Road to progress

Serajul Islam Choudhury
LIKE many other problems, education has been and still is characteristically political. It is the power relationship operating within the state that decides the kind of education to be given to the citizens together with the ideology that education should be obliged to inculcate. And the key ideological question is of course the type of young person that education would be expected to produce – whether, to put it rather bluntly, the educated individual should be helped to become a capitalist, or a socialist. Needless to say, the two types are not merely different, they are contrary to each other.

Whereas the development of the individual lies at the centre of all educational enterprises, the individual may very well turn into an isolated, self-centred, profit-loving and pleasure-seeking person, instead of developing into one who is interested in, and committed to, the promotion of collective welfare. The two paths lie wide apart; and that is why the ideological content is even more important than the quantity of education given to the individuals. Governments in our country have, in the past, set up committees and commissions to suggest reforms in education, but they have failed to define, perhaps intentionally, the type of individual they desire the educational system to produce.

Meanwhile, the existing system has remained, to all intents and purposes, both capitalistic and feudal. Education in this country has been working to produce individuals who would fend after themselves, without giving much attention to the promotion of collective well-being. Mingled with this capitalist ideology, there are the feudal elements of unquestioning obedience to powers that be and backward-looking ideas together with residual prejudices allowed, even encouraged, to operate.

It is, therefore, necessary that in the interest of moving ahead we erase the capitalist-feudal influences and elements from the system of education and decide to create through education, men and women who would realise that the individual cannot exist, let alone develop, without the cooperation of others and that the rise of one depends on the rise of all. The young learners need to be taught to care for, and share with, others; and discouraged to become self-centred and unsocial beings.

Thus, the defining of the objectives and abandoning of the prevailing ideology should be the first task of any educational reform worthy of its name. To be sure, this task has been neglected, with the result that we are not having the right kind of educated persons. The decline in patriotism and the phenomenal rise in so-called corruption are not unconnected with the education given in the home and in the educational institutions. The home is, of course, the place where the student is nurtured and in most homes the conglomeration of the capitalist and the feudal ideologies permeates. In fact, proper education is particularly necessary to cure the learners of what they bring from the home.

The goal we had once set before was to have a democratic dispensation of society, looked after by a democratic state. To achieve this, it is imperative to unite the existing flow of three separate streams of education into a single whole of which the medium ought to be the mother tongue. This should be the second task. Whereas one of the acknowledged aims of education has always been bringing the people together, the three-stream education in our country is relentlessly deepening and widening the existing class division. This has to be stopped. We cannot, and must not, allow education to divide the people instead of uniting them.

That the mother tongue is as natural in respect of education as mother’s care is for the upbringing of the child needs no proving. As medium of instruction, the mother tongue is both effective and creative; it takes learning deep into the learner and helps him/her to think independently and imagine courageous as well as express himself/herself with adequacy and satisfaction. Apart from achieving unity, there is yet another contribution that the mother tongue can make. This is secularisation of education and outlook. Bangladesh was set up to become a secular democratic state while secularism by itself is not enough; it is the very first step without which further steps are impossible to make. Secularism, let us remind ourselves, is both philosophical and political. Philosophically it denotes worldly wisdom and politically it envisages complete separation between religion and politics, leaving religion to the individual citizen as a matter of faith and practice. Secularism will not bring us democracy, but without secularism it will be impossible for us to move towards democracy.

The road to freedom lies across creativity. Education has not been helping us to move ahead; instead it is, silently and continuously, hindering our progress. As a result, we as a people are losing our objectives and bearings, both intellectually and ideologically. Education has to be made secular, democratic and anti-feudal, aiming at unity rather than division among the people.

Since its inception, Bangladesh has fallen victim to a crass and crude form of capitalism. Privatisation has become the order of the day. Health and education are the worst sufferers. Increasingly, education has become a commodity to be purchased in the open and free market, which market has already become corrupt. Trade has always been suspect, and in education it is likely to be, and to an extent has already become, vicious. The commodification of education prevailing in the country is unbearable and constitutes, obviously, a serious hindrance to progress and a grave threat to our future.

Education is a matter of rights for very citizen and should not be a privilege of those who have the means to purchase it. The state has the responsibility of providing education; but it has been failing us. We need a large number of public universities; in the absence of which private universities are flourishing. Most of the private universities are incomplete and inadequate in terms of academic facilities and diversity and are guided by commercial rather than educational motives. They are no substitute for public universities. The private universities have very little interest in humanities, social and pure sciences; they are bent upon producing managers and computer operators. There is no doubt that we need skilled personnel, but to deprive such persons of the fulfilment of social instincts amounts to causing them a harm which is likely to prove incurable, if not worse.

In the ultimate analysis, all academic institutions are social institutions; and their academic activities ought to be part of social activity – seen in a broader perspective. That is how they should have their being and develop themselves. A society like ours does not help; instead it creates alienation. The educational institutions have the responsibility of bringing the students out of their isolation, and teach them how to work, learn and play together. The fettered individual should be set free; and this can be done if education is properly planed.

Libraries seem to be the most neglected part in the schools, colleges, and universities. We need well-equipped and properly-managed libraries, with students being encouraged to make the best possible use of them. But libraries should have as their counterpart open space and playgrounds. Students should be provided with opportunities to play and have fun, which opportunities they are now being denied in their homes, increasingly. Extracurricular activities are no less useful than those provided in the curriculum. The students should be taken out to visit farms, factories, stations, rivers along with historical sights and museums. We should help our students to know what there is in the syllabus but also the world around them, with its history and traditions. Every institution should have elective bodies, clubs, teams and groups and must not be allowed to turn into academic slums. The separation between mental and manual work is harmful and needs to be done away with.

Obviously, much depends on the recruitment of proper teachers. Certificates should not be enough, the motivation of those seeking to be admitted into the profession has to be gone into. A teacher ought to be a teacher by choice, and not because of failure to get other jobs. Teachers’ training has been neglected. Teachers need training not only when they are engaged in teaching but even before joining the profession.

Education is too important a subject to be left to the state, exclusively. Society has also its responsibility. The guardians and persons interested in education should be urged to take interest in the management of the institutions, right from the primary to the highest stages. Government inspection is not enough, social accountability has to be established; and, at the same time, society cannot afford to be indifferent to education, which is so very essential for progress and well-being. Out future depends on what we do in the education sector today.

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