Increased GDP spending on Education would transform Bangladesh

Publish: 8:40 PM, January 22, 2020 | Update: 9:30:PM, January 22, 2020

Since the start of this millennium Bangladesh has come on leaps and bounds economically. The overall size of the economy speaks volumes for the progress made and it is always gratifying to see rates of economic growth that European economies can only dream of. That said, one does not have to venture far to see signs of the work that remains to be done, whether this be Dhaka’s increasingly polluted rivers many of which resemble open sewers that have become the dumping grounds for toxic waste, or rural communities that have yet to taste the fruits of Bangladesh’s economic progress. One of the greatest concerns at present is that of complacency, especially from those who only see economic growth as a panacea for the country’s weaknesses and ills. Granted it is important to have a vibrant and successful economy, not least because this helps create much needed employment opportunities and thus swells the Government’s tax revenue. Both employment and tax are fundamental to a successful society, for the former provides dignity and opportunity, whilst the latter helps a Government serve its people by providing the public services that are integral to a stable and civilised society.

For an objective picture of where Bangladesh is at the current time it is important to benchmark the country against its peers and look at how much other states are investing in the likes of healthcare and education. It is an indisputable fact that there is a direct correlation between the percentage of a country’s GDP spent on education overtime and its economic clout across the board. With this in mind, it makes for sobering reading when one compares Bangladesh with regional neighbours as well as some of the educational and economic powerhouses of the globe. For example, in 2017 GDP% spending by Afghanistan 4.1%; Burma 2.2%; Malaysia 4.7%, Pakistan 2.9%; Sri Lanka, 2.8%; Thailand 4.1%; while in 2018 Bhutan spent 6.6% and Bangladesh only 1.9%; Nepal 5.2% (Source: World bank)

The harsh truth is that Bangladesh is not spending enough of its GDP on education and should aspire to spend 3.5% to gain meaningful returns that will be truly transformative in terms of literacy, numeracy and development. 3.5% needs to be not only an aspirational figure, but a badge of honour, one that would help the country fulfil many of its objectives.

It is essential that this magic 3.5% is not purely viewed as spending on education, in truth it benefits all sectors and along with spending on health ensures that the country is better placed to develop and sustain itself. Bangladesh should ask itself how come Malaysia and Nepal have chosen and are managing to invest so much more than it does. It is all down to leadership, priorities and vision. Investing 3.5% should be a matter of pride and it behoves every government, regardless of its political hue, to commit to attaining and where possible surpassing such a target. The last thing that Bangladesh can afford is a poverty of aspiration.

The beauty of increased education spending is that its bounty benefits every part of society. An upskilled nation is a more developed nation, one that is better placed to be sufficiently agile to meet the challenges that the coming decades will present. To be a real powerhouse a nation should work towards spending 5% reaching 3.5% is a perfectly realistic and attainable target, one that would be transformative in its impact.

Investing in primary education, teaching training and new technology will all require bold and imaginative initiatives. There are plenty of successful models to follow and the country is not short of talented innovators who can help lead and embrace change. There will of course be those filled with excuses for doing nothing. Some will claim that Bangladesh is a poor country, that cannot afford to spend more than 2% of GDP on education, others will claim that there are other priorities and that education must wait its turn. There will be siren voices that state that education is a luxury or that the country is managing just fine as it is.

The sceptics and the naysayers must be resisted, Bangladesh must work assiduously towards 3.5%, for by so doing it will be futureproofing itself for the world that will see Artificial Intelligence (AI) and the Internet of Things (IoTs). Educators, business leaders and politicians need to come together to make this a matter of purpose in the coming years, for such an objective would be a magnificent way of marking Bangladesh’s Golden Jubilee as a sovereign state.

At this beginning of this new year it is a golden opportunity to prepare to mark 2021 in style. No doubt innumerable events are being planned to mark Bangladesh’s fiftieth birthday, but for a lasting legacy the finest gift the country could give to itself and future generations would be to commit to spending 3.5% of GDP on education. Now that would really be a New Year’s resolution that would be well worth keeping.

The writers are Executive Chair, Centre for Business & Economic Research (CBER), UK
Editor-in-Chief – International Journal of Higher Education Management