The Indian subcontinent was one of the oldest civilizations in the world, with the abundance of art, literature, science, education, wisdom and wealth. Among them Bengalis were the most advanced nation in the subcontinent. In building the nation, various socio-cultural movements and above all movement for independence Bengalis were the pioneers. Gopal Krishna Gokhale, the famous non-Bengali leader of the anti-British movement, remarked, "What Bengal thinks today, India thinks tomorrow". But today, how many Bengalis, especially the Bengalis of independent Bangladesh have been able to uphold their legacy as stronger than ever?
Once, modern education system was divided into a small number of disciplines. But since the beginning of 20th century countless numbers of disciplines of knowledge have been created which are relentlessly enriching numerous branches of knowledge. In this age of electromechanical and information technology a great deal of practical and vocational education have become widespread all over the world. In today’s world the countries which are more advanced in modern technical and vocational education are equally more prosperous financially than others. Skill has to be specific and focused and must have expertise in a particular work. Otherwise none can create any demand in the job market.During the last couple of decades the education system of our country has gone under a great deal of expansion and radical changes. Once, students had to rely only on a few public universities for higher education. As a result, many students could not take higher education despite being qualified. But the situation has changed greatly during the last two decades. More than 50 private universities have been established. Honours and Masters courses of various discipline have been started in many public and private colleges.
Hopefully a lot of awareness has been created among the parents and guardians for the better education of their children and close relatives. Low-income parents also spend a large portion of their income as private tuition and coaching fees for more and better learning of their children. Students are being exposed to highly competitive admission test for getting themselves admitted into a better school, college and university. Girls are also doing better in all public and competitive examinations keeping same pace with the boys. Drop out has been reduced substantially. The rate of women's education and the dropout of Bangladesh is much more positive than that of other neighbouring countries.
But how much better is the quality of our system of education? Once mostly the honest and meritorious students would prefer teaching as a noble and ideal profession. At present, this situation and mentality is almost different, because appointment of teachers in schools, colleges and public universities is highly politically motivated and deeply influenced by money and might. As a result, we are missing many legendary teachers in the public universities who were also considered as the conscience of the nation. The methodology of teaching in the public universities is also very much old, backdated and not related to practical life. The existing methods are mainly lecture-based. But in the developed and modern world the methodology is fully case-based as well as result oriented. Consequently, the scope of various research works is shrinking day by day.
Funds allocated for research works are being refunded. One of the fundamental human needs, education has now become a commodity and business through buying-selling certificates in many cases. As a result, the students have become very much disrespectful and disillusioned towards their teachers. In most of the educational institutions students are not getting any moral education so that they could uphold moral values at any cost. As a result, in many cases the female students are not safe even in the hands and eyes of their father-like teachers. Many of them are being blackmailed and sexually harassed by their teachers and we come to know very few of those incidents.
Education has become a big business today. Teachers are busier with coaching rather than teaching in the classroom. In many cases students are being forced to go for private coaching so that they could get favour unfairly in getting more marks in the school exams. Usually the teachers of math, science and English would earn more money through private coaching. But the situation is totally different at this time. Because in order to get so called golden GPA-5 there is no scope to neglect any subject at all. So even the teachers of Bangla, religion are earning more who once were being neglected. Moreover the well-off guardians are sending their children to more than one teacher for a single subject. Children are severely overburdened with various exams which is creating high mental pressure on the mind and this is a big obstacle to a sound learning process. This race for getting GPA-5, golden GPA-5 or only passing in the exams is preventing students from understanding the fundamental objectives and values of education.
The scenarios in most of the private universities are not satisfactory at all, but alarming in some cases. In the name of modernism, individualism and personal freedom the environment of many private universities is promoting vulgarism and addiction in drugs. Simultaneously religious extremism and fanaticism are also being flourished among many students. Due to the huge demand for higher education, many ineligible and less educated people are establishing universities overnight with some strange names. The faculties, curriculum, facilities and minimum standard for environment of education of those universities are very much low in quality. Most of them have no campus of their own and not capable in fulfilling the minimum criteria to become a university. Sometimes we find multiple universities in a single building that might be considered as coaching centres rather than universities, where there is only certificate business.A sum of Tk.79,486 crore has been proposed for the Education and Technology sector for 2019-20 fiscal year – Tk.13,213 crore more than the budget passed last year, which was Tk.66,273. The amount allocated to the Education and Technology sector is 3.04% in Gross Domestic Production (GDP).
But our expenditures in health and education (as a percentage of GDP) are the lowest in South Asia. UNESCO Institute for Statistics demonstrated a comparative picture of recent (2017-18) budget provisions in education in South Asia (as a percentage of GDP): Afghanistan at 3.9 percent; Bangladesh at 2.1; Bhutan at 7.1; India at 3.8; Maldives at 4.3; Sri Lanka 2.2 and Pakistan at 2.8. African countries like Tanzania, Uganda, Burundi, Togo, etc. spend about a quarter of their total budget in education. Luxembourg spends an average of $ 19,050 per student annually, which is the highest in the world. The next highest countries are Switzerland, Norway, USA, Austria and Denmark respectively.
