Providing education for 50 million children who are out of school

The Innovation Dividend explores how innovation in society and government are paying off. Over the coming weeks, we’ll be exploring how ‘policy frontliners’ are innovating in real time in the COVID-19 pandemic and asking which of these changes and “raw learnings” might become part of our new normal. You can see the backstory by Kal Joffres here, Podcast EP 1, Podcast EP2, and Podcast EP3.

This week, we dive into how the Bangladesh government is adapting to serve millions of children who are suddenly out of school. Also: why coming out of lockdown is so much harder than going into it and why we need a more nuanced view of a “health-first” lockdown in a country where many people are at risk of going hungry. This interview with Anir Chowdhury was recorded May 1, 2020.

[00:00:00] Anir Chowdhury: For people who are going hungry, a virus that will not possibly kill them tells people that hunger is more important. They feel it every day. They don’t feel coronavirus every day. Sometimes [when we] look at it from a health angle, we forget that. That food first maybe is the message.

[00:00:19] Kal Joffres: Hi and welcome to The Innovation Dividend, the podcast that explores how innovation in society and government are paying off. I’m your host Kal Joffres, and over the next few weeks we’ll be exploring how the COVID-19 pandemic is unleashing some interesting and unexpected sources of innovation in government.

[00:00:35] We’ve been following Anir Chowdhury. He’s at the front lines of the COVID-19 response with the government of Bangladesh, and for the last 13 years he’s been leading the formation of an innovation ecosystem in Bangladesh, institutional reform, and a service innovation fund. He’s also a member of the Prime Minister’s National Digital Taskforce.

[00:00:52] Anir, welcome back to the podcast.

[00:00:54] Anir Chowdhury: Glad to be here.

[00:00:56] Kal Joffres: This week I’d like to discuss what are some of the changes that are happening in education for the millions of children that are out of school but before that, Anir, could you give us a broad strokes picture of what K to 12 education looks like in Bangladesh?

[00:01:09] Anir Chowdhury: The education system in Bangladesh is actually quite large. I think it’s probably the seventh largest in the world from what I remember. It’s a small country, but [a] population of 165 million makes it a fairly large country. It’s the most densely populated in the world. And if you look at the education system, we’re talking about 50 million people, kids, and young adults in the education system starting from pre-primary to tertiary.

[00:01:38] So we’re talking about 20 million in the primary, pre-primary and primary, about 10 million in secondary, 15 million in madrasahs, which is seen as a completely parallel stream of education and very large, as I said, and about 6 million or so internships. It’s a very large education system and everything is shut down, right?

[00:01:58] So, the order from the government came on 19th of March that education system had to be shut down for an indefinite period of time to, it basically meant for the last, six or so weeks. We have not had a functioning education system and we have to look at alternatives very, very quickly to see if we could provide ongoing education because we simply don’t know how long this logged on for the education system would continue for the economy because we cannot afford to keep the economy shut down completely for a long period of time.

[00:02:32] We are planning to open up starting from the 5th of May, so it will be slow and phased exit from the lockdown situation. So some factories have already started doing moderate operations. Some shops have opened because of Ramadan. They are not really selling food during the day. It’s mostly take-outs.

[00:02:53] But as far as the education sector is concerned, the Prime Minister just announced three days ago that things are not looking safe for the children because we are most concerned about children’s health and everything in the country. So she announced that unless things get significantly better, visibly, the education system will probably be closed until September.

[00:03:17] Which basically means that the children — we’re talking about 50 million, right? — 50 million children and young adults will not have any kind of contact with educational institutions, physical institutions, till September, so they have to resort to other means. And as soon as school’s open, if they do in October, we’ll have to think about the year-end final exams.

[00:03:41] So typically they happen in November. Given that the children will not have any educational contact for almost six months. How do we hold final exams in November? Do we hold a final exam at all in November or maybe, will [it] be delayed by one month in December and then assess children and then promote them to the next grade?

[00:04:03] Or do we automatically decide that they go to the next grade? So how do we make these decisions?

