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SRDL: The making of Digital Bangladesh

How often do we see ourselves really good at doing something that we have started learning as a child?

Science also supports this. The best time to start learning something is early years because it is during childhood that human brains are in the best condition to keep something stored for life.

“Digital Bangladesh”, one of the flagship pledges that ruling Awami League had for the election manifesto back in 2008, could have eventually turned out to be just a pledge. But no. The party that steered Bangladesh from subservience to self-determination through decades of dissent and finally a bloody war against an oppressive regime, took it to turn the tide of 160 million fates.

The Sheikh Russel Digital Lab (SRDL) is an initiative of the Ministry of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) of the government of Bangladesh that looks to set up digital computer and language labs at primary, secondary and higher secondary schools and colleges around the country.

In the first phase, as many as 2001 such digital labs have already been set up in as many schools and colleges across the country. Until March 2017, nearly 900 of these labs in 30 districts have been made operative. The personnel concerned of the remaining labs will be trained up gradually over the coming months.

The last of these districts is Sylhet, where a Networking and Training Program was organized from March 20-21, 2017 at the office of the local deputy commissioner (DC) for the lab coordinators and the ICT teachers of 50 local schools and colleges under the project.

“In 2016, I attended an internship training of Young Bangla and Microsoft. There I first came to know about SRDL. Now, I am working as a lab coordinator,” said Young Bangla member Bipasha Banik, also a student of computer science and engineering at a local college in Sylhet.

Following the signing of an MoU with the government’s ICT Division in October 2016, Young Bangla has been providing support by identifying and entrusting suitable volunteers from among its members for the roles of coordinators and general members from across Bangladesh to monitor and maintain the overall activities of these labs, including training of coordinators, until 2018.

“The SRDL project is giving us a unique opportunity to work with children in the rural systems. I am getting to see the making of Digital Bangladesh right in front of my eyes. This experience and opportunity are invaluable,” said Sajel Mahmud Khandakar, another lab coordinator.

Virtually every circular on newspapers and job portals looks for basic knowledge of computers and English language. The aim of SRDL is to start the process early, so that schoolgoers get used to computers and ICT right at school.

“SRDL is unique because it helps two sets of people simultaneously. The lab coordinators are all Young Bangla members. They will help the students and ICT teachers voluntarily. But, they will also be able to make use of these labs for their personal income generating activities,” said Tonmoy Ahmed, associate coordinator at Young Bangla secretariat Centre for Research and Information (CRI).

“Digital Bangladesh is almost a reality now – the current Awami League government has already turned its electoral pledge into a reality and the SRDL is just another giant step towards fulfilling that pledge,” said Bonomali Bhowmik, director general of the Department of ICT, at the training program in Sylhet.

The target is to eventually place at least 224,100 IT-skilled volunteers of Young Bangla all over Bangladesh by July 2018. The Young Bangla members, in turn, are expected to be proficient in IT as well as in foreign languages, leading to a better equipped freelancing and outsourcing workforce in the country.

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