Apparently it is true that in monetary terms, the size of this year’s education budget is bigger than last year’s, but considered as a percentage of GDP, the allocation seems to have remained the same as last year’s. One confusing aspect of this year’s education budget is the inclusion of technology in the line item.
The Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD) in its assessment of the fiscal year 2019-20 budget has shown how government expenditure on education has declined from 12 percent of the national budget in Fiscal Year (FY) 2009 to 11.7 percent in FY2020. The government’s own 7th Five Year Plan envisaged spending 2.8 percent of GDP in education by the end of the plan period while UNESCO proposes the figure to be 6 percent which is globally accepted as a desirable benchmark. The below-par allocation to education is further pruned by the 80-85 percent budget implementation, poor budget management and corruption.
We also witness an undue and ludicrous effort to increase the number of successful candidates and GPA-5 holders in the public exams as a proof of great success. This is needless to say how much losses the students are going to face in the long run through this unfair effort. As a result, the large number of students is becoming deeply frustrated for not being able to get any chance for higher education. Moreover, in this way the education life of many students comes to an end at the higher secondary level.
Leaking of question papers, cheating in the public exams and various other fraudulent activities related to education are the darkest aspects of education system in Bangladesh. We have no idea about the existence of such type of instances in any other country in the world. A number of culprits with the help of some misguided university students are carrying out such type of devastating acts one after another being powered by political influence and muscle power. Unfortunately we are not witnessing any exemplary punishment or any rigorous attempt to find a permanent remedy to this burning issue. As a consequence, this vicious syndicate is being encouraged more and more.
The so-called student politics, teacher politics are interrupting the natural trend of education system in Bangladesh. Many teachers and students have direct relationship with the mainstream politics for gaining various social and financial benefits which is a big obstacle to the ideal environment of higher education. The students have found this so-called student politics as an easy way to earn money through obtaining tender, extortion and to become an MP or minister in the near future. Apart from this, there have been efforts to take control over university campus occupying student’s halls and dormitories.
In the hope of getting many alluring posts and financial benefits many teachers at the public universities are becoming indulged in mainstream politics which is totally incompatible with the personality of a university teacher. The honest, meritorious students and teachers of the universities are critically marginalised and they are frequently being blackmailed morally and emotionally. In spite of being meritorious and eligible many students are not being appointed as teachers at the public universities.
The recent TIB (Transparency International Bangladesh) research findings have revealed some alarming facts which undoubtedly indicate a severe scenario in the higher education sector of the country. This research paper was based on data collected from 17 public universities out of total 46. It shows that in the process of selection and appointment of a lecturer a huge amount of money is transacted and at the same time additional candidates are appointed out of vacant posts mentioned in the advertisement. In some universities Taka 3-20 lakhs are taken as bribe from each of the candidates to appoint him or her as a lecturer. Moreover, before appointment some unnecessary posts are created influenced and pressured by the highly influential power. All of those activities are controlled by VC or Pro VC who are also appointed from political consideration rather than merit or seniority.
In the same parallel, more than one education system is creating a social disparity. Many invisible walls are being created between the students of madrasa, English medium and Bengali medium. It has a great impact on social status and in the workplace. Usually parents send their less meritorious and disobedient children to the madrasa so that they could become a good human being. The curriculum of the Qaumi madrasa is not well-compatible with the mainstream job market. Recently the government has recognized the degree of Dawra-e-Hadith equivalent to Masters Degree and as a result they at least will now be able to compete in the job market.
Even in the midst of such frustrating scenarios, there has been a strong interest among our new generation to become knowledgeable to compete globally which is a very much positive sign. Our new generation is very much talented, but this talent has to be sharpened with a favourable environment. Our boys and girls are making significant contribution in science, technology, research and teaching in different countries of the world. If we can ensure favourable working environment, state-of-the-art facilities and proper remuneration for our talents, we could defend the brain drain and this will accelerate our national development.
In order to rescue country's education system from this uncertain and anarchic situation - political will, patriotism and some strong, courageous decisions are highly recommended. All political parties must come out from the typical mindset where they think that students’ power is the most effective tool for remaining in power for long. Indulging so called student politics and keeping them deeply engaged with mainstream politics must be terminated. All the way of grabbing tender, extortion and undue domination must be stopped. The harsh and exemplary punishment of the crimes must be given to those who have direct involvement with the leaking of question papers, and cheating in the exams. Private universities must be made bound to fulfil all criteria in order to become a real university. There is no alternative of those measures in building a peaceful, prosperous and well-educated nation.
The writer is a freelance column writer. Email: [email protected]