[00:04:09] Kal Joffres: What’s happening now to respond to the shutdown of education? What are some of the alternative approaches that are being pursued?

[00:04:15] Anir Chowdhury: The order came on March 19th the schools were shut down starting from March 21st and the first response was that, okay, can we look at [the] internet as a possible alternative. We’re really talking about maybe 5% people in the entire country who have viable internet access for doing rich content and do a meaningful educational experience. We’re talking about 95% of the country not being able to do that. For the 5% that are on the internet with the meaningful, high speed internet connection, we have several options.

[00:04:51] Three years ago we launched a students’ portal called Connect. It was started as focused on only secondary education, 6th grade to 12th grade. But during this COVID situation, we put in a lot of content for primary education.

[00:05:06] This content came from companies, this content came from the ministry of primary education, this content came from many other NGOs. It’s a, it’s a multi-sectoral effort. Government, NGOs, private sector companies, all put in content into Connect. Previously, it was only government content, so that was one platform.

[00:05:24] But again, as I said, it’s only a fraction of the country. The second alternative that we were looking at is TV, Parliament TV. So Parliament TV is a platform which only broadcasts parliament sessions, which happens every few months for a few days when the parliament is in session, and only a few hours, maybe to the tune of maybe four hours a day. Only for that maybe two weeks or so, every three months or so.

[00:05:48] This is a very large resource TV station that goes completely under-utilized. So we thought, why not repurpose this? And this is something we’ve been discussing for five plus years. The Prime Minister announced that Parliament TV would be turned into an education TV five years ago. We were not able to make progress for various reasons.

[00:06:09] I mean, it’s not under the Ministry of Education. It’s under the Parliament Secretariat. So that was one problem. There were issues with technical difficulties, HR and all of that. So what we decided to do during this COVID situation is that we borrowed human resources from our national TV and put them under the Parliament TV jurisdiction so that we were immediately able to solve the HR situation.

[00:06:34] We also have to borrow equipment from the private sector very quickly, and then make sure that parliament was able to broadcast content. Within six days, schools closed on March 21st and by March 27th, we were up and running.

[00:06:52] And we were starting to broadcast content, TV-ready content from all the internet content that we had starting on March 29th so there was a secondary education. Primary education came to TV on April 7th and technical and madrasahs education shortly thereafter on April 19th so now. Every day. We have about 19 classes being broadcast on parliament TV from morning to early evening.

[00:07:19] This has about six to seven hours of original content every day. Some of the content we repurpose from that massive Connect platform that we had were, which was only internet enabled. So we repurpose some of that for TV, but we had to record some more. But we are now coming to a situation where we are running out of content.

[00:07:38] So what do you do now? So now we are exploring what the teachers can do recording of content from their own homes. And can actually send that to us. And this is an interesting transformation where we’re seeing teachers take charge.

[00:07:53] Kal Joffres: A six-day turnaround for making a pretty significant change in the education system is quite extraordinary. How did that happen? What were the things that were laid in place in order for you to be able to make this switch?

[00:08:08] Anir Chowdhury: This happened about, eight, nine, maybe, maybe nine years ago in 2011, when we were trying to introduce an internet-based education for teachers. And the teachers responded by saying that we were doing it all wrong. So we were, we had been trying to do it for a year or so in 2011 and they said that the approach that we were taking borrowed from perhaps Western concepts was not applicable in Bangladesh. We started realizing that maybe the students would not be reachable if we bypass the teachers. This, this took us several years to understand this, but no education system can actually function properly and effectively without the teachers being part of that system.

[00:08:53] So they said that they needed to drive this whole effort and they needed to create content instead of content being created by experts and companies. These 23 teachers who set us right at that time, created this thing called the Teacher’s Portal. It was a social media platform, which grew into a big portal with the social media component, gamification, and many other features that it has. It now has about 400,000 teachers, which grew from 23 in 2011 and over the years, this platform has actually done amazing things.

