Time to Establish a Knowledge Commission in Bangladesh

A few months ago, former Indian President eminent scientist Dr. A.P.J Abdul Kalam visited Bangladesh as a convocation speaker for UITS. Dr.Kalam delivered his lecture, “The 21st century university education is about developing enlightened citizenship for a knowledge-based society for peace and prosperity of nations, the world and also university has to be the incubator of world knowledge powerhouse.” At a time of unprecedented and dynamic global change, with the world economy effectively amid significant re-balancing between east and west, knowledge, together with imagination, creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship are of premium importance to nations, governments, organisations, communities and people everywhere.

The 21st century will be the knowledge century, but what exactly do we mean by this? I believe that it implies that its “brainpower” will determine a nation’s place in the present world, not its military power or economic power. Brainpower should of course be reflected in a country’s economic competitiveness, as well as military prowess. More importantly, it should be reflected in, what Amartya Sen has called, “human capabilities.” Human capability is a function of the well-being of people and the investment we make in human capital formation. A nation’s ability to make the best use of its brainpower will shape its place in the present century. Global approaches to creating more knowledge-based societies must surely be a crucial part of our plans and actions. Nowadays, science and technology is the best road for economic development. All activities depend on knowledge and the application of that knowledge.

The Bangladesh government should establish a knowledge commission. The time has come to create a second wave of institution building and of excellence in the fields of education, research and capability building in Bangladesh so that we are better prepared for the 21st century. In fact, a knowledge commission will act as the mandate to guide policy and direct reforms, focusing on key areas such as education, science and technology, agriculture, industry, e-governance and research-based working-knowledge-related issues etc. Easy access to knowledge, creation and preservation of knowledge systems, dissemination of knowledge and better knowledge services should be core concerns of the commission.

There are other elements of a knowledge economy, beyond universities, colleges and schools. Public libraries are an extremely important element for the foundation of a knowledge economy. Think tanks and specialised institutions are equally important, especially in facilitating informed policy-making. Also important is the University Grants Commission, or other institutions dealing with certification and regulation of academic institutions and programs. The ability of a nation to use and create knowledge capital determines its capacity to empower and enable its citizens by increasing human capabilities.

In the next few decades, Bangladesh will have the world’s largest group of young people. Following a knowledge-oriented paradigm of development would enable Bangladesh to leverage this demographic advantage since a knowledge-driven generation is an asset. Denied this investment, it will become a social and economic liability. Hence, we must invest in building the knowledge base of our coming generation.

The task is at many levels, from primary schools to higher education and research institutions of national excellence. At all levels, there is a need to improve access and excellence. There are, of course, fiscal and administrative challenges to be tackled, and intellectual and leadership issues to be addressed. At the bottom of the knowledge pyramid, the challenge is to improve access to primary education. At the top is the need to make our higher education institutions and research, world-class. A genuine funds constraint exists in the public sector, which is being neutralised only in part by the private sector. Together, the public and private sectors are not able to cope with the demand for higher and professional education. However, there is an additional problem at the top of the pyramid, namely, that of quality. Our universities and centres of excellence are falling behind the world’s best, both in terms of human capital and physical infrastructure. In this context, we have to work together for good governance and the development of a knowledge-based society and economy. Otherwise, we will not achieve our goals of the 21st century.

We look forward to our government effectively building a knowledge commission to strengthen the knowledge base of our country.

by Mohammad Mizanur Rahman is a Botanist and Researcher. E-mail: mizanhe_1971@yahoo.com