This article underlines the necessity of advancing from digital literacy to digital fluency in Bangladesh. It explores the role of higher education and libraries in helping the country on its path to becoming a ‘Smart Bangladesh’ by 2041, emphasizing both improvements and challenges in the journey.
(13 Oct 2023) Bangladesh has witnessed an explosion in the internet usage and digital technology adoption over the past decade. The accessibility of smartphones and cost-effective data plans have been major catalysts for this shift. Basically, digital society relies on three main pillars such as digital access, digital literacy and digital participation. And together, these pillars ensure that every citizen can benefit from various digital projects or initiatives. In our modern, interconnected, and swiftly changing digital age, digital literacy skills have become paramount. They are no longer merely supplementary; they are essential for academic success, job readiness, and active civic engagement.
The government of Bangladesh committed to evolving the country into a “Digital Bangladesh”. Remarkable strides have been made towards this goal since then. Recently, the government declared a new goal of becoming a ‘Smart Bangladesh’ by 2041. This vision aims to create a more connected, technologically advanced, and resilient society. The four key pillars guiding this vision are:
- Smart Citizens: Enhancing digital skills for safe and efficient digital navigation.
- Smart Economy: Leveraging digital tech for innovation and growth.
- Smart Government: Employing technology for improved governance.
- Smart Society: Utilizing tech for holistic societal betterment.
Understanding the basics of digital literacy is gaining attention; however, progressing toward ‘Smart Bangladesh’ by 2041 demands a deeper engagement with digital fluency. Digital fluency is best described as the ability to leverage digital technologies confidently, ethically, and effectively to communicate, collaborate, create, evaluate and, more importantly, to solve problems. Digital fluency goes beyond mere digital literacy. The publication titled “Being Fluent with Information Technology,” by the National Research Council (NRC) published in 2009, opted to use the term “fluency” instead of “literacy” due to the swift progression of technological evolution.
While digital literacy focuses on the basic understanding and utilization of digital tools, digital fluency involves the seamless and creative application of these tools to accomplish a task or solve a problem. Here, I would like to mention that digital literacy and digital fluency are related, but the concepts are different.
Jennifer Sparrow, the Senior Director of Teaching and Learning at Penn State University, explained the difference between digital fluency and digital literacy. She mentioned that “in learning a foreign language, a literate person can read, speak, and listen for understanding in the new language. A fluent person can create something in the language: a story, a poem, a play, or a conversation. Similarly, digital literacy is an understanding of how to use the tools; digital fluency is the ability to create something new with those tools”.
NMC Horizon Report 2017 Library Edition listed spreading Digital Fluency as a core responsibility of libraries. It stated that ‘Libraries are well positioned to lead efforts that develop patrons’ digital citizenship, ensuring master of responsible and creative technology use, including online identity, communication etiquette, and rights and responsibilities.’
In my role as Senior Assistant Librarian at East West University (EWU), I have become acutely aware of the growing need for digital fluency in the educational landscape. The demand for digitally competent roles is burgeoning. Rahman (2019) highlights that university libraries in Bangladesh deliver both digital and traditional services. Besides conventional services,, numerous libraries offer services including reference management, plagiarism detection, subject guides, and information literacy session for their patrons. Most of the prominent private universities have been organizing information literacy sessions for their users. According to University Grants Commission (UGC) of Bangladesh, we have more than 50 public universities and more than 100 private universities. And the Bangladeshi government’s promotion of ICT in higher education deserves mention, with initiatives like the Bangladesh Research and Education Network (BdREN) bolstering connectivity among academic institutions. The UGC on behalf of the Ministry of Education (MoE) implemented BdREN under HEQEP through joint financing of Bangladesh Government and World Bank. It is implemented as a high-efficiency data communications network, facilitating connectivity among higher education and research institutions in both the public and private sectors. The urgency of developing digital fluency has been heightened by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has necessitated a shift towards remote learning. This shift has necessitated proficiency in using digital platforms for learning, communication, and collaboration among students.
As part of the response to this shift, the Dr. S. R. Lasker Library, EWU, a leading institution in Bangladesh, has ramped up its services. We offer a wide array of resources, advanced technology, skilled manpower, user education, and marketing strategies. We have seen a notable increase in the use of our online services during the COVID-19 pandemic and have adapted our information literacy sessions to be offered online, and now in a hybrid format.
Our library offers OpenAthens service which allow users to access our subscribed library resources from outside the campus network. This service is crucial for accessing e-resources from any location. Throughout the pandemic, we have worked tirelessly to teach our users how to effectively utilize this service. We have noted our users developing basic digital skills or digital literacy, setting the stage for the next step – digital fluency.
It is worth noting that in 2010, Dr. S. R. Lasker Library, EWU hosted workshops and seminars specifically designed to enhance information literacy (IL) awareness and abilities among various groups, including professionals, faculty, researchers, and students. Since 2013, the Dr. S. R. Lasker Library has been conducting year-round information literacy program. This program aims to equip students with critical thinking skills, preparing them for both their current academic environment and their future.
Recently, the department of Information Studies, EWU organized the 3rd International Conference on Information and Knowledge Management (i-IKM) from 3 to 5 August 2023. The theme for the 3rd i-IKM was “Inclusive and Equitable Access to Information for Smart Society,” emphasizing the significance of providing access to information for the development of a sustainable knowledge-based society. Around 200 individuals from ten different nations attended the conference. EWU stands at the forefront in hosting such significant events, aligning with the nation’s ambition of evolving into a ‘Smart Bangladesh’ by 2041.
Yet, challenges remain. Infrastructure issues like inconsistent electricity and limited internet access, coupled with economic disparities and a lack of training, obstruct the road to a digitally fluent society. For professionals, digital fluency is non-negotiable. Many occupations now demand proficiency in specific digital tools. Furthermore, digitally fluent personnel can better adapt to technological advancements, ensuring organizations’ competitiveness and efficacy.
However, the task of offering digital fluency education is not without its prerequisites. Like other professionals, I strongly believe that the library and information science (LIS) professionals need to be empowered and trained to impart digital fluency skills effectively. The introduction of training programs for LIS professionals will ensure that they are digitally fluent themselves and can thus model appropriate digital behavior for their users. Additionally, enhancing curricula, training teachers, and providing adequate digital resources, particularly in rural areas, are crucial steps in nurturing a digitally fluent generation.
Today’s students destined to be the architects of Bangladesh’s future, therefore students are required to learn, practice, and master digital fluency. This is not merely an option, but a fundamental necessity for Bangladesh to optimize the advantages of its digital revolution and secure its position in the international digital domain. Therefore, it is imperative for educators, policymakers, and the entire society to ensure not only that students are adequately prepared for the digital world but also that they contribute actively to achieving the goal of transforming into a ‘Smart Bangladesh’ by 2041″.
Adams Becker, S., Cummins, M., Davis, A., Freeman, A., Giesinger Hall, C., Ananthanarayanan, V., Langley, K., and Wolfson, N. (2017). NMC Horizon Report: 2017 Library Edition. Austin, Texas: The New Media Consortium.
Rahman, M. (2019). Changing roles of university libraries of Bangladesh: An exploratory study. Library Hi Tech News, 37(2), 5-9. https://doi.org/10.1108/LHTN-10-2019-0068
Sparrow, J. (2018). Digital fluency: Preparing students to create big, Bold Problems. Retrieved from https://er.educause.edu/articles/2018/3/digital-fluency-preparing-students-to-create-big-bold-problems
Senior Assistant Librarian
East West University, Dhaka, Bangladesh
Standing Committee Member
Email: [email protected]