[00:09:29] For teachers and for students in the whole education system. These 400,000 teachers that have become digital from [a] completely analog system. That was the pillar. That was the foundation that we built on. That platform now became, in a sense, the savior for creating new content because we’re running out of content that we recorded in studios.

[00:09:49] These teachers are now coming forward and saying they would record content from their own homes. Just this past week a few hundred teachers have come forward and said that they were going to start to record content and send [it] to us.

[00:10:00] I think it’s a really important lesson that we have learned. So it’s really teacher-led, teacher-driven, transformation of digital education that we have seen in Bangladesh.

[00:10:10] The six-day response that we were able to do again, was built on top of [the] teacher’s capacity on what the teachers have done. Those 22 teachers deserve all the thanks to change our mind and if that did not happen, we’ll be going down the wrong path.

[00:10:26] Kal Joffres: Delivering education through a television is certainly very different from both the content standpoint and the student experience standpoint. How has the teaching format being adapted for television?

[00:10:37] Anir Chowdhury: The teaching format is very non-interactive. So that’s a big limitation. Basically, it depends on the skill of the teacher. They can make it very interesting. They can make it also boring. We pick the interesting teachers. So a lot of the content that we now broadcast is interesting, but it’s limited by the lack of interaction.

[00:10:56] So the students cannot ask questions. The students cannot be assessed based on their progress in classrooms where there is no classroom. So what we’re now doing is to combine internet and TV. They see the lectures on TV and they go on [the] internet and then do the activities there.

[00:11:15] Kal Joffres: How does this experience work for students that don’t have internet access?

[00:11:19] Anir Chowdhury: We had to come up with something different there as well. And this is not launched yet. This is in design right now, and this is using [a] phone. The age-old phone. We’re going through a design process where we are saying that children will call into the phone and will get lessons. So we are actually creating bite-sized audio lessons, based on the video and the TV recording that we have. We’re extracting the audio pieces of that and creating maybe two minutes, five minutes of audio lessons that are going to be part of an IVR system on the phone, and students can actually call in and listen to that, again, free of charge by the 333 number that we have and they can actually listen to specific lessons.

[00:12:05] How effective this will be we don’t know yet because I don’t think this has been really tried at this mass scale with millions of children. What our IVR system needs to look like.

[00:12:16] What duration of content will actually be effective. This is all part of active research and response that we will do very, very quickly. I mean, we have become very good at creating an innovation. And testing this out very, very quickly, getting user response and then refining it on a continuous basis and then scaling it up also very quickly. So that has become the DNA of my team.

[00:12:41] There’s a second purpose of the phone system which is giving the ability to students to talk to a teacher. So just like we created a pool of 4,000 doctors, whereas patients can call in and can reach a doctor from that doctor’s pool, just like an Uber system.

[00:13:00] We are repurposing that Uber pool of doctors into an Uber pool of teachers. So already thousands of teachers from our teacher’s portal, which is 400,000, they’ve already signed up. So we suspect that we will need anywhere from 1,000 to 2,000 teachers on call every day to take a number of these calls from students.

[00:13:20] So again, what that experience would look like, I can probably tell you in a couple of weeks, but this is, again, another grand experiment that we want to do which will continue post-COVID because a lot of students need help after school hours and they cannot get to teachers. So they have to resort to very expensive private tutoring.

[00:13:39] Kal Joffres: Unfortunately, it looks like millions of people in many countries are going to be losing jobs as a result of this crisis, and many of those people will also need to pick up new skills. How are you thinking about supporting people and building new skills and making that transition in Bangladesh?

[00:13:54]Anir Chowdhury: Everything is getting accelerated with the crisis. The fourth industrial revolution, which we have been planning for the last two years. We thought we would come up with a response in the next couple of years. Maybe we have a five- to seven-year horizon when things become very, very different, become radically different. But this happened in the last five to seven weeks, right? It’s weeks looking at changes that typically happen in years. So 50 times acceleration in a sense.

