Friday, April 16, 2010

Education: back to the Future

Our present education system has been relegated to the status of merely a degree-awarding mechanism that is inherently immune to the quality of students it produces. It wasn’t always like this. There was a time when education was inspirational and full of romanticism for life. To name a few, teachers like Sardar Fazlul Karim, Sirajul Islam Chowdhury, Abdullah Abu Sayeed and Syed Manjoorul Islam were true mentors and role models who shared common aim: to shape lives.

But somewhere along the line, we rebooted ourselves and started to weigh life on the scales set up by corporate induced media reality. This alternate way of life, however, lays no merit on education. It’s just like an army ruler diverting part of the education budget towards defence, thus inadvertently down-playing the importance of education in the development of a nation.

Khan Ata in his portrayal of a philosopher king in Abar Tora Manush Ho tried to convince our freedom fighters to return to classrooms. Such few characters are occasionally honored in our media for their wisdom and chivalry, but to no avail. Teachers have been rendered ineffective and useless; reminiscent of old black and white films in which they symbolize poverty and sorrow. In today’s Bangladesh, a teacher could at best be an object of a corporate campaign ‘sada moner manush’ or receive invitations to state banquettes where their presence is needed to convince the world that reactionary intellectualism is still alive.

Reality is starkly differently. Teachers are routinely manhandled by the very students they teach. Political greed is forcing students away from classrooms and onto delinquent paths.

Our public universities largely breed civil servants with small salary packages as compared to India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. They either surrender to the god of corruption or to fate. Trapped by fear of uncertainty, enormous talent is wasted.

Private universities, on the other hand, generate corporate managers with moderate earnings. Their highest achievement is being able to visit coffee shops, wear trendy costumes and live a watered-down version of the American dream. This group anticipates Baishakh just as it enjoys Halloween.

Then there are the madrassahs which produce only zealots. They exist in limbo: caught in the dream of Muslim brotherhood yet choosing to bomb their opposers in the name of religion.

These three streams of society live in parallel reality; cross paths at traffic signals or during Friday prayers. There’s nothing to show for any education: no respect, no tolerance, and no peace. And in this entire game, patriotism is used as a punching bag.

Desperate times call for desperate measures. I believe we have reached the limit of desperation. No education, no future. It is as simple as that. The nation awaits an education policy that will revive the glory of education and, more importantly, educators.

Teachers should be given the honor and privilege that they historically and culturally deserve. It’s hard to believe now, but even in Bangladesh real education flourished at a time when teachers were accorded the status of being ‘the wise men’ of society. We need to redevelop that mindset. We need to inculcate among masses that teachers are not mere imparters of information; rather they are those who guide us through the web of knowledge towards wisdom.

And in order to do that the first step is to make this profession more lucrative as compared to other sectors. Remunerations and perks for our educators should at least be brought at par with corporate and bureaucratic scales. This step alone will be enough to attract those intelligent and visionary students who are passionate about teaching but reluctant to make a career out of it.

Once teachers are released from the stress of making ends meet, they will have more dedication, energy and time for their students. Bangladesh is running out of everything: energy, water, patience and peace. The time has come for the government to realize that the multi-faceted crisis facing Bangladesh cannot be solved without capable and honest leaders. Luckily, this is not a chicken & hen dilemma. We know for a fact that sound education is the only means to evolve a nation capable of handling itself.

Another point of concern is that the criminalization of politics and failure of state mechanism are at a climax. Both the Awami League and BNP should stop spoiling their student cadres and start vocational trainings for them so that these young party activists can be turned into revenue earners instead of living lives based on extortion and petty handouts.
The people of Bangladesh have been ready for a long time to make sacrifices for the sake of good education for their children. It’s now up to policy makers to pre-empt calls for social revolt.

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