Leadership Navigation: Education in Bangladesh

Publish: 9:19 PM, September 6, 2020 | Update: 9:19:PM, September 6, 2020

Dr P. R. Datta

Taking the country forward in all aspects – socially, economically, and politically is a mandate that the legislatures are charged with. A long time ago, philosophers of the stature of Aristotle had argued, after law and order, economics takes the front seat in terms of priorities. The implications are clear. Generally speaking, an economically strong country gains leverage that makes it to be noticed by other countries in the world stage. The law-making authorities, therefore, must provide the leadership that makes economic growth that much more a realisable phenomenon.

However, achieving economic growth is not an end. The results of that growth must be filtered such that all sections of the society benefit. In other words, growth and development must complement each other. Development is a process, and it is of utmost importance that agencies primarily associated with the task of looking after the process of development understand this process. Structural change within an economy is central to this process – changes taking place amongst the three major sectors of an economy, namely, agriculture, industry, and the service sectors. And changes must occur in such a way that they produce the desired results reflected in the eradication of poverty, opening up avenues of education, creating channels of employment, providing for better health and housing amongst others. To make this happen, other intermediaries must have made their presence felt – intermediaries such as infrastructure development and provision of energy. All these are, in many ways, consequent upon industrialisation- the powerhouse of creating increasing amounts of wealth for a country, having taken root.

All this, it must be necessarily continuous too for growth and development is not one-time affairs. And to maintain this continuity, interaction with the external world is crucial because predictability has extremely limited value there. Moreover, the resources of a country, put in the context of demand, are limited and therefore, there are competing needs and set of priorities. All this, the volatility of the environment brings home the truth that “Development” is a complex process, and it requires the commitment of institutions mandated to see it through. However, research does suggest that one reason why countries do not progress relates to the functionality or the lack of it of the institutions they have.

This is where legislatures, as institutions, are so especially important in ensuring the progress of their respective countries. “Power” is vested in them to bring concrete returns to the expectations of the stakeholders, i.e. the citizens at large cutting across borders. Legislatures are important catalysts of “Change” – the consequences of which must be socially productive and acceptable. A good understanding of the development paradigm will go a long way to enable legislators to discharge their duties effectively.

With over a fifth of the world’s population, South Asia is the most densely populated region on the planet. Rich in resources, and the human capacity to innovate, it is also a region beset with immense challenges such as demographic change, riparian conflict management and the need to re-establish trust in the commercial and political spheres. In 2007 the World Bank noted that the region was the least integrated into the world and as such this is undermining economic growth and partnership. As other economic and political blocks seek to re-assess their role in the world, it is of paramount importance that leaders work collaboratively to pilot their way forward. Examples of good practise exist across the region, and thus leading figures from a range of sectors, as well as policymakers and those in public services, must work together in a harmonious way to make Bangladesh a better place to live and take the decisions necessary to help it to navigate the vicissitudes of life in the coming years.

In many ways, Bangladesh encapsulates many of the strengths and weaknesses of South Asia. A country with a burgeoning population (Currently over 57% of the population is under the age of 25) that is largely homogeneous, its economy shows areas of real development and growth and yet in common with its neighbours it continues to wrestle with issues concerning accountability, governance and transparency. In common with other South Asian countries, it is also troubled by those preoccupied with personal power, yet who invest little time or energy in tempering power with a sense of service and responsibility. Bangladesh is working diligently to create a winning combination made up of a competitive market, business-friendly environment and cost structure that can deliver the best returns.

For those prepared to look as well as see, there are many signs that Bangladesh is on an upward trajectory economically. Healthy levels of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) continue to flow into the country, and orders for Bangladeshi-made goods remain buoyant. Taken as a whole; the picture is encouraging, with the country’s Gross Domestic Product in 2019 calculated to have been US$ 302.6 billion (Source: World Bank). Whilst these GDP figures are certainly encouraging, there is no room for complacency, doubly so when one compares Bangladesh (population 163 million) with the island nation of Singapore (population 5.6 million). Bangladesh is the 10th most populated country in the world.

According to populationpyramid.net, the population of Bangladesh would reach 218 million by 2050. Whilst there are signs that by the middle of the century the rate of growth will slow a little, it is clear that population pressures are going to have serious ramifications for a variety of sectors. One sector it is certain to impact on is that of education, more especially higher education. Bangladesh has had a noble record with respect to education, and especially the store it has set by the importance of language and culture. Regardless of various political events, there has been an appreciation of the centrality of education to both the economy and to life in general. Publicly funded higher education institutions have played a generally positive role in the life of the nation, but in recent decades it has been the private sector that has begun to meet various of the needs with respect to ensuring Bangladesh holds onto many of its brightest citizens and enables them to grow and prosper.

Education is fundamental to the well-being of society, and we would do well to note what Mahatma Gandhi (1869 – 1948) had to say. He spoke of Buniyadi Shiksha (Fundamental Education) stating that; “Education is that which liberates.” Gandhi rightly observed that proper education is fundamental to the functioning of a creative and democratic society.

With both public and private providers of tertiary education booming throughout the region it is imperative the right leadership is in place to ensure that standards are maintained and that institutions adapt to anticipate and meet market needs. Changes in demographics means that education providers and their resources are going to be under enormous pressure, and thus having high calibre managers and institutional heads are essential to ensure a future workforce that has the skills and outlook to adapt to rigours and demands of a rapidly changing employment landscape. Although we are in 21st Century but our education system is still regimented. The challenges are complex but not difficult to overcome. To fulfil the vision -2030 a transformative and innovative practices are essential across all level of Bangladesh Higher Education. To thrive during the turbulent time, it is imperative that education sector is adaptive and agile. In a complex situation a leader must have the right attributes such as clear vision, adaptive thinking abilities, an understanding about the future uncertainty, the ability to simplify and make sense out of chaos and agility.

The writer is Executive Chair of Centre for Business & Economic Research (CBER), UK