[00:14:20] We did this study last year. It’s called the Future of Skills for five different sectors: ready-made garments, which is 80 plus percent of our export; leather; furniture; tourism; and agri-food processing industry. Because these are growing industries, emerging industr[ies] that will employ a lot of people in the coming years and to our utter surprise, we saw that, because of [the] fourth industrial revolution automation, robotics. artificial intelligence, so on and so forth, we’ll potentially lose about 5.5 million jobs in the next 20 years. And now COVID has suddenly accelerated that process. So now losing jobs in weeks, we don’t have to wait for months and years to lose those jobs.

[00:15:02] Our informal economy is 80% of the country’s economy, right? It’s about 75 million people who work in the informal sector. They sell vegetables [on] the street, they sell fish in the market, they pull rickshaws, they do construction work. They’re landless farmers [who] work in the fields for harvesting. So 75 million people. Now, many of them don’t have jobs.

[00:15:27] We set a target of about 1.7 million people that need to be re-skilled in the next five years. So that’s just become even more important and perhaps we don’t have five years. Maybe the number is even much larger than 1.7 million. We don’t know yet.

[00:15:44] So we talked about gig economy as an emerging area in Bangladesh, just like in many other countries. So gig economy will be a significant component of this because people will be doing one thing in the morning and we’ll be doing another thing in the afternoon. So they’ll be pulling [a] rickshaw in the morning and we’ll be selling vegetables in the afternoon.

[00:16:02] And that’s what’s going to happen. We need to be prepared for that. So what are the new skills so that one person can do multiple jobs is something that we have to embed in our education system.

[00:16:13] Kal Joffres: It seems like a big part of the challenge during this crisis is that people are in vulnerable jobs. They’re not in stable long-term jobs. They’re working day wages and that could be part of the problem. Are there conversations that are happening about how to change the employment situation at a more structural level for Bangladeshis, how to get Bangladeshis perhaps into more permanent jobs.

[00:16:39] Anir Chowdhury: We are having that discussion except that we don’t have a lot of clarity yet on which jobs will sustain, which jobs will come back, and which jobs will disappear short term and which jobs will disappear permanently. We don’t have a lot of clarity on that.

[00:16:54] And that’s where the study that we’re doing right now on the post-COVID skills and jobs, which will be launched in the next couple of weeks, will give us more clarity.

[00:17:03] We have done some early identification of sectors that may grow very quickly. So we know that a lot of vegetables and fruits are rotting in one part of the country. So agri-food processing has not grown significantly, but during this COVID crisis, just to save those vegetables and fruits and make sure they go to another part of the country, maybe in a processed form, maybe not in the fresh form, will be necessary. So that’s one area that we, we know that will grow extremely quickly and significantly.

[00:17:34] Another is pharmaceuticals. So jobs in other sectors will shrink, such as tourism, such as, hospitality. Those will shrink for sure, but we need to convert those skills, move those people into factories that produce medicines, because more medicines will be produced, more vaccines will have to be produced.

[00:17:56] When the COVID vaccine comes, I think they have to be, they may have to have local manufacturing. They’re not going to cover billions of people by having manufacturing in maybe 10 countries. Every country will have to have to have its own manufacturing and that’s the process that we need to start quite quickly.

[00:18:12] And that will require huge employment and will create a lot of employment. So we need to move people from other industries to the pharmaceutical manufacturing industry.

[00:18:20] A third area we think will actually grow quite quickly is nursing. A lot of people post-COVID and if COVID situation lasts for a while, we’re looking at predictions of maybe one to two years till we get those vaccines to every single person.

[00:18:36]If those predictions do come true, then a lot of people will be suffering from not only COVID symptoms but also because the hospital system will be so overwhelmed that we will have to keep people at home for non-COVID diseases as well.

[00:18:52] And that’s where we’ll need a lot of nurses, not only just in Bangladesh, but in every country. But I can probably tell you a lot more about what other areas of opportunities that will come up in the next two weeks when that study comes up.

[00:19:05] Kal Joffres: Even looking beyond the industries though. Wouldn’t you want to discourage temporary, informal gig work so that people have more secure jobs?

