What the papers say

Doses Delivered and Schools Reopening

A weekly round up of articles about employment, the labour market, skills training and workforce development. This week’s round up is drawn from The Daily Star. Here is the news for the week ending 28th January 2021.

Schools might open as early as 4 February, although many students will start with in-person classes once in a week. Photo by Ahmed Hasan on Unsplash.

This Week in the Bangladesh English News…

…The first Covid-19 vaccinations were delivered, and schools are making plans to reopen. The government is considering major investments in multiple skills-based education initiatives. There’s the latest data on the expected GDP growth rate and the present poverty rate. And one analysis attempts to answer, “How many garment jobs have been lost?”

Education and Labour Market

Schools should prepare to open after 4 February, announced the governmental departments that oversee primary, secondary and higher education. Schools must first apply and receive approval to reopen, and priority will be given to 10th and 12th graders, who are expected to attend class everyday to ready for their upcoming SSC and HSC exams; other students are expected to start with one day of in-person classes every week. Guidelines for reopening require face masks and three feet of physical distance in classrooms. Officials from Dhaka University have said they are considering reopening the residential halls in March, to allow students to return and stay inside the halls.

A World Bank working paper about the impact of school closures on the nearly 38 million students in Bangladesh says the pandemic has increased education inequality, in part because of large disparities in access to computers, internet and television. For example, the government has been airing lessons on Sangsad TV while 91 percent of children in the richest households have access to televisions, but only 9 percent of children in the poorest households have access. Pre-pandemic, in 2017, 57 percent of Bangladeshi children could read very little or not at all by the end of primay school, and the World Bank estimates school closures could increase that number to 76 percent. To reach children from the poorest families, the paper recommends take-home physical learning packages, mobile-based lessons or small, socially-distanced face-to-face classes.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina told parliament that the government is planning to create a television channel dedicated to providing technical education.

The central government is also planning a $50-million, five-year project to develop the skills of 256,000 unemployed and disadvantaged women. The proposal provides for training centers at the subdistrict level throughout Bangladesh and a database of trainees. If passed, it will be implemented by Jatiyo Mohila Sangstha, a women welfare organisation under the women and children affairs ministry, which will also be tasked with creating job opportunities and making at least 1,600 women self-employed, through self-owned business such as food corners and beauty parlours.

A recent survey found 42 percent of people living below the poverty line, compared to 22 percent in 2018. Some 50 percent of the new poor reported they belonged to the service sector. The nationwide survey of more than 5,000 households surveyed households in 2018 and last year in November and December was done by South Asian Network on Economic Modeling (SANEM). Finance Minister Kamal Ahmed has refuted the findings of this survey, and said the governmental Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics will conduct its own survey.

Bangladesh lost about 357,000 jobs in the garment sector in 2020, according to the Centre for Policy Dialogue. The Centre for Policy Dialogue revealed this and other findings from its survey of factories in a virtual dialogue.

Financial Services

The central bank will meet 31 January to discuss the tool and targets of its monetary policy and the issue of excess liquidity at banks – excess liquidity which increased 95 percent year-on-year from December 2019-2020. Meanwhile, there is a lack of credit demand from borrowers and an influx in remittances. Ahsan H. Mansur, executive director of the Policy Research Institute of Bangladesh thinks the increase in remittances is the result of low interest rates in many developed countries: “The expatriates are now getting a better interest rate on the deposits kept in the banks in Bangladesh than the rates being provided by the lenders in the countries they live in.”

Business, Investments, Trade and Growth

While many international buyers have restored canceled orders, many are instating massive discounts and deferring payments. One garment factory, Kwun Tong Apparels, for example, faced canceled orders worth $20 million, and had to give another buyer a discount of $25 million. Another garment producer in Bangladesh, Ha-Meem Group, only received $0.5 million of a $1.8 million in orders from JC Penney after JC Penney restructured with bankruptcy. UK retailer Debenhams, which also declared bankruptcy, still owes $60 million to workers and suppliers in Bangladesh, according to reporting from the Daily Star.

The cabinet approved the Shipbuilding Industry Development Policy 2020 to promote the growth of the export-oriented shipbuilding sector. The policy will increase access to loans and reduce taxes and VAT for shipbuilders. Since 2008, Bangladesh has exported some 40 ships worth $180 million, and the policy has a goal of increasing exports to $4 billion by 2025.

In fiscal year 2021-2022, the economy of Bangladesh will grow an estimated 7.6 percent, according to the United Nations report “World Economic Situation and Prospects 2021”. The World Bank has predicted 3.4 percent growth, and the IMF has predicted 7.9 percent growth. The Government of Bangladesh has staked its forecast at 7.4 percent.

Farmers and Agriculture

Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute (BARI) greenlit two new varieties of fruits for cultivation in Bangladesh: a mango variety from Saudi Arabia, and falsa, a berry that can already be seen on small trees across the country.

Other News

Bangladesh’s second-largest city, Chittagong, held elections for the city’s mayor and councillor positions on Wednesday. Intra-party tensions were high, as an additional 22 Awami League (AL) candidates ran, challenging the AL parties’ chosen candidates. There were allegations of voter fraud, violent clashes and several deaths.

On Wednesday, the first Covid-19 vaccines were administered in a Dhaka hospital in a ceremony broadcast on state television. Twenty-six volunteer frontline professionals such as nurses, doctors and journalists received the vaccines. Officials have said vaccinations will start at five hospitals in Dhaka before mass inoculations across the country start. The government is expected to launch a registration app called “Surokkha” and start more widely vaccinating 7 February.