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Volume 6 | Issue 05 | May 2012 |


Original Forum

Media Governance in Bangladesh:
Rhetoric and Reality of Broadcasting Policy
-- S M Shameem Reza
Social Media:
The debate of freedom and responsibility
-- Fahmidul Haq
The Healthy Effect of New Media--Naimul Karim
Freedom on Screen:
The long route of short films

-- Zakir Hossain Raju
Come Freedom, Come Responsibility-- Interview with Professor Dr. Gitiara Nasreen
Television Journalism as a Field
--- AJM Shafiul Alam Bhuiyan

Rabindranath and the Translation of Gitanjali
--Rifat Munim


Photo Feature
Live True Life or Die Trying

International Crimes and the Tribunal in Bangladesh

-- Mubashar Hasan

Politics for Quality of Life: A new perspective for Bangladesh politics
-- Syed Fattahul Alim

Education for Regional
Connectivity in South Asia

--Shakil Ahmed
If you can't grab a bull by its horns,
grab its tail

--Nofel Wahid
The Fall of Dictators
-- Syed Badrul Ahsan


Forum Home

Education for Regional Connectivity in South Asia

SHAKIL AHMED highlights the role of education in enhancing and improving regional connectivity,

David Malan /Getty

South Asia includes Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Nepal, India, Bhutan, Pakistan and Maldives according to SAARC (South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation). While the first prime minister of independent India, Jawaharlal Nehru stated that “peaceful co-existence is not a new idea for us in India,” the region is facing a range of issues -- poverty, violence, war, disease, population control, corruption, resource mismanagement, environmental disasters, etc. These problems led to the formation of SAARC in the first place, with the hope that greater regional cooperation and connectivity may lead to the resolution of these problems.

Here, I aim to depict how education, even that in the classroom, may have a role in encouraging greater regional connectivity. After all, Rabindranath Tagore said, “The highest education is that which does not merely give us information but makes our life in harmony with all existence.”

I attended a planning conference, which attempted to highlight various strategies to deal with the regional problems of South Asia, called Building Bridges: Strengthening Physical, Emotional and Economic Linkages by COSATT (Consortium of South Asian Think Tanks), held at Godavori, Nepal from 6-7 April, 2012. The conference was organised jointly by the IPCS (Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies), New Delhi and Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung, Germany. There was at least one participant from each of the SAARC countries.

As we discussed about multiple ways of improving regional connectivity in South Asia, questions kept arising in my mind -- who is benefitting from such connectivity? Is it the individual, the community, the industries, the nation, the region or the world? What concerns me most is whether the people are being helped, especially the underprivileged, which in reality represents the majority in the South Asian region.

Obstacles to regional connectivity
While we talked about regional connectivity, we already have many issues about connectivity even among ourselves, starting from a nation-wide scale to even within basic units in our local communities -- families, relatives, neighbours, co-workers, etc. While arguments proposed during the conference may be sound, while we used our analytical prowess to desirable policies, obstacles surface when it comes to the implementation of these ideas. One of the root causes for this can be attributed to the fact that those involved in the whole process cannot seem to be on the same page.

Each person involved in any stage of a project, starting from ideation to implementation, is a different individual with different personal goals. The fact that these people belong to the same process of actualising the project should entail the assumption that their goals are aligned with the overall project's goal. If goals of individuals come into conflict and/or are not fulfilled in light of the overall goal, whole projects may run the risk of coming to a standstill. The greater the difference in agenda, the greater the likelihood for projects not going according to plan. In reality, the impact of this difference also depends on how powerful these individuals are in the implementation process. A mere example is how the Teesta water sharing treaty between India and Bangladesh, an opportunity for greater connectivity, is facing obstacles since the goals of West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee are not being met. Professor Imtiaz Ahmed of International Relations, Dhaka University explained that Mamata was an ingredient that was not considered in the biryani of regional policies proposed between India and Bangladesh.

Looking for a system of values
In the conference room which stood on top of a hill at the Godavori Village Resort Hotel, Nepal, there was a diverse group of twenty people and even though we were all different individuals, there lay an emanating sense of a shared value system -- values which encourage balance, connectivity and harmony, seeking to make the lives of people better. We were products of our education systems, families and interactions with the environment, which led us to the formation of our own value systems.

Retd. Major General Dipankar Banerjee mentioned during the conference that if projects are practical, feasible and economically beneficial, then it fully makes sense for such projects to be implemented. However, given that people are not on the same page or rather the same value system, conflicts arise and projects get slowed down.

