Building a knowledge society
Ananya Raihan examines the glitches in our tertiary education system
The source of all of our problems is lack of right education of the people -- both rich and poor. Rich people can afford systematic education with a "pass-fail" system; the poor educate themselves through learning from the society they live in and from their life experiences.
The systematic education in general is designed to prepare a human being with only a professional career orientation, instead of creating personalities who act beyond materialistic interest for achieving the vision of a knowledge society.
On the other hand, life-oriented learning of the poor cannot contribute adequately in overcoming poverty due to absence of other system elements of this learning process, despite their huge contribution in creation of wealth. Paulo Freire's concept of "education as the practice of freedom" is yet to be understood and practiced in our education system.
Keeping the above-mentioned broader picture in mind, and considering the importance of "systematic education," let us investigate the glitches of our tertiary education system and identify opportunity for building a knowledge society.
Absence of policy aligned with national aspiration: What is our aspiration as a nation? Probably there will be a variety of answers. From the economic frontier, you may hear about a common aspiration: taking Bangladesh out of poverty. Is our education system aligned with even that materialistic aspiration?
We have evidenced attempts to introduce a national education policy at every turning point of our history since 1972. The Qudrat-E-Khuda report was abandoned after the change in political scenario in 1975. All subsequent policies were aborted through massive movements against them.
Basic debate around those policies remained, surrounding a few issues, which were essentially inclusion of foreign languages in primary education, privatisation of the education system, and lastly, unification of post-primary education.
Policies relevant to tertiary education were out of the focus of national policy. The liberalisation of tertiary education did not take place within a national education policy. The privatised education system has been subsidised by the state heavily in different manners, particularly through supplying skilled teachers from public universities.
Governance of tertiary education: Misuse of autonomy in public universities and mal-governance in private universities are common practices. The University Grants Commission (UGC) does not have proper control over opening of new tertiary education facilities. There are many so-called universities and colleges without proper facilities. Tertiary education is a good business for political leaders. The problem of governance starts with ensuring the proper facilities required to be a university. Then it continues with recruitment of qualified teachers, admission, evaluation system, etc. At every stage, we see compromise and ad-hoc solutions, although the fees are astronomical compared to the services offered. I think only those people who can afford to ensure proper facilities from the very first day should offer education services.
Mismatching demand-supply: The output of tertiary education ideally should be closely related with demand for skilled manpower nationally and globally. National education policy makers have no understanding of the direction of economic growth within Bangladesh and in the global employment market, which may give hints about the demand for professionals in specific economic sectors. This demand analysis should determine the number of seats in secondary, vocational, and tertiary educational institutions.
It is true that the domestic market cannot absorb the whole population of graduates from secondary, higher secondary and tertiary educational institutions. This reality should dictate a policy which must identify opportunities in the international job market. The opportunities in the global market are explored by India, and the Indian economy is benefiting from her strategic planning. The opportunities through liberalisation of the global market of service providers through the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) under the World Trade Organisation (WTO) negotiations are not being explored yet.
A huge number of graduates are wasting resources through obtaining certificates from tertiary educational institutions. After completion of sub-optimal quality of schooling, they cannot find appropriate jobs. This frustration adds to the causes of social instability. Probably, the rise in terrorism is also closely linked with this mismatch in demand and supply of employment. The fundamental reason behind this is lack of perspective planning. In the name of market economy, the strategic planning process in education is being discouraged. It is said that the market must determine which departments should be opened in a tertiary educational institution. However, what is ignored is that today's demand in the job market may not be the same after a few years, while the decision for a particular line of higher study has already been taken by a student. The commodity market cycle and the job market cycle are not the same, which should be recognised by the planners and policy makers.
Industry-education linkage: The lack of linkage between industry and education creates frustration not only among the potential employers but also among the graduates. In a majority of the cases, the employers have to spend further resources in re-training of the fresh graduates. There is a big gap between the curriculum and the demand for skills by the industries, which is one of the major reasons why the ICT industry fails to identify proper skills. As a result of this supply gap, the industry is importing skills from other countries. At this moment, there several thousand professionals are working in Bangladesh, legally or illegally, in the service industry, including the ICT industry, to fill the gap. It is a pity that when there was hype about growth of the ICT industry, it was not ready to absorb ICT graduates. Now the industry is relatively matured, but cannot find proper skills as the number of graduates with good academic backgrounds has decreased dramatically due to the wrong signal given by the market.
Prestige perception: Every student after finishing secondary or higher secondary education aspires to finish tertiary education, which often leads to wastage of huge resources of the parents and government. This is happening largely due to perception about prestige of doing a particular job. A blue-collar job is not well-respected in the country. A graduate is doing a clerical job, for which a higher secondary education would be enough. However, the employer also tends to set a Master's Degree as a minimum requirement for a clerical position. The distortion in this perception is killing us. High quality vocational education, with linkage to job markets at home and abroad, could reverse the trend of wasting money in post-graduate education. There is a perception that most of the post-graduate institutions outside Dhaka are the fruits of collusion of education business people with the law-makers, and teachers in those institutions are basically employed for money, not for qualifications.
