What the papers say

The Digital Divide in Bangladesh

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 2nd April 2021.

This Week in the Bangladesh English News…

…Education experts weigh in on the challenges of beginning classes again. The World Bank wants to finance jobs and wage protections. Mango farmers are optimizing and increasing yields. And we explain how Bangladesh fares in digital connectivity.

Education and Labour Market

Secondary schools and college closures were extended until 23 May. They had been scheduled to reopen 30 March.

Primary schools were also scheduled to open the end of March, but as the number of Covid-19 infections in the country soars, the ministry elected to extend closures until 22 May.

Meanwhile, education experts called on the government to allocate more funds to the education sector. Beyond the challenge of bringing students back, it will be a struggle to keep students in the classroom, said BRAC’s education programme director Safiqul Islam. The Campaign for Popular Education’s (CAMPE) executive director Rasheda K Choudhury added that the struggle of teachers should not be overlooked because “their roles in the classroom will be invaluable.”

Financial Services

The World Bank approved $250 million to support workers and the country’s Covid-19 economic recovery. The credit is designated for government efforts to create jobs and protect the earnings of workers. With this third installment to the Programmatic Jobs Development Policy Credit, the World Bank’s contributions to the programme in Bangladesh now total $750 million. 

Business, Investments, Trade and Growth

Bangladesh has more 4G access but disproportionately fewer 4G users than some of its South Asian peers. 4G networks cover 95 percent of the population, but only 28 percent have a 4G connection – in part because only 41 percent of mobile phone users are using smartphones according to the Groupe Spécial Mobile Association (GSMA). Meanwhile, in India 69 percent of mobile users use smartphones, followed by 60 percent in Sri Lanka, 53 percent in Nepal and 51 percent in Pakistan. And there’s more smartphone use in Sri Lanka and Nepal despite the fact that both countries have less 4G coverage. In their report GSMA said, “This lag in usage is largely explained by issues related to the affordability of devices, low levels of knowledge and digital skills, a perceived lack of relevance, as well as safety and security concerns.”

Seven startups received $1.75 million from Startup Bangladesh Limited, the venture capital fund of the ICT division of the government. The following are the selected startups:

  • Pathao (ride-sharing, logistics)
  • Dhaka Cast (health tech)
  • Moner Bondhu (mental health and wellbeing)
  • Chaldal (e-commerce)
  • Educhive (education tech)
  • (domestic services and SME)
  • Intelligent Machines (software services)

The government launched Startup Bangladesh in March 2020 and endowed the company with Tk 500 crore. This year, Startup Bangladesh aims to disperse a total of Tk 100 crore to some 50 startups.

Garment factories should act to inhibit the spread of Covid-19 in the workplace, said the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA). In a statement to members, it recommended factory owners implement measures such as staggered shifts, temperature checks and mask mandates. BGMEA also called on owners to bear the cost of Covid-19 PCR testing for workers. The trade organisation also said that during the first outbreak, the Covid-19 infection rate in the garment sector was 0.03 percent.

Farmers and Agriculture

Potato farmers in the potato-producing northern region of the country had a plentiful harvest this year, yet many are discouraged. With the lower market prices, they want to keep their tubers until a more profitable season. So these farmers turned to cold storage facilities, only to be turned away because facilities are full. In the meantime, some farmers are opting for traditional methods to store their potatoes.

Some mango farmers are optimizing their mango orchards by planting shorter mango trees, which can be planted close to each other. These select hybrid varieties trees grow six to seven feet tall, whereas traditional mango tree varieties are 30 to 40 feet tall. The hybrids also give a greater yields. In Chapainawabganj district, an official with the Department of Agricultural Extension says that almost all of the new mango orchards in the last ten years are growing hybrid varieties. According to The Daily Star, a few of the traditional mango varieties have gone extinct.

Other News

Bangladesh celebrated 50 years of independence 26 March. At a celebration programme, Indian premier Narendra Modi joined Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, and they paid tribute to the freedom fighters and Indian military members who fought in the Liberation War. In addition, Modi awarded the Gandhi Peace Prize 2020 to Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman for his contributions to Bangladesh through non-violent and other Gandhian methods.

Modi and Hasina met separately to discuss Bangladesh-India relations. Among the topics of discussion were regional connectivity, trade and power.

Meanwhile, different groups protested Modi’s visit to Bangladesh, and clashed with each other and with police:

  • 25 March – “50 injured in clashes between protestors, cops, BCL activists: 2 journos beaten up by BCL men”
  • 26 March – “5 killed in Ctg, B’baria clashes”
  • 27 March – “Hejafat mayhem on: For 2nd day, the Islamist group stages violent protests”
  • 28 March – “Facebook inaccessible for many”
  • 28 March – “Hefajat fury rages on: 3 killed during daylong hartal”
  • 29 March – “Mobile 3G, 4G services shut down at places”
  • 30 March – “150 injured as BNP men clash with cops”