BANGLADESH coming to be ranked the lowest among the South Asian countries in the Global Knowledge Index betrays the country’s worrying performance in ensuring a knowledge-based development. Bangladesh is ranked 112th among 138 countries surveyed in the index, prepared by the United Nations Development Programme and the Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Knowledge Foundation. Among Bangladesh’s South Asian neighbours, India is ranked 75th, Sri Lanka 87th, Bhutan 94th, Nepal 110th and Pakistan 111th in the index which summarily measures knowledge performance of countries at the level of seven areas, namely pre-university education, technical and vocational education and training, higher education, research, development and innovation, information and communications technology, economy, and the general enabling environment. Bangladesh’s overall score is 35.9, well below the world average of 46.7. While the country has scored average in four areas, it scored worryingly low in three areas — research, development and innovation, higher education, and economy. Bangladesh scored a paltry 16.4 in research, development and innovation, 24.1 in higher education and 31.5 in economy.

What comes to be worrying is that when the country has experienced notable economic growth, as is evident in indicators such as the gross domestic product and per capita income, and material progress in the past few years, it has largely failed to develop its knowledge infrastructure. The GKI report, in its entry on Bangladesh, observes that ‘Bangladesh is a weak performer in terms of its knowledge infrastructure’. While the country has achieved significant progress in, as the index shows, gross enrolment ratio in primary level education, it has largely failed to ensure quality higher education and research. Poor budget allocated for research in universities and research institutions and a growing political influence on the seats of higher education are reflective of a general negligence that the government shows towards research and quality higher education. Moreover, the country has not followed a knowledge-based economy and development and has come to grow a tendency to measure the economy with generalised, often misleading, figures and development with mega-projects. The country also appears to have dealt with development on an incremental basis instead of making informed decisions based on research. A focus on and pursuance of material progress and economic growth neglecting the development of a knowledge-based society and economy are, as educationists and experts say, what mark most of the policies in Bangladesh. Unless the gaps between knowledge and development are bridged through conscious and continuous efforts, sustainable development is next to impossible.

The government must realise that knowledge-based society, economy and development are what is needed to ensure the well-being of all. The government must attend to all the seven areas, especially quality higher education, research and knowledge-based economy, which are generally conceived of as conducive to a knowledge-based society. The government must pursue policies that link knowledge and cultural development with material development for a better and brighter future.

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