Meaningful education for an enlightened society


by A.K.M. Enayet Kabir


Throughout history, philosophers, statesmen and politicians have felt that the existence of a society hinges on right types of education. The Greek Philosopher. Aristotle (384-322 BC) wrote: "the fate of empires depend on the education of the youth". Albert Einstein (1879-1955 AD) said, "It is essential that the student acquire an understanding of, and a lively feeling of values - of the morally good. Otherwise, he - with his specialised Knowledge - more closely resembles a well-trained dog than harmoniously developed person." These leaders saw the problems in their society and came to the conclusion that proper education was at the heart and core of the solution. A child mis-educated is a child lost. Lack of true knowledge (or false education) can destroy individuals or ultimately a society. Our question is, what kind of education leads to a happy, productive and successful life? There is no genetic transmission of virtue - it takes conscious, committed efforts. Not all teachers are parents, but all parents are teachers. And in some cases, parents nowadays discover that their children are unlearning in school the lessons they have learned at home.When we think of a "system of education" we must include our society beyond the classroom. And the home must rank as primary source of education. Educators rightly complain that too many of today's parents are simply "dumping their problems" on to the schools - expecting the schools to teach their children everything there is to know. Part of the reason that our formal school system is failing is that the family system is failing in our society. The basic solution to the problems of our education system lies in our recapturing true values. The aim of all education - whether at home, at work, at play or in school - ought to be the teaching of what we call values (not merely funnelling information into the empty mind). Of course, there is the need for a technical education/training that teaches us "how to earn a living." But, basic education must be for "how to live". Which values are we to learn? What are the values anyway? Who will teach them? The fact that our society is so divided and confused is that we have lost our way. Simply learning values is not enough. If we choose to act contrary to the best interest of our society - we have really learned nothing. True education involves learning and becoming a different sort of person. American historian Will Durant 1885-1981 called education "a progressive discovery of our own ignorance". How ironic, our colossal system of Western education is failing to teach this most important knowledge of all (the "missing dimension" in education).Like the West, the overall purpose of our education is no longer to raise spiritually and morally sound human beings. Rather, its role has lately been trivialised by overemphasising the intellectual aspect and then (to a large extent) the economic aspect. These aspects stress academic excellence and technical development of students at the expense of the primary aim of education i.e. the inculcation of the values of love and justice, the understanding of basic human rights and respect for the self and others. The teaching culture of many campus today is characterised by silence, individualism and secrecy. Any social order, even if corrupt and unjust, will be supported if it obeys the dictates of Westernisation. In this state of affairs, it is impossible to generate a truly universalistic moral and spiritual development of mankind. Moreover, under the policy of privatisation of education, the gap between the rich and the poor will widen in education, as in economies and social status. If monetarism and the economy of market forces are to dictate educational policy, then the best schools will obviously be the private, fee-paying schools which can afford to employ the best teachers with the best resources and offer the best standard of education - while the public sector schools are starved of funds! Education is one of the necessary preconditions for development. Hence, without providing adequate education to all, the plan for development as well as the problems associated with the future goals regarding our population will be difficult to achieve. The large number of our illiterate population (particularly females) makes it impossible for initiating any development process that requires awareness and skills in the form of formal or informal education. The Fourth Five Year Plan (1990-95) aimed at accelerating economic growth (GDP growth at 5 per cent rate during the plan period), had the main focus on "Poverty alleviation and employment generation through human resource development."It is now widely agreed that human capital plays a critical role in fuelling economic growth. According to the New Growth theory (Lucas, 1993), the main engine of growth is the accumulation of human capital of knowledge - and main source of differences in living standards among nations is differences in human capital . The spectacular economic development in East. Asian economics have been attributed to a "virtuous circle" by which these economies invested heavily in human capital, which in turn enhanced labour productivity, lowered fertility, and reduced income inequality, all of which contributed to their economic growth. It has been observed for developing countries that the productivity of farmers with 4 years of schooling is on an average 9 per cent higher than farmers with no schooling.Likewise, in Bangladesh the higher return from investment on human capital could be the means to integration of our population and sustained economic growth. The importance of population education is that it helps people to understand the inter-relationship between the population situation and factors enhancing the quality of life of the individual and society at large. To be most effective, education about population issues must begin in our primary school and continue through all levels of our formal and non-formal education. The introduction of Population Education Programme [PEP] in grades 5-12 by the Ministry of Education, was a right approach in this regard.We need a new system of education that reverses the contemporary role of values and more technical knowledge. True values must be discovered and taught first throughout our deteriorating society, in which false standard is predominating our minds. Right education is to teach one to recognise and avoid harmful thinking and action. It motivates one to make a strong personal commitment to right value.Until we discern, prefer and do the good we have not been truly educated. We must put ourselves (as parents) back into education. Most of us say that teachers are improperly motivated and need higher wages. But none of us talk about the missing ingredient - the vital parental role in education. Rightfully, often teachers complain about general parental apathy. Parents can't simply wash their hands off responsibility for their children's education. Parents need again to assert themselves in the teaching of their off-spring. We need not be scholars to teach our children to function intelligently within our society. (What we need is the will and some imagination). Parents who are actively involved in their children's education witness positive results. One country that sets a good example is Japan, where the mothers are generally involved in their children's education. Should we sniff at the "non-modern" Japanese tradition? Let us learn from the "conservative" but economic miracle Japanese society, which is enjoying "modernity" in this technologically advanced world - keeping their values and tradition intact.A real developmental process is the phenomenon whereby "men, women, and children are in the centre of attention - with development woven around people, not people around development". But our educational development in the past was not adequately geared to meet this human need. It generally followed the pattern of the existing system as it expanded marginally and continued to remain elitist in character.The architects of social patterns receive their training in the various educational institutions. Therefore, there is a significant relationship between education and the conditions of our way of life. Unfortunately, we have a broad missing link in our education system. The states of affair have naturally emerged as a result of that missing dimension in education. The problems of our teenagers are rooted in our outdated education system. We need to get our kids ready for a society that has changed dramatically. Yet our education system has not changed that much since the 1960s. Our outmoded education system is creating a generation of frustrated, disenfranchised adolescents who feel the mainstream society has little to offer them. As such, most of our teenagers are sinking into an abyss of despair, violence and self-destruction. They have a fatalistic view towards life. They don't care about their lives and they do not care about others.Unfortunately, the state of education in our country has helped to create a divisive society. Our education policy has experienced three to four education policies since Pakistan period. All these policies were burdened with disparity and discrimination, which caused clashes, hate and hatred among our students. Whatever education policy, our present-day Bangladesh does not need "clerk producing" education inherited from the British period. Importance must be given to practical, scientific, technological, research- oriented and life- focused education.

