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     Volume 7 Issue 33 | August 15, 2008 |

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A New Window for Bangladeshi Researchers

Ekram Kabir talks to Dr. Kiyoshi Kasahara, the vice chancellor of one of Japan's Ivy League universities.

Dr. Kiyoshi Kasahara

When the vice chancellor of a 134-year-old university visits Bangladesh, offering educational exchange programmes and scholarships for its students, Bangladesh certainly needs to pull up its socks reaping the best from this bilateral gesture. The idea of coming to Bangladesh with such an offer came from Japan's Rikkyo University's VC Dr. Kiyoshi Kasahara. Visiting Bangladesh last week, on behalf of his Chancellor Hideitsu Ohashi, Kasahara signed two agreements with University of Dhaka and Grameen Bank on educational cooperation. Rikkyo University, an Ivy League university in Japan, is to run scholarly exchanges programmes; and with Grameen Bank, it would carry, among other things, academic and field-based exchanges.

Rikkyo was founded in 1874 as a small private school in Tsukiji by Bishop Williams, a missionary of the American Episcopal Church. Records from the period say that Bishop Williams founded it with the aim of building a university modelled after American liberal arts colleges, with a firm focus on providing a spiritual education to the young people of Japan. His philosophy ran counter to the trend at that time, as Japanese schools concentrated on providing a commercial and utilitarian education with the aim of outfitting the student for a successful career. In 1907, under the Imperial Vocational School Order, Rikkyo Gakuin Rikkyo Daigaku was established with a Department of Literature, a Department of Commerce, and a Preparatory Course, and the English name of the school became St. Paul's College. Today, Rikkyo University has grown to become a major university with nine colleges and thirteen graduate schools. The founding spirit of Rikkyo is therefore steeped in these Christian values of providing a liberal education that nurtures every aspect of the individual.

Dr. Kasahara says “These values continue to be our guiding principle. Education, particularly humanitarian education, is the result of a critical engagement with philosophy, literature, and history. But true education also requires a deep understanding of and insights into the individual and society.”

The vice chancellor adds that Rikkyo provides education that is firmly based on experience of the real world, through which students would become aware of human dignity. Through educational activities, Rikkyo is to pursue practical teaching to nurture an awareness of human rights, a first-hand understanding of what happens in the real world, and a sense of involvement. What the university tries is to send into society citizens with an open mind that enables them to convey their practical experience to others, rather than keeping it to themselves.

But what actually made Rikkyo University come to Bangladesh for such educational exchanges? “We had set up a new type of graduate school seven years ago that deals with human security and development and mainly working with the non-profit organisations,” says Dr. Kasahara. Bangladesh's Nobel laureate Dr. Mohammad Yunus was offered honorary doctorate from this Graduate School of Social Design Studies, Dr. Kasahara informs. He says as far as the Japanese government is concerned, it is very strong in terms of governance and development. “But in Bangladesh the government is seen to be weak in many respects where the NGOs are helping the former in health, education and other developmental sectors. They were seen to work very well in these sectors; and that's why we thought of working with them, further improving their skills and research capabilities,” says the visiting VC.

He met President Iajuddin Ahmed, Dhaka University VC Dr SMA Fayez, two NGO gurus Dr Yunus and Fazle Hasan Abed.

But a crucial question arises: why is Rikkyo only offering its exchange programmes with the public and non-government orgnisations? Why not the private sector as well? The private sector, side by side with the NGOs, have done considerably well in setting universities, schools, world class hospitals, medical colleges etc.; they should also be included in this exchange programmes.

Dr. Kasahara hesitantly smiles saying: “Rikkyo is a very conservative institution; it first wants to know another institution better and then offer something; we know the reputation of Dhaka University and what these NGOs do at the field level.” Rikkyo aims to do a lot with Bangladeshi institutions, including the private universities. Possibly, Rikkyo would start with Brac University when it goes for educational exchanges with private universities.

When Dr. Kasahara says the Japanese government is much stronger than NGOs and the private sector, what would he suggest for Bangladesh government to functioning better than what it presently does? The Rikkyo vice chancellor says he has a different opinion on copying any country's model in another country. “The people of Bangladesh would have decide what their government should do to function better. The people of Bangladesh should also decide how their government can improve their governance,” opines Dr. Kasahara. Since every country has its own uniqueness, he thinks Bangladeshis should first find out their own potential and work on it. “But education is the most important aspect to take a country forward; it is education that drives people to make their government do what the people want,” he stresses.

He also thinks the British colonialism in South Asia did a gross injustice to the region's education. “They did not put any emphasis on the region's elementary education at all; rather by providing higher education they wanted to create more Oxford graduates who on their return home would serve their purposes,” Dr. Kasahara explains.

Dr. Kasahara cites the Japanese example. He says Japan was a closed country for about 300 years. No one had gone out of Japan and the Japanese never allowed anyone to get in. “But we have always given importance to mass education; we, even during those closed days, have had thousands of hut-like schools at the grassroots and those schools had helped shape Japanese people's education,” Dr. Kasahara says. If education can work for Japan and many other countries, it is bound to work for Bangladesh in its pursuit for advancement, he says with a hint of urgency in his voice.

In this new century, says Dr. Kasahara, Rikkyo will continue to hold true to its founding spirit and build networks of collaboration with educational institutions in Japan and abroad. “It is my belief that networks such as these will play a crucial role as the foundation of international intellectual cooperation,” he adds.

According to Dr. Kasahara, Rikkyo would continue with its networking with Bangladeshi institutions and organisations as long as is needed. “It actually works both ways”, he says, “it depends how best Bangladeshi institutions would utilise our offer to their own benefits; if they really utilise this, I hope this will continue,” concludes Dr. Kasahara.

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