To Anjana Shaha, the six-month IT training course under a government programme for creating women entrepreneurs, looked like the right opportunity to start a business. She had a master's degree and the tech training should give her the right edge in the job market, she thought, and she enrolled in the programme paying a Tk1,000 fee in 2014.
Seven years later, neither has Anjana become an entrepreneur nor has she managed a job with whatever training she got.
"I learnt office applications under the computer training project, but it was not enough for me to become an entrepreneur," Anjana told The Business Standard.
Some 32,731 women like her have had computer training under the district-based women computer training project over the last eight years, but only 0.62% of them have become entrepreneurs and only 1.87% are engaged in outsourcing, according to the project authorities.
However, the reality is far more disappointing. The Business Standard talked with at least 20 randomly selected women identified as entrepreneurs and outsourcers in the project database, and only one said she was trying to become an entrepreneur. None of them were working in outsourcing.
The government spent Tk21,000 to train each person. Yet the outcome has in large part fallen short of the hoped for target of employment generation.
In the meantime, the initial estimated project cost of Tk52 crore has gone up to Tk87 crore after two revisions.
Although the project has been failing miserably to achieve the target from the beginning, a proposal has again been sent to the Planning Commission for budget escalation and time extension for the third time.
Experts say no women entrepreneurs were created out of the trainees as they did not get the right kind of training.
Rezwana Khan, general secretary at the Bangladesh Women in Technology, told TBS, "Only basic computer training is not enough to create entrepreneurs, advanced training is also needed."
A subject for training needs to be determined only after a market survey. It is also necessary to identify the needs and weaknesses of the prospective trainees. Otherwise, a lot of money will be spent for the training without the expected outcome, she added.
In 2013, Jatiyo Mohila Sangstha started implementing the district-based women computer training project with a view to creating entrepreneurs in the IT sector through training across the country. Around Tk69 crore has already been spent on the project.
Sources said, a trainee pays Tk1,000 for the six-month computer course. The major slice of the government allocation is spent on office rent, salaries and allowances of trainers and officers and employees.
The training has two components – computer office application, and graphics design and multimedia programming. Women students having secondary to postgraduate education qualify for the courses However, undergraduate and postgraduate women are more interested in enrolling in these courses, said project officials.
Some 32,731 women have so far been trained. However, the project database lists 30,541.
Project sources said 28,590 women are still unemployed after completing their training under the project. Some 3,332 have found jobs with the government and in private companies. Some 407 women are engaged in outsourcing and only 205 have become entrepreneurs.
However, most entrepreneurs from this project are yet to see success.
Tanjila Sharmin from Rangpur took the computer office applications training. In 2015, she tried her hand in entrepreneurship and started a training programme herself. But her enterprise did not take off and she is now looking for a job.
Mabia Khatun of Natore, Akeya Sultana of Gazipur and many others have faced similar disappointments.
Habiba Akhter of Jhalokati is one such aspiring entrepreneur after training from this project.
Speaking to The Business Standard, she said she has started to offer a computer office applications training course at her home but so far she has got only three trainees. She is pessimistic about her success as an entrepreneur.
The project database states that Nandita Mukherjee of Rangpur, Sumi Akhter, Tanzina Afrin, Sahrin Akhter of Narsingdi, and Sanjida Akhter of Pirojpur are involved in outsourcing.
All of them told TBS that they have never been involved in outsourcing.
Experts say a job seeker must have knowledge about computer office application. However, such courses are not enough to get a job.
Similarly, getting a job with just a six-month graphics design and multimedia programming course is not easy, they added.
"This is because at the university level you have to do a four-year course in this area. As a result, jobs or entrepreneurs will not be created even after spending crores of taka, unless the focus of the training is changed."
Explaining the reasons for fewer job opportunities and entrepreneurs, Project Director Nazmul Hossain Khan said, "Due to the present coronavirus situation, the job market, in general, is depressed. On the other hand, entrepreneurs need capital. Jatiyo Mohila Sangstha provides loans to create women entrepreneurs, but there are few loan opportunities in this project."
He added that training in this project is run under the Technical Education Board. "There is no scope for increasing the coverage of the courses. Besides, there is also widespread interest among women in the two courses currently underway. Due to this, the duration and cost of the project are being increased."
Tk32 crore hike in project cost proposed
Initially, the project cost was estimated at around Tk52 crore. The target was to train 19,200 women. At that time, Tk27,000 was spent on each trainee.
Later, the cost of the project was upwardly revised to Tk60 crore. At the same time, the proposed number of trainees was increased to 28,079, while expenditure on each trainee was set at Tk22,000.
After that, the project was revised again and the project cost was increased to Tk87 crore to train 42,206 people. The cost per trainee was estimated at Tk21,000.
Even though the project has not created the expected employment, the implementing agency, Jatiyo Mohila Sangstha, has recently proposed to increase the cost of the project one more time – to Tk119 crore.
Mosammat Nasima Begum, member (Socioeconomic Infrastructure Division) of the Planning Commission, told TBS that the project evaluation committee met last week on the project proposal. The meeting agreed to increase the cost and duration of the project.
Besides, changes to the training curriculum were also suggested but it will not be possible now, she said. "Curriculum will be changed in such projects in the future," she added.