[00:19:16] Anir Chowdhury: That’s difficult to say, actually, whether a gig works can be discouraged. I think if you, if you look at the trend gig works have been increasing. So [the] informal economy, that’s 80% of our economy in Bangladesh, is all gig work. In the ICT sector in Bangladesh, we have about 600,000 registered freelancers. Not only producing technologies such as website, but also doing less technical works, such as search engine optimization, writing columns for newspapers, doing very simple print design and stuff like that.

[00:19:52] So there are 600,000 people who are doing that, and at least 50 to 200,000 of them are only earning an income that actually pays much more than any salary job they can have in Bangladesh.

[00:20:04] Bangladesh is now, I think, the third largest destination of freelancing work in the world, whereas we don’t even fair anywhere in terms of outsourcing to our registered industry.

[00:20:16] A lot of our teachers may become unemployed in the private schools. So about, of the 900,000 teachers, I think maybe about 200,000 or so are in private schools, which basically means that these teachers earn their salary from the fees that the students provide to these schools.

[00:20:38] And many of these are rural schools in impoverished areas, which are not yet supported by the government. So either government has to pick up those schools and provide salaries to these 200,000 teachers or the schools may not run because many of these families will not be able to pay for schools anymore.

[00:20:55] Kal Joffres: You mentioned the plan is to reopen on May 5th. What kind of restrictions are going to be in place to ensure people’s health and safety, what are the changes that we might expect to see in businesses, government and other organizations?

[00:21:08] Anir Chowdhury: That is a very difficult question right now. It’s a life versus livelihood balance that we’re trying to make, not only nationally but at a household level. So I used to pull rickshaws and now there are rickshaw passengers. I used to sell vegetables. Now there are no vegetable buyers. My health is secondary to my need for food, to my family’s need for food.

[00:21:32] I mean, that may sound ridiculous. But that is reality for most families right now. So the government is responding by reallocating a large amount of its budget to new social safety nets to cover about 12.5 million households that were never covered under social sentiments. That’s about 50 million people.

[00:21:53] And it started with just one month and now it realizes, the government realizes that it has to be done for at least three months and another two more months. But again, whether it can be continued beyond, we don’t know. Even if we continue it, it’s, it’s a paltry sum.

[00:22:09] It’s only a fraction of the average income of the household. So the people are very eager to go back to work where the work still exists. So factories are opening up even before the March 5th deadline, we are seeing many garment factories. So we have about 4,000 or so ready-made garment factories.

[00:22:31] My information tells me that about a thousand of them are already open, even before the 5th opening up deadline. We are seeing a lot of stores, not only just grocery and pharma and the pharmacies that were opened before, but stores that sell food and sell other items have opened up. So this is a response to the hunger pangs, right?

[00:22:50] I mean, people have to open up to earn an income to, to pay for their family’s needs. So no matter how much phased lockdown withdrawal that we have done so far, I would say this is an honest admission, is that it has not worked really well.

[00:23:07] Last week, we put together with the Prime Minister’s office and the cabinet office a plan for withdrawing slowly, to test the waters to see how we will contain the disease. But the way things are opening up right now, even before the 5th deadline is, is from a health perspective, it is alarming. From an economic perspective, it is probably what is necessary. That’s probably what is unpreventable.

[00:23:33] Kal Joffres: Looking to the past week, what’s a really tough decision you’ve had to make?

[00:23:37] Anir Chowdhury: I guess for the government is the lockdown. I was part of the team that prepared the lockdown plan, and seeing that, that we had done some meticulous planning for a few days. I won’t say that we had the luxury of many days to plan, but it was intense planning for a few days, looking at what other countries have done in similar situation[s]. India, Cambodia, especially, the state of Kerala in India has done a really good job in withdrawal of phased lockdown. They used a very interesting quote that I will repeat here is that it’s much more difficult to withdraw a lockdown than to impose it and we realized it.