Mediating the inception of ideas through education
From a “modern” education perspective, we go through our own education systems, expected to take up various responsibilities in society. If the need arises, we may brainstorm about connectivity issues in order to fulfil our responsibilities. Regional connectivity is not necessarily a concern in primary and secondary education.

An effort that considers education to promote regional connectivity is likely to be a long-term effort. To appreciate such an effort, one should understand the inception of ideas. After all, people were in this conference to exchange ideas. If at least one good idea sticks, then those concerned will probably put their efforts surrounding that idea to realise its implementation.
Education does not imply coercion. Coercion to incept ideas may not be a successful tactic -- there is a great number of other ways, besides sheer dominance or force, which may lead to inception. We should start exposing values that encourage regional connectivity to individuals while they are young, possibly through their education systems, curricula, media, etc.

It may be hypothesised that with the right exposure of ideas, a generalised (not identical) behaviour pattern may be observed. However, the education media cannot be one of rote memorisation.

The individual needs to be exposed to experiences and role models, through and from which she can actively learn to inculcate certain values and attitudes.

If desired values are practised while people are young, the hypothesis is that as people grow up to become thinkers, politicians, businessmen, farmers, policemen, teachers, doctors, etc, there may be a shared understanding to bring about connectivity at home, community, districts, nation, continental region and the world.

Enhancing the curriculum
Educational reformer John Dewey used to advocate a transformative model of education, where 'each individual should get an opportunity to escape from the limitations of the social group in which he was born, and come into living contact with a broader environment.”
One of the ways to introduce relevant experiences in the curriculum could be to introducing more philosophical discourse in the classroom. Some may suggest that philosophical discourse is detrimental to society and the more inquisitively and analytically empowered the masses are, the greater the instability within society. Such suggestions, however, usually come from those holding the reins of power in society and discouraging philosophical/analytical inquiry among the masses would seem logical to them in their attempts to sustain their power positions.

To attain greater connectivity and understanding among people by exercising skills in reasoning and analysis, philosophical discourse should be encouraged in all sectors of society. It is already in practice outside the classroom for example, when people are involved in adda. In the true sense of adda, there is no facilitation in the process and conversations may lead to anywhere, where the people involved in the adda may generate any number of possible claims or conclusions.

To intentionally reach certain conclusions, which lead to the appreciation of desired values, classroom facilitators should practise the process of Socratic questioning and eventually, through an argumentative process, reach appropriate conclusions.

Something, which comes close, is debate. In debate, students take opposite sides and at times, it is hoped that through compelling arguments, students may eventually agree with what seems right. However, if students argue for a side which actually may seem against the values of connectivity, then those students may actually come up with more compelling arguments than their counter-parties, convincing themselves to be in a position that discourages connectivity.

Other experiential activities can also be organised for children to experience problems/conflicts within their own communities and the region, through which they attempt to come up with solutions to resolve these simulated scenario-based conflicts. Other media as such audio-visual material in the form of movies, songs and cartoons, books, etc. may also be created.

Whether or not deciding what values should be taught to others is moral, whether regional connectivity is actually desirable and whether one can strongly argue for it is another issue. From an educational policy-making view, if regional connectivity is what the curricula-designers desire, then the above-mentioned initiatives could possibly help out in the long run.

However, one note of caution: the above strategies in the education system do not just relate to the idea of encouraging regional connectivity; they could be used for almost any idea, for good or for bad. The onus of what ideas should be encouraged relies upon the policy-makers of the education system and needless to say, if the policy-makers are working towards the benefit of their people, then accordingly, they have to make their decisions responsibly.

All in all, an education system that addresses the concerns regarding the lack of regional connectivity and incepts these ideas/values which encourage greater connectivity into young minds may lead to the smoother implementation of relevant ideas within our own homes and the region. If people do not appreciate initiatives for regional connectivity as they grow up, it is difficult to expect cooperation when it comes to the implementation of such projects. With the appropriate steps, it is hoped that education for regional connectivity could lead us to overcoming the region's woes of massive poverty, nuclear power enmity, drugs and arms smuggling, border killings, mistrust arising from the partitions of 1947 and 1971, water management issues, regional terrorism, etc., leading to a peaceful and healthier future of South Asia.

Shakil Ahmed is a staff researcher at the Institute of Educational Development, Brac University.


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