Education, which is considered the backbone of the nation, is the main driving force of the country's development. If the education system does not stand on a strong foundation, the country's development will not be sustainable. Though we have just celebrated 50 years of our independence, we have not yet been able to build a strong education system for the country. Different governments have experimented with the education system at different times, and we have been moving forward through trial and error for the last 50 years. But an encouraging fact is that the Awami League (AL) government, headed by Sheikh Hasina, which took office in 2009, has indicated a major shift in the education sector.
The 'National Education Commission, headed by Dr. Qudrat-E-Khuda was constituted on 26 July 1972 following the resolution adopted by the Government of the People's Republic of Bangladesh after independence to change the traditional education system and formulate a comprehensive education system suitable for an independent and sovereign country. The commission submitted a comprehensive report. Under the leadership of Bangabandhu, the then government started implementing the commission's recommendations, but the process got shuttered with the brutal killing of Bangabandhu in 1975. And no other government has been able to formulate a comprehensive education policy for the country until 2008. However, the present government has formulated a timely education policy for our country's education system, which is considered an important achievement of the government. The government has gradually started the implementation of the recommendations of the education policy.
We have been witnessing a kind of unequal competition based on grades for the last 20 years, which has crippled our students a lot. Students and parents always remain busy finding ways to ensure good grades. The situation is such that not all the students with a GPA-5 get the opportunity to participate in the entry test in a university. This means that the number of students getting GPA-5 is so high that a university can't provide all of them the opportunity to participate in the entry test. Even the ongoing grade reliance has further narrowed the scope of students' knowledge.
Therefore, frustration is noticed among the grade dependent students when they enter the tertiary level because they notice a huge difference in the curriculum compared to what they completed at the higher secondary level. Thus, they struggle to adapt to the new system. Based on my 24 years of teaching experience at Rajshahi University, it can be stated that there has been a major decline in the quality of students in the last two decades. Even ten years ago, the kind of joy I used to enjoy while offering lessons to students in class diminished at present. Students should not be blamed for this only. Our education system is responsible for this. We have not been able to prepare students for higher education in line with the needs of the time.
However, the present government has begun to take up all the scientific plans required for a radical change in education. The UGC has been empowered to work to improve the quality of higher education. At the same time, Bangladesh Accreditation Council has been formed to prepare the universities for accreditation so that the degrees of the universities of our country are in line with the international standards. The main reason for this is that university degrees - especially public university degrees - are not accredited. Through UGC, Institutional Quality Assurance Cells have been formed in each university whose main objective is to ensure the quality of the university. Universities are working to achieve the goal of Outcome-Based Education (OBE) through this cell. If it is possible to transform the traditional education system into an OBE system, it can be said for sure that there will be a radical change in the education sector.
However, there is still a lack of accountability among the teachers of public universities, acting as an obstacle to development in the field of education at the university level. We all know that Bangabandhu enacted the law for four universities in 1973, thinking of the university's teachers as the nation's conscience. The law offered university teachers a wide range of autonomy. However, over time, the misuse of this law at the university level has led to a kind of stalemate at the university level. The government will have to take some responsibility for this as well.
In this competitive world, with the challenges of the Fourth Industrial Revolution in mind, university teachers should not just remain busy in teaching only. They need to be immersed in research. University law clearly states that teachers will spend their time in teaching and doing research. But it is a matter of great regret that a large section of university teachers are averse to research. One of the reasons for university teachers' aversion to research is political interference and their involvement in tail-based politics.
Of course, the situation varies from university to university. We often see some signs of change in the universities where the VCs are working to improve the quality of education. However, it is not seen very widely. As a result, it is time to think deeply about the quality of higher education. We often notice that Bangladeshi universities lag far behind in the international rankings. Even the opinions expressed by the Vice-Chancellors of different universities about the rankings are ridiculous. If we do not change and improve the universities over time, a situation may arise when the graduates of our universities would not get jobs anywhere. Therefore, a comprehensive plan to bring qualitative changes in the education system is the need of the hour.
The Hon'ble Prime Minister has always urged university teachers to concentrate on research. More allocations are being made for research in different universities. In many cases, university teachers say they cannot do research due to insufficient funds. But fund never really stands in the way of research. If teachers have a passion for research, money will not be an obstacle. There are opportunities to raise research funds from different sources outside the university.
In the Fourth Industrial Revolution era, universities need to increase their contact with corporate houses, which is a demand of the time. There is no shortage of funds for research in universities of developed countries as they have a strong relationship with the corporate world. We can be optimistic as two ministers in charge of the Ministry of Education are working very hard under the Hon'ble Prime minister's direction. It is anticipated that under their able leadership, the education system of Bangladesh will stand on a strong foundation that will be able to meet the challenges of globalisation and the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
The author is a Professor in the Department of Public Administration, Rajshahi University
Source: daily sun (Editorial)