English Medium Schools: There are now about 40,000 students enrolled with different English medium schools in Dhaka city. Among these about 60 English medium schools are reputable. Most well-to-do parents prefer these schools for their children to groom them up properly. The present mal-functioning education system in the Bengali medium schools is the main cause for these preferences! Unfortunately, the ordinary middle class families cannot afford the high admission charge of the English medium schools.The picture of our higher education is one of unrelieved gloom and despair--the system is on the verge of collapse. One after another institutions of higher learning (including the 9 universities) often close sine die following violent clashes, resulting in sessions jam and widespread frustration among the students and their guardians. Students have absolutely no security of their life. More and more guardians (who are fortunate and affluent) are sending their children abroad or getting their children admitted to the expensive private universities of our country.According to FREPID (Foundation for Research of Educational Planning & Development, financed by our Education Ministry): "Though more and more university students are passing the examinations, the quality of higher education is falling in the country". The survey also revealed that the involvement of students in politics, their frustration due to sessions jam, and limited job prospects are responsible for campus violence.Confronted by declining academic standards, increasingly irrelevant curricula, a swelling student body and woefully inadequate resources, our universities are in crisis. Libraries are poorly stocked. The teaching faculty often goes on strike, demanding better work conditions and higher pay. Our students are not simply getting a quality education. Under these circumstances many go overseas and majority don't return. The biggest obstacle to efficient teaching and learning is widespread criminalisation of our university education--leading to strikes, student violence and frequent closer of institutions. (Some 30 per cent of instructional days were lost in 1996 alone due to student unrest. Scrambling among teachers to grab higher posts and new appointment is another factor for our campus violence. The absence of teaching staff in classes is the most basic thing of quality deterioration in our university education.The proliferation of degree colleges with inadequate supervision by our National University (NU) has eroded the quality and led to a "third rate system of higher education". Apart from unplanned increase in the number of our degree colleges, a number of problems including open admission system, low-expenditure for the students of degree colleges, lack of skill of the teaching staff and inadequate training facilities for the teachers and wide gap between teacher-student ratio are the causes behind the low-standard of our degree-level education. The National University gave affiliation to over 2000 new degree colleges in each of the two years in 1994-95 and 1995-96. The expansion of recognised institutions (mostly upgraded from intermediate colleges) has taken place without making necessary provision of trained staff and facilities.The Ministry of Education has undertaken a project (under the Fifth Five Year Plan) at the cost of Tk. 270 million to upgrade the quality of teaching staff of the colleges affiliated with the National University. Under the project, teachers would be sent abroad for training in quality teaching. Do we really need to go abroad to be sincere and honest--or our teachers just need to change their attitude first to serve their provisions properly, instead of spending more time at different coaching centers for making more money?Private Universities: Sessions jam, campus terrorism and political instability etc force thousand of our students to go abroad for higher education. With them a huge foreign currencies and budding talents drain out from the country every year. The concept of private university is the result of the government's policy of expanding our higher education by invoking greater role of the private sector. In 1988, some educationists and retired bureaucrats took the initiative to replicate the model of private university of India, Pakistan and Japan. The Private University Act of 1992 formally paved the way for private sector's involvement in fulfilling the increased demand for higher education. At present, there are 16 private universities in Bangladesh. Unfortunately, most of these private universities lack necessary facilities and are being run in rented houses or on a few floors of commercial buildings. These are nothing but "larger version of kindergartens" and the fees they charge are beyond the reach of even the upper middle class of our society. These universities have targeted only privileged members of our society. Most of these universities have appointed one or two full-time teachers and are largely dependent on par- time teachers. Teachers of our government universities and colleges under National University are reportedly busy taking classes in these private universities--just as our doctors from government hospitals are very busy in various private clinics of the city.Most of these private universities are profit-oriented, money-making organisations and have failed to maintain the expected standard. On many occasions money is taken from students but service is not given accordingly. In 1997, a two-member committee of the University Grants Commissions (UGC) inspected the performance of these private universities and found that they (except 2 or 3) have miserably failed to provide adequate educational facilities such as: developed laboratories, spacious classrooms, rich libraries etc and instead of full-time faculty members, these universities heavily depend on part-time teachers. 

Source: The Daily Independent, Dhaka, July 29, 2000
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