[00:24:16] So the plan that Kerala has done, amongst many that we have looked at, looks really good. How much of that was actually implemented or not? I don’t know. So we took stuff from there. We talked to our field administration at the district and the sub-district level, and tried to figure out a practical or what we thought [was] a practical, logical, lockdown withdrawal process.

[00:24:38] And, the way things are opening up right now, it obviously seems that we did not look at all the eventualities. We did not look at the hunger that people feel in their homes, and they are eager to rush back to work.

[00:24:49] I would say that the people’s need for livelihood options and people’s need for an income in addition to what the government subsidy is being given, is the primary driver for the lockdown withdrawal right now. No matter how much we plan in a fashion that is dictated by health safety, other considerations are creeping in. That’s been the most difficult thing in the last one week, I would say.

[00:25:12] Kal Joffres: For you, what’s hard about moving out of lockdown?

[00:25:15] Anir Chowdhury: When we think about moving out of lockdown, I think we, at least from a planning perspective, we look through the lens of health: that we need to maintain social distancing when people move from one location to another for livelihood needs. We need to look at social distancing when these factories and offices operate, and sometimes it’s just not practical. So how will people move from one location or another in buses and trains and ferries maintaining social distancing? So how will they keep themselves three feet apart from each other when we’re talking about maybe thousands of people on a ferry? Maybe 70 people in the bus, maybe thousands of people in [the] train.

[00:25:58] So how do you maintain that? So no matter what we say, it’s just not implementable. So people are arriving in large masses, right? Large droves. Then let’s take the case of a factory. So three feet distance from one worker to another when you have machines that you’re operating and you have to operate different parts of the machine. That’s probably not practical in many cases. Latrine facilities, in many offices and factories are not enough to maintain that social distancing.

[00:26:28] Slums where people live. It’s the most densely populated existence on earth. We have seven people to a room. You have households which consist of one room, and the next household is the next room. Again another seven people. So how do you maintain social distancing? So these are all very practical considerations in urban areas, in factories, in potentially crowded offices.

[00:26:51] Social distancing will be, in the way that we have described it in our health literature, it’s just impractical. It’s just sometimes laughable by many of these people. They’re saying, “Give us an income. Give us a larger household to live in, and then you can come and talk about social distancing.”

[00:27:10] So I think that’s been a critical reality that we [do] not always address or can address in a policymaking circle.

[00:27:18] Kal Joffres: What do you think is the alternative? Are there different strategies that can be applied?

[00:27:22] Anir Chowdhury: It’s tough to say because I think the other strategy is to continue to put people on some kind of universal basic income. Something that we’ve been debating in the U.S. for a while and many European countries are, are actually testing this idea. So whether any universal basic income is possible in Bangladesh and who deserves that?

[00:27:45] How do you ensure that it’s not just for two to three months, it’s for a year, and where the money will come from, where we will divert that money from that total budget? Do we cut money from education because education is not seen as a big priority in this COVID situation? Do we cut money from, maybe another so-called unimportant sector right now, let’s say, information technology because you’re now going to have to save lives.

[00:28:17] Do you cut money from any other sector? It’s, it’s difficult. So it’s really a hundred dollars that you’re trying to allocate. And then a hundred dollars will become $60 because you’re not generating tax, and that a hundred dollars will become a poly $50 because you’re not getting foreign aid.

[00:28:37] For many areas, that aid was allocated, but this year, low tax revenue, low aid, people’s income and economic activities are low. So money circulation is also a contributor. So in that situation, how do you sustain a large number of people? We’re talking about tens of millions, large number of people for an indefinite period of time without letting them work on their own and then being entrepreneurial and driving income for themselves.

[00:29:08] And the only thing that will be sacrificing the whole thing is health safety, and it’s potentially a necessary sacrifice right now. It’s a stark reality of developing countries which are overcrowded. I don’t know if there is an alternative right now.

[00:29:23] Kal Joffres: Could you tell us about some of the lessons that you’ve learned over the past week? What are some things that you took away? That worked really well and maybe some things that didn’t work so well.