System of quality control: My personal experience with the quality of the enrolment in tertiary education is as follows:
At the beginning of my teaching career, the majority of the students in my class were good, Now, majority of the students are poor in quality. This, I should say, is an alarming situation. The quality of students coming from the secondary and higher-secondary education system is deteriorating.
We receive poor quality of students from our primary and secondary education system, and enroll in tertiary education for money only. I have personally experienced that the university authority tries to influence grade for a particular student as she pays for her education. I left teaching for many reasons, the major one was this sort of "instruction" from the "authority."
Text books: Despite the huge number of public and private universities, there is no text book market in Bangladesh. Nilkhet is probably the major source of text books, where books from the West or India are photocopied and sold. When we teach macroeconomics, we give examples of American economy. We teach from text books which have been abandoned in western educational institutions. There is no publication industry which can meet huge demand for text books in tertiary education. The alien context often is the reason for lack of linkage between industry and education, mentioned above. Professional skill versus life skill: The tertiary education system enrols students only on the basis of academic records, not on the basis of life skills. And there is no system to teach life skills to the students. The graduates thus get out of the tertiary educational institutions with professionals skills, if any, but with no life skills. That is also instrumental for the poor quality of graduates of our tertiary education system.
Teacher recruitment: I am personally the victim of politicisation and nepotism which prevails in tertiary educational institutions. Fortunately, I consider that incidence as a blessing for me. However, examples of such incidences are commonplace. Who is eligible to be a teacher and who is not? My understanding is that eligibility criteria are missing in teacher recruitment in general. I think appointing fresh graduates directly into teaching, without pedagogical training, is not right. There is little scope for the tertiary educational institutions to send fresh teachers for improving teaching skills. As a result, the pedagogical aspects are largely missing in our tertiary educational institutions.
Lack of ethical education: Plagiarism is common-place among the teachers as well as students. There are incidences when teachers were found copy-pasting publications. The internet, on the one hand, opened scope for the students for copy-pasting, on the other hand, also scope to the teacher to track them. Unfortunately, there are few teachers who are smart enough to advise the students about this, and track plagiarism using the internet. Favouritism is also common-place. We all know the story of 53 first classes in University of Dhaka.
Student politics: The role of student politics has changed after independence, as should be the case for mainstream politics. The "jalao-porao" was heroic in pre-independence context and in the context of anti-autocracy movement. However, that trend remained unchanged, probably due to the similar behaviour of the parties in power even in "democratic era." The student politics of "lejur-britti" was created by one general, it is still continued by democratic governments. The learning environment has been destroyed by the politics of "tender-bazi." Students have been used for political terrorism.
How did India succeed?
Often we express our frustration that India is earning billions of dollars from the knowledge industry whereas we are still scratching the door of the world knowledge economy. Expressing that frustration, we try to trace cultural commonality, common historical origin, geographical proximity, but fail to identify the key factor for such stark difference in outcome.
This factor is quality education. The quality of Indian primary, secondary, and tertiary education is capable of producing every year thousands of talented graduates, who are capable og competing not only within the country but also globally. I would like to emphasise on the quality of primary and secondary education for such phenomenal success.
How could India succeed and we could not? Because, in India only those people teach who love teaching, not like in Bangladesh -- only those go into teaching who could not find other livelihood alternatives. Teaching in India is still a respected position, not spoiled by political pollution. They are not ill-paid and ill-fed like in Bangladesh. It is as simple as that.
Human assets vs. human liabilities
I think of two alternative scenarios for Bangladesh. In one, I see Bangladesh as a failed and abandoned state due to failure of the education system to convert human resources from a liability into an asset. The system continues producing graduates with no moral values and vision, other than narrow materialistic greed.
As a country, Bangladesh fails due to the burden of low-skilled population without employment opportunity. The population growth continues. No square-inch is left for crop cultivation and all the land is occupied for habitat. The evil Malthusian doctrine reigns.
In another scenario, I see Bangladesh as a knowledge society, where a unified education system creates human beings with kind intellect and bright heart, irrespective of social and religious origin. I see that Bangladesh chooses the path of Singapore with a service-led economy, and Bangladeshi professionals are everywhere in the world with heads high.
The education system is both job-oriented and knowledge-society oriented. The education system not only fulfills domestic demand for human resources, but also meets the global demand. Teaching is the most respected and sought-after profession in the country. Education has truly become a practice of freedom by the oppressed.
I once saw a slogan on the wall of University of Dhaka: "What is deformed, cannot be reformed." I would like to use this slogan for our education system. It needs fundamental change and resurrection. The agents of the resurrection are truly educated people, who can learn, unlearn, and relearn for the sake of progress and ensuring justice. Let the motto of our education system be the formation of young leaders with integrity, bravery and with deep sense of justice.1
1. Marisa de los Andes, teacher, Ecuador.
Ananya Raihan, an Ashoka Fellow, is currently Executive Director of D.Net (Development Research Network).