Bangladesh/ 26 December, 2021/ Source/ https://www.dhakatribune.com/
By Nawarul Gafur Samin
We must realize the importance of research and education, without which Vision 2041 will remain incomplete
As Bangladesh celebrates 50 years of independence and liberation, we look back at what once was termed as an economic basket case, a test case of development, and now what has become an economic miracle. Over the last five decades, poverty has been reduced from 70% to 21%, GDP per capita has risen from a little under $100to $2227. Literacy rate has improved to 74%, and Bangladesh now ranks as a self-sufficient nation in food, whose production has tripled to meet the growing demands of a growing population.
Even in population control, Bangladesh’s fertility rate has dropped below India’s today, from over seven children per woman in 1971, to 2.1 children in 2021. Bangladesh’s achievements have proven the pundits wrong, time and again. We have much to be proud of in our nation’s 50 year old history.
However, as with all successes, there are always some failures. Same goes for Bangladesh as well. As previously mentioned, Bangladesh has shown remarkable achievements in the education sector. It has even achieved gender parity in primary education, where more girls are enrolled than boys today.
Quantity over quality?
But the quality of education in Bangladesh remains poor with regards to global, even regional standards. This is reflected in the quality of education index by the World Bank, where Bangladesh lags behind the regional average at 84th place, whereas Pakistan and Sri Lanka are ranked 60th and 61st respectively. India leads the region, ranking 26th in 2017.
The same is exemplified in The Global Knowledge Index 2020, where Bangladesh ranked 112th out of 138 nations. Bangladesh shares its spot with Pakistan, whereas regional rivals India and Sri Lanka are ranked 75th and 87th respectively.
This ranking is based on seven factors, including innovation, higher education, technology, and pre-university education. Bangladesh’s poorest performance came in higher education, where it ranks an abysmal 129th out of the 138 countries. This is not isolated. The deteriorated state of the country’s highest institutes for learning are projected year over year in international university rankings.
In the 2022 QS University ranking, only two Bangladeshi universities managed to make it to the top 1000, that too in the last tier. Meanwhile, Pakistan has three universities in the top 500, and five overall in the top 1000. This is the scenario in all rankings, from whatever source. Bangladesh’s universities are lagging behind its regional rivals. Even 30 years ago, Bangladesh’s institutes of higher education were ranked as high as its South Asian counterparts.
Where did we go wrong?
Almost everywhere, it seems. Universities are the place where the greatest minds gather together for greater learning, for an environment where they can unleash their creativity. Yet, with the increasing politicization of our universities, we have destroyed any chance of such an atmosphere.
Instead of a free environment, we have gone the opposite direction, an atmosphere of fear, which was only emboldened by the gruesome murder of Abrar Fahad at one of the nation’s top universities. Such an environment creates scores of Boro Bhais and turns what should have been a vibrant environment into a toxic one.
And it doesn’t stop there. We have created a political culture for our teachers as well, where they are hired and promoted not for their academic value, but for the virtue of aligning with the correct political lines. Such a system exists nowhere else in the world, not even our neighbours.
This causes rampant corruption with university funds, which are already minimal. Students at our best institutes are forced to study and sleep in overcrowded rooms in inhumane and unhygienic conditions. Because of the milieu of zero accountability, we have also normalized “session jams,” which steal years of bright opportunities from the most talented among us. If vice chancellors and others in charge have to cater to the political spectrum that helped them get to this position in the first place, there is no one to spot and solve these problems.
University funds are embezzled for research purposes too. Bangladesh is perhaps one of the easiest places in the world to become a university professor. Where our neighbours have set their standards in tune with the global ones, we have only regressed. The present system allows for teachers with zero capability to get a job for life. This has reflected poorly on students, who have also lost the intent to conduct original and purposeful research, instead retorting to plagiarism. The infamous Nilkhet shops that sell photocopied works of original thesis, are by and large met with indifference from the authorities.
What should we do?
The first step starts from those who nurture the heart of any educational institution, the teachers. As previously mentioned, hiring university teachers without PhDs need to be slowly phased out, at least in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) field. The University Grants Commission (UGC) can instruct and help universities form expert committees to evaluate potential teachers based on their educational background and quality of research, and have the best people for the job, regardless of political leanings or social standing.
UGC itself is to be reformed, allowing the best teachers in the country who are reputed for their work and in accord with today’s vastly different educational landscape to be in charge, rather than those selected by the government. And the laws against plagiarism are already in place, waiting to be implemented. Examples are to be made of those who are accused of such.
Teachers should be encouraged to create a vibrant research culture, and they should receive proper funding as well. Universities can plan to create laboratories, at least for the departments of science and technology, with the latest and modern equipment.
Instead of promoting professors based on their age, they should be promoted for their research and accomplishments. If we don’t allow our teachers to develop and furnish their capabilities, we can never expect great graduates from them. Private companies should be pressured to fund research from Bangladesh, instead of going abroad. Policymakers must realize the importance of research and education, without which Vision 2041 will remain incomplete. Spending on education should at least be 3-4% of our GDP.
Instead of focusing on political and national events, symposiums and seminars based on research and learning should be arranged with regular intervals, inviting industry-leading professors from Bangladesh and the world over.
Every university should have world class websites, complete with profiles of their teachers and professors, their background and achievements. Students have the right to know their teachers well in this modern day and age, as is the case in the developed world, where students have the capacity to select their professors based on their accomplishments and specialties in their specific fields.
The major-minor system could be started for bachelor students, where majors are the primary focus while minors are secondary; this allows students to be flexible with how they learn and what they want to study for specialization. Master’s degrees without a thesis should be slowly disallowed. Universities should focus on increasing the quality of their existing departments rather than creating new ones.
Our future will be shaped by our education
Bangladesh today has come far from what it once was coined to be, to the surprise of many. While we take pride in our many successes, we must also learn from our failures as well. Over the last 200 years, whichever country went ahead in the three industrial revolutions, ruled the world. Today, we are in the midst of a fourth industrial revolution, and it will be driven by the youth.
Universities are where we can see the future of nations, and it’s high time we focus on fixing the problems that plague ours, so that we can expect a remarkable generation that will herald the Shonar Bangla that we deeply envision.
Nawarul Gafur Samin is a freelance contributor.