[00:29:33] Anir Chowdhury: So one lesson is that policymakers often don’t understand the reality, as I have found myself in that situation. We were designing the phased lockdown withdrawal approach. The people in the field who are administering health safety, so health workers, and the nurses, the doctors, volunteers, and the field administration who are maintaining law and order, who are maintaining home quarantines, who are maintaining a distribution of food and other relief necessities.

[00:30:10] I think they understand the reality a lot more, so their voices have to be brought in, in significant ways into policymaking. We don’t always have that process in place. We also don’t have a process in place of bringing citizens’ voice. What do they need and what are they really crying for? So sometimes we don’t have that into the policy process.

[00:30:33] So the field administration, workers in the front lines and the people who have to, I guess, find benefits or suffer from the right or wrong policy decisions. So the government’s response in terms of huge creation of huge social safety net for these 12.5 million households.

[00:30:56] I think that was fantastic, and that was just [a] brilliant decision that was done in a matter of days. The honorable Prime Minister and the ministers in her cabinet who were part of this, the Relief Minister, the Food Minister, I think they need to be commended for this because this, this happened in an extraordinarily quick, quick timeframe.

[00:31:14] Kal Joffres: And what else have you learned over the past week?

[00:31:17] Anir Chowdhury: The past week was a mixture of, I think, successes and some failures and the failures obviously taught us a lot more. The big dilemma that we had was the life versus livelihood issue. So obviously from a top-level policy response is health first, and for people who are going hungry, a virus that will not possibly kill them, a virus that they cannot see. A virus that has a very low mortality rate, and because of the small number of deaths that we’ve had in the last, almost seven weeks now, maybe about 160 or so, tells people that hunger is more important. They feel it every day. They don’t feel coronavirus every day. Balancing that, and I think when we sometimes look at it from a health angle, we forget that — that food first maybe is the message. And I will say that, I also pushed very hard for the health first message. It seems like there is a nuanced way of looking at health first that we may need to think about food first. The people in the field understand that very well.

[00:32:27] Some top-level policymakers also understand it, but people in the field, the frontline workers, they face this every day and we don’t have a clear way of bringing their voice into the policy process. We don’t have a clear way of bringing the citizens’ voice into the policy process. So that’s something I think we take note that we need to do better on that. We need to have a policy process going forward where we bring in a frontline worker’s voice, and the people’s voice, citizen’s voice very quickly, instead of doing big surveys and big, studies that take months and perhaps even longer than that. Maybe a year to gather and compile. That’s a big learning that we need to have a different policy process in place.

[00:33:13]in terms of health response, we have ramped up testing quite a bit, but the private sector needs to come in a lot more. From a government standpoint, our willingness and desire to bring in the private sector as an equal partner for testing for a health response, I think could probably become a bit quicker, I suppose. I think we are making those decisions, but bringing [the] private sector in as [an] equal partner in testing and providing healthcare would be a good thing, done in a, in a much more quick fashion.

[00:33:48] But we have improved the, the syndromic surveillance. The data is becoming better and better. We’re seeing more data from different sources, maturing the model. So we are able to identify test cases, better and quicker.

[00:34:03] We are able to do other responses like relief, using technology, doing targeting better. So those are good things, but the lessons from our limitations and failures should improve the way we think there will be foreign policies and the way we function within the government in the next few weeks.

[00:34:24] Kal Joffres: Anir, I’m really looking forward to speaking with you next week about what you’re learning as the country opens back up. Thanks once again and see you next week.

[00:34:32] Anir Chowdhury: Thanks again, Kal, for allowing me this opportunity.

The Innovation Dividend explores how innovation in society and government are paying off. Over the coming weeks, we’ll be exploring how ‘policy frontliners’ are innovating in real time in the COVID-19 pandemic and asking which of these changes and “raw learnings” might become part of our new normal.

You can subscribe to the podcast on Spotify or Apple.

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Regional Innovation Centre UNDP Asia-Pacific

Regional Innovation Centre UNDP Asia-Pacific

Doing development differently through designing, developing, curating, collating and championing innovation and digital across the Asia Pacific Region.