POST TIME: 28 July, 2021 09:15:11 PM
Reforms in tertiary education
Though we are celebrating fifty years of independence of Bangladesh, the state has virtually failed to generate a mass-oriented progressive education policy where citizens of a nation relish the opportunity to taste quality education.
Ariful Islam Laskar

Reforms in tertiary education

Plato and Aristotle established Academia and Lyceum to have dialogues with the young knowledge aspiring people of Greece. The core philosophy of education that they tried to promulgate is 'wonder of knowledge and its integration through oral discussion and debate'. Most importantly, these two ancient mentors were very democratic and liberal in their approach and attitude to disseminate knowledge.
The irony is that, with the progress of time and with the advent of capitalism, the education system has offered us a more rigid and linear outlook towards schooling, teaching-learning, and life itself. Bangladesh, following the same trend of decline, though improved a lot in many indexes, viz.: gender gap minimization, women education, overall literacy rate, etc. are playing a lackluster performance in ensuring quality education at all levels.
Why so disheartening performance? Well, no short-cut answer will suffice. Admittedly and precisely speaking, in our country, from primary to higher secondary level, we lack quality teachers, effective curriculum, and sustainable infrastructures. From teachers' training to a classroom environment, we disregard maintaining and nurturing this ever-important sophisticated sector.
At the tertiary level, we have failed miserably and lag behind a lot in all parameters of the world ranking. Again, focusing on only up to higher secondary level forgetting the immense importance of higher education is not helping us in creating a great generation. The question arises: do we understand the notion and need of a good university? Hence, this article will primarily focus on the 'idea of a university' propagated by various scholars and the despicable picture of Bangladeshi universities.
Bangladesh, being a developing nation and having a monopolistic governance system coupled with a horrid political setting is trailing back and becoming incompetent in providing quality education. Besides, a rigid and useless bureaucratic system has forced our universities to be ineffective and less productive.
This ineffectiveness leads to mediocrity. Certainly, mediocrity entertains mediocre teachers and a submissive administrative panel that gives birth to mediocre students. Thus, creating an atmosphere of knowledge and wisdom becomes a nightmare. In some instances, instead of developing the inner aptitude of pupils, some universities are behaving like big corporations or manufacturing companies.
If teachers are wrongly recruited, the dismal condition of our universities will not improve. If teachers and administrative officers get their appointment because of certain unusual affiliations, we can only imagine the disintegration of the universities. The organized bureaucracy has already crippled the public universities, while the narrow outlook and mismanagement are ruining the promising venture of the newly introduced private university cultures of Bangladesh.
Universities are for producing critical thinkers and active citizens. However, offering certificates has become one of the prime purposes of most of our universities while imparting fundamental knowledge remains unnoticed. Paulo Freire, the celebrated Brazilian educator, once expressed that 'literacy is about reading the world, not the word'. Universities help grow a broader outlook toward the world and make us individuals. Freire further remarks ' …what the educator does in teaching is to make it possible for the students to become themselves.'
Universities are for 'public good'; they are not to deliver 'products' or 'profits. In this regard, I can allude to Nobel prize winners Schultz and Becker as they argue that education and knowledge are the best human capital that can improve a country more than any capital. Even a country's economic expansion and solid development depend on education.
Joseph Jacotot (born in 1770), a renowned French teacher and philosopher, reveals that passive education and passive teachers play a reverse role to usher vital changes in the mind of the students. Teachers need to have a wide-open perspective to foster diversity. He thinks that a right-minded academician looks for active engagement with students.
Henry Newman in his book The Idea of a University delineates that universities should disseminate 'universal knowledge'. The vision and mission of a university are to create a 'liberally educated gentleman' to encourage diverse knowledge and intellect. Newman did not envision a market-oriented and industrial university that takes away the inner energy of a human. Lately, universities are looking for ready benefits and profits; however, Newman asks for long-term sustainable well-being.
In his controversial book University in Ruins, Bill Readings is not in favour of the idea of so-called 'excellence'; in its place, he urges the universities to come out from the clasp of the utter bureaucratic entrepreneurial cocoon. His explorations illustrate that modern western universities are busy with rigid performance rubrics to measure excellence or quality. He warns that universities must shape and mold 'subjects' not 'servants'.
Yet again,19th-century Prussian philosopher and educator Humboldt invokes the idea of education emphasizing the creation of self-sufficient individuals and world citizens. The Humboldtian method seeks individual freedom, liberal outlook, and autonomy of public universities from the state, bureaucracy, and the unintelligent corrupt forces.
So, it is evident that the prominent pedagogues and philosophers believe that the nucleus of a university is a 'community of scholars and students who together delve deep into the domain of knowledge to investigate and explore the world around us. Every one of the above pedagogues emphasizes a broader liberal view of education and highlights the importance of unbiased and independent research and genuine teaching-learning.
A university must produce problem-solvers and proactive thinkers. In addition, a university must guarantee academic freedom for teachers and will not entertain superfluous people taking the upper hand in the literary sphere.
The 1974 Qudrat-i-Khuda Education Commission to 2010 National education Policy of Bangladesh took many initiatives to establish a state-of-the-art education scheme but mostly failed due to heinous political intervention, lack of implementation, and sheer negligence for education. Though we are celebrating fifty years of independence of Bangladesh, the state has virtually failed to generate a mass-oriented progressive education policy where citizens of a nation relish the opportunity to taste quality education.
In Bangladesh, public and private universities are thriving in quantity and mushrooming everywhere. In addition, the new digital intervention has opened up a new horizon in the realm of education. Hence, the idea and philosophy of education are continuously evolving. Yet core philosophies propounded by the above-named thinkers and theorists are still considered classic examples. And our universities must follow the notions and guidelines of the above-discussed philosophers to become world-class. Apart from that, we need to ensure incorporating our cultural values and traditions in our curriculum and syllabus to uphold and brand our university.
In education, as a nation, we have achieved significant success; yet our successive governments could not offer us a sustainable and functional education policy. The question of quality has always been compromised in our universities. The pursuit of knowledge and wisdom, research, and quality teacher-student interaction is less- practiced nowadays. Teachers and students cannot exercise their autonomy and freedom of speech freely as political and organizational protocols interfere. So, we cannot enjoy a culture of a healthy environment of human interaction in academic institutions and thus become unproductive citizens.
The very colonial nature of education is still pervading our structure of education. Teachers and students involve themselves in politics for promotions, power, and personal gains. Teachers do their research only to ensure promotions, not to create an impact. Nowadays, the ordeal of education is so visible that recently it has become the hot topic among the top academicians of Bangladesh.
I suspect, in the ensuing future, universities will turn into the 'education industry'. Teachers and students will be treated just as 'employees' and 'clients'. We must remember that a university is not a business venture and political hub; it is a rather place for acquiring and spreading diverse knowledge. We immediately need the involvement of caring and compassionate educators to get out of this frustrating circumstance. Already some influential merchants-who did not have any prior connection with education-have taken control of our education.
I earnestly expect that our universities will thrive and shine again, and our government, prominent policymakers, and educators will demonstrate their passion and ability to take few groundbreaking steps to initiate desired changes.

The writer teaches literature at the tertiary level. Email: [email protected]