Digital Platforms to Fight Coronavirus

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Published on July 19, 2021
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Bangladesh has made immense progress in the information technology world thanks to the visionary leadership of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and the right direction and supervision of Prime Minister’s Adviser on Information and Communication Technology, Sajeeb Wazed Joy. Especially during the Covid period, our education, administration, judiciary, trade and everything would have come to a halt. But as Digital Bangladesh is no longer a vision only but a new reality for the nation, the economic wheel is still in motion. Due to the development of proper infrastructure in the IT sector in the last 12 years, it has been possible to keep the education, health, agriculture, court and supply system in operation even during the Covid-19 pandemic. As Bangladesh is a digital country now, we have been able to continue various activities including telecentre, telemedicine, virtual court and delivering money to poor people through mobile and e-commerce.

As soon as the first case of Covid-19 infection was identified in the country, a business continuity plan was formulated to keep everything normal. Apart from this, the ICT department has taken several effective steps including Corona BD App and Contact Tracing App, Corona Portal, Corona Helpline 333, Telehealth Centre, Telemedicine Network, Prabas Bandhu Call Center and so on the digital platforms. Freelancers are also earning foreign currencies working from remote areas. At present, there is no digital gap between the capital Dhaka and other remote parts of the country. 

Bangladesh Moving Forward

Bangladesh is fast advancing in the information technology field. Software developers are brightening the face of Bangladesh outside the country. In this regard, the present government has played a crucial role through various initiatives in the field of information technology as well as supporting various efforts of the youth to build 'Digital Bangladesh'. The use of smartphones and the internet is increasing in the country. Different sectors are improving rapidly as the government has extended IT services to both urban and rural and remote areas. 

Bangladesh's success in the global software and app market is also enviable. Also, online banking has changed the nature of the banking system. Mobile banking services have taken the bank door to door. Millions of young entrepreneurs are doing business by creating their pages on social networking sites including Facebook. The e-commerce sector has also created a big market with high-speed internet. On the other hand, people are enjoying the benefits of digital Bangladesh even in accomplishing official tasks.

Many services including passport, driving license, birth and death registration, and land deeds are now available online. Freelancing is eradicating the curse of unemployment. The internet also helps the judiciary go digital with the introduction of a virtual court system. Ridesharing apps like Uber and Pathao have also brought a radical change in city life by creating employment opportunities and helping city dwellers to move fast and save travel time. 

Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman took the initiative to expand Information and Communication Technology to ensure the benefits of the Third Industrial Revolution or the Digital Revolution for people. In 1996, his worthy daughter, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina came to power and took various steps to join the Digital Revolution. She withdrew tariffs on computer imports to expand information and communication technology and broke the monopoly of mobile phones to make computers and mobile phones more accessible to people.

On December 12 in 2008, she announced a programme to build a digital Bangladesh. The main goal of this programme is to make the country a middle-income country by 2021 and to build a knowledge-based society. The implementation of Digital Bangladesh has made unprecedented progress based on the visionary leadership of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and the experience of Sajeeb Wazed, an internationally acclaimed IT expert.

The Department of Information and Communication Technology is working as one of the partners in the implementation of the Digital Bangladesh programme. Since 2009, most of the initiatives have been implemented centring the four pillars of Digital Bangladesh idea - connectivity, efficient human resource development, e-government and industry promotion. As a result, information and communication technology has widely expanded and developed in the country.

At this time, 3,800 unions have come under broadband internet connectivity. Maheshkhali Island is also now under internet connectivity. The 'Connecting Bangladesh' project is being implemented to bring remote hilly and haor areas under broadband internet connectivity. Twenty-eight high-tech parks are being constructed in 28 places in the country. In the future, these parks will be the lifeline of the digital economy. Five high-tech/ IT parks have already been built. Of these, space has been allotted to 108 companies in three high-tech and software parks. By 2025, the investment of these companies will be around Tk 2,400 crore. Around Tk327 crore has been invested in the parks till 2020. The revenue from the parks has been around Tk 24.15 crore till 2020. So far, the ICT department has trained 5,86,000 skilled people in various training including advanced technology, outsourcing, top-up IT. At present, around six lakh freelancers are engaged in the outsourcing professionals in the country. The process of issuing ID cards to freelancers is underway to give recognition to the freelancing profession. Information and other services are being provided through 6,681 digital centres in the country. More than 600 services are available online. Only 4,554 Union Digital Centers have provided 46 crore services to the people in the last eleven years. At this time, the entrepreneurs earned Tk 396 crore.

Bangladesh made a big leap in the UN e-government index in 2018 because of the implementation of various initiatives for the establishment of the digital government system. The United Nations released a report on July 19, 2018, after reviewing the progress of e-governance activities in various countries for two years. It shows that Bangladesh has advanced nine steps in the development index and 33 steps in the e-participation index. Bangladesh ranks 115th out of 193 countries. And Bangladesh has risen to the 41st position in the E-Participation Index (EPI).

