How our educators can look back at the 1974 education report findings to get back on track

February 14, 1983. That was the reign of autocratic military dictator HM Ershad. His education minister Majid Khan had announced a controversial education policy. Students from different public universities collectively protested against the anti-people education policy.

The controversial education policy was never enacted. However, as country entered a stage democracy, academic environment in public universities, as well as student politics slowly became a matter of maintaining territorial control than about organising protests against education policies projects that goes against the interest of the students.

The first national commission, popularly known as the Qudrat-e-Khuda commission's report, was published in 1974. While 1974 was the first in independent Bangladesh and the subsequent ones have followed its basic essence, contradictions are widely found in the implementation of these policies.

Language dilemma

In the 1974 commission report, under the chapter of higher education, an important recommendation is given. The commission suggested that 'there is no alternative of introducing Bangla in all stages of education' and in order to do so, through a gradual process, modern and important reference works need to be translated in Bengali. According to the report, 'this is an important National task'.

In the 1974 policy also, language of instruction in higher education was a priority concern. According to this report, due to the colonial legacy, our higher education is still taught in English which is a 'burden' to the students and a strong 'obstacle' on the path of education. Bangladesh, ignoring the recommendation of the commission, made no substantial attempt to make such knowledgeable reads available in Bengali.

As a result, English has remained the language of higher education, singling out Bengali. This directly contradicts with the essence of 1952 language movement as well as affects the practice of knowledge in tertiary level education. To cope up with the higher education, English medium schools have thrived in the meantime thus creating another class of students, mainly belonging to the upper income margin of the society. As a result, divisions are created; students from Bengali medium are having hard time grasping the language of higher education thus hampering their overall education process.

How private univs are faring

In case of private universities, the practice is somewhat similar but the goals are slightly different. They have become a house of creating more eligible corporate officials. The way day to day activities in private universities are managed from organising job fairs or arranging youth leadership programmes in association with different corporations, it will not be mistaken to suggest that student learns more about the etiquettes of corporate world than grow independent critical thinking. It seems like, in most cases, driving force of the private universities is to supply more and more corporate-ready graduates.

Responsibilities of teachers are described in detail in the 1974 policy. This states that the overall standard of education is hugely dependent on the quality of the teachers. According to this report, teachers are not only to lecture, but also to develop the overall standard of the students by inspiring and setting a good example. Tertiary level teachers are suggested to spend at least 3-4 hours in the library daily to enrich their knowledge, to conduct researches; they are also encouraged to spend more time in their respective institutions.

Private universities are now a fairly common phenomena in our education arena, started in the early 1990s. According to the 2010 policy, private universities should protect the quality of education as well as recruit teachers according to university standard, to ensure the quality of the education. They should not discriminate students based on skin colour, economical status or physical disability. Also, they cannot run after financial goals.

Let's not forget student politics

A serious problem is the student wings of the major political parties. In April 2010, when the National Education Policy was about to be announced, Professor Kabir Chowdhury, Professor Zillur Rahman Siddiqi, Professor Jamal Nazrul Islam, Professor Anisuzzaman, and Professor Serajul Islam Chowdhury had made this appeal. Three of them are no more today. "This appeal is more relevant today than ever," said Sir Fazle Hasan Abed, founder of BRAC University and BRAC, the largest development NGO in the world.

"Mal-politics - or inappropriate influence of political parties, culture and personalities-has engulfed many aspects of education management and decision-making," Abed lamented.

Intellectual void

The Article 13.12 of 1974 report deals with a rather grim and ugly truth of our education system that is the dependency on memorisation and flawed examination process. This system in reality forces the students to memorise their texts rather understanding them and copy the exact same answer on exam script. This seriously damages the intellect of the students in the long run. University admission system has become nothing but memorising certain irrelevant 'general knowledge' and judge their merit based on that. The situation even intensifies in case of BCS examination, which recruits future bureaucrats. This process, actually, encourages students to memorise rather understanding the subject matter, thus they remain intellectually handicapped, which reflects in our public sector.

Unemployment grew among those with other levels of education as well; only those with no education saw higher demand for jobs, BBS data shows. "This is a structural mismatch. When we talk to relatives they say there are not enough jobs. But when we talk to entrepreneurs they say where are the people for hire?" said Zahid Hussain, lead economist of the World Bank's Dhaka office. It shows that the quality of education from the existing system does not match the requirements of the job market, he said.

The National Board of Revenue has tax record of 10,000-12,000 foreigners, said a senior official. Employers have to hire foreigners for dearth of personnel with the requisite technical and managerial skills, said Anwar-ul Alam Chowdhury, chairman of Evince Group, an apparel and textile company. "We have to employ foreigners to enhance competitiveness and develop the skills of our workforce," he added.

No one wants to hire from abroad if qualified people can be hired from local talent pool, said Md Siddiqur Rahman, president of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association. "Unemployment among the educated people will remain if we continue to maintain the traditional view of having BBA and MBA degrees," he said, adding that more people with technical and vocational education are needed.

Both of them suggested building an education system based on the needs of various sectors of the economy.

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