about the working labourers abroad who are the valuable sources of bringing remittance? We know there is a massive demand for skilled labour in different countries. Nevertheless, 73% of labourers working abroad are little skilled and cannot earn a handsome amount, hugely less than skilled ones. Therefore, focusing on education is essential to ensure a skill-based workforce.

Having such a context in reality, Bangladesh could not meet the created skilled human resource demand, and thus the involvement of foreign employees has increased. Getting such a reality, 5-10 lacs foreign employee is working in Bangladesh, and 5-10 billion US dollars (TIB, 2020) remittance is going outside of Bangladesh.

At present, employees from 44 countries work in Bangladesh in 21 sectors. Some mentionable countries are- India, Srilanka, Pakistan, China, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, Thailand, Germany, the United States, the United Kingdom, Singapore, Norway, and Nigeria. The prime sectors where foreign skilled professionals are working as: garments, textiles, buying houses, multinational companies, electricity-producing centres, mobile phone companies, information technology, medical services, international NGOs, multinational oil and gas company, hotel and restaurant, engineering, fashion designing, international contract services (TIB,2020).

How could skilled human resources be enhanced?

A generic formula is more investment, more production, less investment, less production. Education, the source of producing human resources, is nun the less out of this formula. This is very simple; focusing on education, we must invest more to get quality human resources. Now, we can see how much we are investing in education per the demand as well as in comparison to other neighbouring countries in South Asia.

Government investment in education (% of GDP), the World Bank data:

CountryMost recent value
Afghanistan2.9
Bangladesh2.0
Bhutan5.9
India4.5
Maldives5.8
Nepal4.2
Pakistan2.4
Srilanka1.9

The data shows we are investing the lowest in south Asia except for Srilanka. Srilanka is in a more advanced position in the education sector than us, so we are not in a position to compare with them. We are even investing less than Pakistan, where the economy is so fragile that Mr Imran Khan (former prime minister) said Shahbaz Sharif (the running prime minister) is searching for resources from country to country with alms’ bag. So, how do we expect quality education and, eventually, skilled human resources without quality investment?

Learning loss and approach of the new curriculum

This is fundamentally proved through various research and other reports that the breaking while corona attack made significant learning loss. The loss has not been recovered fully, and remaining such conditions new curriculum has been introduced in the field. Introducing a new curriculum has made some debates as it may have the hurry to change.

However, I think change is authenticity, and many countries have done this. We can think about Vietnam, where they made continuous curriculum and material development to meet the changes in the world and contemporary demands. So, it was desirable, and we could not avoid ensuring contemporary issues and requirements evolved at home and abroad.

All these phenomena created complex and twisted situations. Apprehending a better outcome from this twisted situation, increased educational budget allocation is a reality. For example, intending and getting better results, a huge teacher training will be needed; but the curriculum has been introduced in primary education without teacher training. In primary education, we are spending 39% of the total allocation in the education sector. Nevertheless, as per the international benchmark, it should be 45% (Prothom Alo, 24 January 2023). So, we have to expand allocation in primary education.  

Women empowerment

Women’s empowerment strongly contributes to industrialization, especially in the garments sector in Bangladesh. The girls are progressive and one step ahead in comparison to boys in current primary education enrollment, SSC, and HSC results. However, while corona attacks, a 13% increase in early marriage (as per BRAC research, 2021) puts the girls at obstruction for their education stream, and most did not return to the education system. According to BANBEIS data, the dropout rate of the learners is 20% now. But what about learning loss? All these made a negative impact on women’s empowerment.

Demographic dividend, the opportunity comes once for a nation

We are in a great opportunity and vibrant state of affairs that Bangladesh possesses the demographic dividend now, but the situation is changing rapidly, and the percentage of senior citizens is already increasing. History supports every nation boosts up while the percentage of working people is higher than the rest of the population. We are now in that lucrative momentum that should be accelerated by conveying the necessary resources to make the people more productive. 

So, we should try our best to grasp the worthwhile output from this benefit. This is why it is high time now to invest in and focusing on education.

The last call

Without an optimum investment, we will not be able to pick the optimum benefit. So, as Leo Tolstoy articulated in his well-known story ‘Three Questions’ “the important time is now!”.

About the author

Ratan Kumar Sarkar

Ratan Kumar Sarkar

Ratan Kumar Sarkar works as a Program Specialist in the BRAC Institute of Educational Development, BRAC University, Bangladesh.

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