The ICT department is implementing various programmes to commemorate the Mujib Year. These programmes include Bangabandhu Innovation Grant 2020, holographic presentation of the historic speech of the Father of the Nation on March 7, Online celebration of the Mujib Year, initiatives taken under Mobile Game Application Skills Development Project, more than 100 strategic plans of the ICT department, arranging Digital World 2020 and implementation of recommendations made by the national committee to commemorate the year. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina virtually attended and distributed awards to the winners of the online quiz competition on the historical Six-Point Programme, the charter of Bengali’s freedom. To mark the birth centenary of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the ICT department launched Mujib Hundred Website and Mujib Year Logo.

Bangladesh has won numerous prestigious international awards for its remarkable progress in implementing Digital Bangladesh. These bring not only glory but also honour to the country. Bangladesh has been awarded the prestigious Global Health and Children's Award for its significant role in reducing maternal and child mortality through the use of information and communication technology.

The award was handed over to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on September 20, 2011, at the Astoria World Hotel in New York. In recognition of her contribution to the expansion of digital systems and education, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina was awarded the United Nations South Cooperation Visionary Award 2014. Sajeeb Wazed Joy, Adviser to the Prime Minister on Information and Communication Technology, received the award on behalf of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in Washington on November 21, 2014.

Various departments, agencies and a2i programmes under the ICT department implement various activities for the Digital Bangladesh project, formulates laws, policies, rules and strategies.

E-Governance

In the age of modern information technology, many developing countries like Bangladesh are giving utmost importance to the ICT sector to alleviate their poverty, administrative complexity, slow pace of economic development etc. Various steps have been taken to expand ICT for the public. In addition, the developed countries have already been able to achieve the desired improvement in all their fields through the successful use and application of ICT. The government has established e-governance at all levels of administration to ensure transparency and accountability in government works by providing information exchange links between the central and local administrations and to ensure provide better public services.

Training in Women Empowerment

The BCC has launched a training programme called Women IT Frontier Initiative (WIFI) since 2017 in collaboration with the UN's Asian and Pacific Training centre for Information and Communication Technology for Development (UN-APCICT). So far, 536 women have been trained on the use of digital technology as entrepreneurs under this programme. Through the project titled 'Empowerment of Women with Technology' under the ICT department, 10,500 women were trained in three categories - Freelancer to Entrepreneur, IT Service Provider, and Women Call centre Agent. Many trainees who have completed the training have now become entrepreneurs and self-reliant. Already 501 women made their debut as entrepreneurs and 919 women managed to find better jobs.

Training under Facebook

Facebook, the world's largest social networking platform, provides training on digital marketing to 10,000 IT-trained young people under the Leveraging ICT for Growth, Employment and Governance (LICT) project of the Information and Communication Technology department.

ICT Department to Deal with Covid-19

To protect the country’s people from the Covid-19 epidemic, the Department of ICT has launched the 'Surokkha' online platform for vaccination programmes, information storage, management and certification of vaccinations. In coordination with various ministries and agencies, the ICT department has started various activities from the second week of March to keep the students' home-based education, medical activities, emergency food supply, internet connectivity, cybersecurity and home-based entertainment going. Even at this time, online education activities are being carried out on parliamentary television for the primary and secondary levels, as well as over 20,000 contents produced by different entrepreneurs are made available and more than 20 organizations are involved in online platforms to this end. In addition, training for doctors, nurses and volunteers is underway online.

All the teaching materials have been kept open. The ICT department has taken this initiative to make maximum use of the digital platform to deliver the basic rights of 17 crore people of the country at their doorsteps. 

Industry Promotion

The ICT department has taken various initiatives to meet the targets of ICT exports and advance the ICT industry. Various incentive packages including tax holidays have been announced for domestic and foreign investment in the information and technology sector. As a result, ICT exports exceeded 1 billion US dollars in 2019. For the development of the ICT industry, a tax holiday has been declared till 2024 in the IT field. Import duty on raw materials used in hardware connection or production is reduced to just one per cent. In the IT / ITES sector, a 10 per cent cash incentive is provided for exports. One-stop service has been launched to provide fast service to the investors coming to the high-tech park. Under this, 10 services are being provided online. By 2030, all services will come under the online platform. They are participating in various IT fairs at home and abroad, drawing attraction of the foreign investors. A total of 14 types of special facilities are being provided to the developers of the IT industry. These include periodic tax exemption of up to 10 years for IT / ITES companies and up to 12 years for developers, 100 per cent ownership of foreign investors, and 100 per cent profit return for foreign investors. Each high-tech park will be considered a bonded warehouse station. Import duty on capital assets is exempted, tax exemption on dividends in case of reinvestment and periodic income tax exemption on income in case of recruitment of foreign workers are in effect.

