Saturday, 27 November, 2021

Should Higher Education Opportunity Be Equal for All?

Nazrul Islam

Recently, the results of the admission test of the first year undergraduate (honours) class of the ‘B’ unit of the University of Dhaka Arts Faculty have been announced. The first place was won by a madrasa student named Md Zakaria. Out of the total 120 marks, his score is 100.5. He passed the admission test with Dakhil and Alim from Darunnajat Siddiquia Kamil Madrasa.

Dhaka University (DU) is the first choice of most students in the country to pursue higher education after passing the secondary level. Out of millions of students in the fiercely competitive examination, only a few thousand students get the opportunity. Although madrasa students are considered less qualified in the overall education system, every year, madrasa students are able to win a large number of seats in the top tier universities including DU.

However, in this 2020-21 academic year, the admission test of B unit has surpassed all past records. This year, madrasa students have got more chances as all subjects have been made unconditional for all students in B unit. It has been known that this year, a total of 74 students from different madrasa got a chance in B unit of Dhaka University.

The statement of a professor of the history department of DU about this observable fact has gone viral on social media. However, he said that this was, in fact, the unveiling of a book titled ‘Political Economy of Madrasa Education in Bangladesh’ at Jatiya Press Club on 27 January 2018. Although he says that his statement is an old one, the arguments he raises are equally relevant in the present context.

Before we talk about whether madrasa students are really getting more chances in DU or whether it is an issue of concern, we may talk about the selection process. In our country, getting a chance in a written test, whether it could be a job recruitment test or admission test, depends a lot on memorization. That is, the more you can memorize the syllabus, the more chances you have.

Hence, in the same question paper, a student who has passed in Physics does not get a chance, but a student who has passed in Soil Science gets a chance. It is not a matter of physics or soil science here; rather, it is a matter of who has taken strict preparation before the exam. So, four years of study does not ‘matter’ here; rather six months' preparation ‘matters’!

The same is true for university admission tests. Whether the student is from Bangla medium, English medium, Technical, Madrasa, or Cadet College, whichever he comes from, it does not ‘matter’ in the admission test; it does ‘matter’ his six-month strict preparation before the admission test. If madrasa students get more chances, then the difference here is not their educational institutions, but their preparation before the admission test.

Now, we can discuss ‘why madrasa students can prepare better than others before admission test?’ I can shed light on one side. We shall agree that intensive concentration is required in preparation before any completive test. I can guess (may not be true); madrasa students are ahead in this issue of concentration. If we compare the lifestyle of madrasa students with the lifestyle of others, the argument will become clearer.

Mental stability is needed for preparation before any completive test; it is very important to move away from versatility and concentrate on one issue. I think madrasa students are ahead in this place. However, there may be more reasons. So madrasa students are getting more chances in DU. It is not a problem. The problem is that students of other backgrounds cannot maintain mental stability during pre-exam preparation.

Another thing, do we feel that not only in DU admission, but also in government jobs, including BCS, madrasa students are getting opportunities at a higher rate presently? Behind this, mental stability and one-sided thinking are also important factors. When it comes to preparation, if we are busy showing and preaching ourselves, others will take advantage of it. Also, students who study in religious institutions usually have good memorization capacity.

Education has been given a special status in our constitution. Article 17 of the constitution speaks of education. There are basically three issues mentioned in this paragraph. First, the constitution states that “The state shall adopt effective measures for the purpose of (a) establishing a uniform, mass-oriented and universal system of education and extending free and compulsory education to all children to such stage as may be determined by law;”

If the constitution says that the state will provide “education to all children” then we should not impose any tactical rule to prevent the admission of madrasa students in public universities. If a student who has passed from Chemistry can be a banker; who has passed from Bangla Literature can be a customs officer, then where is the problem for a madrasa student to study in a public university?

Yes, the question may arise, is the higher education an opportunity or right? The strategies in the National Education Policy on Higher Education state, “Students will have the opportunity to pursue higher education on the basis of merit, interest and inclination after successfully completing various streams of secondary education.” It is noteworthy here that the emphasis is on the merit, interest and inclination of the students.

It can be seen that even though the right to education has been emphasized in the national and international charters, the issue of higher education has been thrown into the trap of words like equality, merit, interest and inclination, et cetera. It is noteworthy here that the importance has been on the merit of the students; madrasa students will not be able to pursue higher education, it was not said.

The UGC, in its 41st Annual Report, has recommended that the Masters level education programme should be conducted only for the selected meritorious students, and not for all. Every year around one lakh students of our country complete their Bachelor and Masters degrees. Due to lack of suitable jobs, many graduates are working as Office Assistants (Peon) in government and private offices after passing their Masters by hiding information.

And, all students have to take a university degree at the end of secondary education, which is now a stagnant idea. Now the country and the world need technical education to qualify for the labour market. But this aspect is neglected in our education system. We need to reform the traditional ideas and thoughts about higher education. We have to accept the fact that higher education is not for everyone.

We should ensure that students can pursue higher education only on the basis of merit, interest and inclination.


The writer is an MPhil researcher

(Education) in the School of Education, Bangladesh Open University. Email: [email protected]