- Around 62% of families still have no internet connection
- Only 5% of families can afford a computer in Bangladesh
- Only 4% of women have used a computer at least once
- Unemployment rate to increase from 10.7% to 25%
- 20.4% more people to fall below poverty line as impact of pandemic
Discrimination in the education system is on the rise due to unequal access to information technology infrastructure and digital devices, said speakers at a webinar.
If the trend continues, they predict it will create an intergenerational education gap in the near future.
Stressing the importance of increased allocations to the education sector to end this discrimination, they recomended prioritising the employment, gender equality and social security programmes of the eighth five-year plan.
Speakers observed this at a webinar styled "Reflection of Youth and Gender Issues in Five Year Plans in Light of the Pandemic," jointly organised by ActionAid and the South Asian Network on Economic Modeling (SANEM) on Saturday.
Planning Minister MA Mannan attended the event as a special guest while Senior Research Associate of SANEM Eshrat Sharmin presented the keynote paper. ActionAid Bangladesh Country Director Farah Kabir presided over the webinar moderated by Dr Sayema Haque Bidisha, professor of the Department of Economics at the University of Dhaka and also Research Director of SANEM.
At the webinar, MA Mannan acknowledged that the pre-existing gaps in youth employment and gender inclusiveness will increase further due to the pandemic.
He mentioned that more relevant discussion regarding youth and gender issues is necessary to work gradually towards a more sustainable future.
Furthermore, he ensured that the government is prioritising technical education and is continuously taking steps to improve access to it in all regions. Finally, he acknowledged the need and urgency for improving the data-capacity to aid effective policymaking.
In her keynote, Eshrat Sharmin said obstacles to education have become more unsurmountable due to Covid-19. The students have fallen into a gap of more than a year. The dropout rate also is going to increase further. Discrimination in education is increasing due to unequal access to digital devices.
She said according to data of the Bangladesh Statistics Bureau, around 62% of families still do not have an internet connection. As a result, education through virtual media makes the situation more difficult, creating an intergenerational gap in the education sector.
"According to UNICEF, only 5% of families can afford a computer in Bangladesh which is 15% in neighbouring India and Pakistan. In Vietnam, 33% of families can afford computers. Among the women, only 4% have used a computer at least one time," she added.
"Although the 7th FYP mentioned the target of eradicating the digital divide between urban and rural areas, there was a lack of effective implementation," said Sharmin, adding if it had been implemented, the students would not have been in this situation during the pandemic.
The keynote paper suggested that the curriculum should be updated considering the impacts of the pandemic.
Sharmin said the 7th FYP aimed to increase female enrolment in technical and veterinary education (TVET) to 40%, but it was only around 24.76% in 2018. Therefore, more attention should be given to TVET in the next five year plan.
"The unemployment rate for young people in the country is expected to increase from 10.7% to 25% due to the pandemic according to the World Bank. Youths have been the most affected by the pandemic. Therefore priority must be placed on implementation of the government initiative undertaken for SME entrepreneurs," she said.
She also said that a further 20.4% people will fall below the poverty line as an effect of the pandemic. In this context, the implementation of a national social security strategy should be emphasised.
The keynote also called upon the government to pay due importance to the expatriate sector in the next five-year plan.
Dr Sayema Haque Bidisha said there is no alternative to increasing allocations to the education sector to end the discrimination created by the pandemic.
She expressed her concern over the youth unemployment rate (10.7%) which is higher than the national average. Moreover, the proportion of youth classified as not in employment, education or training is almost 30% of the youth population aged between 18-29 years – which is also a cause of major concern.
In his discussion, Dr Salim Raihan highlighted three key points that must receive attention in the 8th FYP – proper assessment of the challenges posed by the pandemic through data-collection and research, rethinking the approach used in the implementation of the 8th FYP, and increasing the frequency of data-collection in order to overcome the statistical constraints of policy-making.
He mentioned that without regular data collection and surveys, informed policy-making will not be possible.
Farah Kabir mentioned that it is important to celebrate the demographic dividend that the country is currently enjoying. However, it is more essential to ensure that we can maximise the benefits of the dividend by designing appropriate policies to address the challenges faced by the youth and females.
She also mentioned the need for an inclusive discussion between academics, policy-makers, social workers, and civil society to formulate solutions to mitigate the challenges brought about by the pandemic.