Hi-tech Park

Various initiatives have been taken to turn high-tech parks into an investment, skilled people and job opportunities. As a result of these initiatives, Tk 327 crore has been invested in five parks till 2020. The Bangladesh Hi-Tech Park Authority will create one lakh skilled human resources by 2030 and will, directly and indirectly, create employment opportunities for about two lakh people in the high-tech parks by this period.

Bangladesh High-Tech Park Authority has provided IT training to 16,000 people till June 2020 intending to develop human resources in the ICT sector. It will provide training to 55,000 people by 2025 and one lakh people by 2030. It has also set a target of training one lakh 50 thousand people by 2041. Under the project titled 'Support to Development of Kaliakair High-Tech Park' aimed at human resource development in the ICT sector, a total of 7,072 people were trained in various subjects and 1,891 people were provided with jobs.

Creating Skilled Human Resources

There is no alternative to building skilled human resources to meet the challenges of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. The government has already developed 5 lakh 75 thousand people as skilled human resources. Currently, training on emerging technology is underway. Bangladesh ranks second in the world in the online labour force. There are six lakh active freelancers in the country. In the last 12 years, the BCC has created 1,96,587 skilled human resources for the ICT sector through various training including the latest technology.

Services in Digital Centres

So far, more than 250 services are being provided through 6,681 digital centres across the country to bring services to the doorsteps of the people. This initiative to deliver services at door to door of the people is also recognized internationally. More than 500 million services have already been provided to the citizens through the digital centres and every month services are being provided to an average of 7.5 million people. Currently, more than 11,000 entrepreneurs, including more than 5000 women, have become self-reliant by providing services to citizens through digital centres.

Sheikh Russell Digital Lab

To spread ICT education and create employment in the country, 4176 Sheikh Russell Digital Labs have been set up in selected educational institutions across the country through the project titled 'Establishment of Computer and Language Training Labs in Educational Institutions across the country under the ICT department. Among them, 65 language training labs and 100 multimedia classrooms have been set up at the district level. The Sheikh Russell Digital Labs in educational institutions are being used locally as cyber centres, training centres and ICT clubs. Also, the young generation is getting the benefit of various training and internet access through the labs, set up at the union level. It has been decided to set up another 15,000 Sheikh Russell Digital Labs to expand digital education.

‘Krishak Bandhu’ Phone Service 3331

The digital platform 'Krishi Batayon' and the 'Krishak Bandhu' phone service (3331 call centre) are made available for any agricultural advice and service to expand e-agriculture services at the doorsteps of farmers across the country quickly and easily. At present, the information of 81 lakh farmers, 18 thousand field level officials of the agricultural extension and information of agriculture in 51 Upazilas are attached to this platform.

Call Centre-based Services

The government has launched call centre-based services. The services of 999 and 333 are now very popular in the country. At the national level, the ICT department took the initiative to launch the National Emergency Service '999' under the mobile phone-based helpdesk implementation programme for people. Emergency police, fire service and ambulance services are being provided to all the citizens of the country through the launch of the 999 Emergency Service. In addition, the National Information Window Helpline (333) has been launched so that the citizens of Bangladesh can get all the information and services of the Jatiya Tothhyo Batayon using their mobile phones at home. The helpline has received more than 13 million calls so far, resolving more than 18,500 social issues. More than 29 lakh calls related to Covid-19 have been received.

Training in Skills Development for the Disabled

So far, 691 people have been trained in capacity building for persons with disabilities and another 4,805 in other activities. Every year job fairs are organized for ICT trained persons with disabilities and so far 383 jobs have been arranged among the participating persons with disabilities. The 333 helpline has been turned into an inclusive and disability-friendly call centre. Several projects have been undertaken for the overall development of the disabled. One of them is to create digital learning materials for visually impaired students from 6th to 10th grade; Information and service centres for the physically challenged; special e-services for people with disabilities; Low-cost devices for the speech-impaired; Low-cost multimedia talking book reader for the visually impaired. The process to launch initiatives to overcome disabilities and to make Chittagong University the first inclusive university in the country is underway. All cooperation will be ensured to make all the public universities of the country inclusive universities by 2023. Digital talking books are available for 109 textbooks for the visually impaired and illiterate at primary and secondary levels. Disability will not be an obstacle in the field of education.

Freelancing Training

Under the Learning and Learning Development Project, 57,010 people have already been trained and made freelancers. Of these, 41,600 are women. Professional outsourcing trainees have so far earned around 16 lakh dollars from outsourcing work.