The education divide | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, July 07, 2008 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, July 07, 2008

The education divide

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It's only one side of the story. Photo: Tanvir Ahmed/ Drik News

One of my nieces, after getting GPA 5 in the SSC examinations, didn't go for merriment, lamenting that there was nothing special in securing the grade nowadays. It's really puzzling when we see that 52,500 students obtained GPA 5, with all the students of some city schools getting the highest grade. The pleasure of becoming a member of 10 is far better than becoming a member of 100 or 1,000.
Not too many years back, getting star marks or having a place in the merit list was a matter of pride for the students and their guardians. Now diamond and gold are being weighed in the same balance. Has the quality of students improved unimaginably or has the system of judging of the students weakened?
Another, and probably the most disturbing phenomenon in the recent SSC results was the rural-urban gap. The syndrome started quite some time back, and it has become pervasive in recent times. The prevalent examination system and commercialisation of education are gradually elbowing out the meritorious rural students from getting higher education, thereby further widening the disparity between the rural and urban populations.
The widening gap was evident from the SSC results, where urban students had overwhelming supremacy over their rural counterparts. But there was a time when the scenario was entirely different.
The higher education institutions were mostly occupied by the wards of the rural middle class and peasants in the '60s, '70s and even in the '80s. Civil servants and technocrats of the '60s and '70s are examples of the fact.
There were many reasons and logic behind the good results of the rural students. They were hard working, ambitious and optimistic. There were no private tutors either in the rural or in the urban areas. Textbooks and class teachers were the only tools to guide them.
But today's rural students have to compete with students who are equipped with more money and backing. From the first day of school, an urban student gets tutoring from experienced house tutors and coaching tutors.
After reaching class nine, he/she has to go for coaching in all the subjects throughout the year. A study says that an urban guardian, on average, spends Tk. 5,000 a month for an SSC student. How can a rural farmer spend so much money for his wards?
But are the SSC results a measurement of merit? Is it possible to quantify merit through an examination that is taken on a set of questions? But, in reality, that is the benchmark.
Depending on the results and scores in the SSC examinations, students will be enrolled in colleges and subsequently in universities. Despite having higher latent merit and ability, a rural student will be denied admission in the "good" colleges, thereby getting deprived of higher education.
Securing GPA 5 nowadays is not a magical or strenuous job. Only merit will not help. There are many other ways of securing higher marks, which board officials and examinees have evolved to force the students to go to private tutors to know those techniques.
Rural teachers and students are totally in the dark about those techniques and strategies. For example, my niece told me that merely answering the questions is not enough to secure full marks, you have to highlight the important points with coloured markers. Where does a rural student get a marker? Many haven't even heard about such a thing.
In fact, our policy-makers are out to produce an elitist class in the country through introducing an elite education system. They have little or no concern about leaving a vast majority of the country's people in disarray. Interestingly, to bail out from any adverse situation, like food security, we rush to the rural people.
See the contributions of rural people to the country's economy. The highest forex-earners, unskilled or semi-skilled labourers, are rural people who have been working in the Middle East and Malaysia. Who is running the garments factories, another major forex-earner? Rural girls working for a pittance.
The country's job market has almost been closed for rural boys and girls. A year back, I conducted a survey in four high schools of Hatibandha in Lalmonirhat and in my own upazila in Bogra to look into the matter on my own initiative.
Although the survey was not representative, I found alarming evidence of how the rural young people were gradually being stamped out of higher education and jobs. The study shows that a substantial number of students of those four schools got chances in public universities or technical educational institutions and subsequently got first class jobs up to the '80s.
The number started declining from the early '90s, and after 2005 it was zero. Failing to get any dignified job, about a dozen boys and girls of my village and neighbouring ones, after completing their Masters Degree from a local college, have joined primary schools as headmasters or assistant headmasters.
In fact, the doors of corporate and private houses and government bodies were shut for the rural students. Having a mere degree or good results does not ensure a job for a person nowadays. He/she has to know many other things outside the textbooks. Everybody wants a readymade person who can work soon after joining in the job. But where are the facilities for rural students to undergo such training?
Adding to the misery, the PSC is planning to abolish the district quota system, arguing that the quota system deprives the meritorious ones. The neo-elitists in the policy-making body are presenting peculiar logic in favour of the so-called meritorious ones. No doubt, the quality of civil service has gone down, but that can't be raised only by abolishing quota.
Most of the former CSPs of our country are products of the quota system. Sixty percent of the posts of the Pakistan Civil Service were earmarked for candidates of the erstwhile East Pakistan. The beneficiaries of quota system are now vocal against the same system.
The time is not far away when the neo-elitists will implement their design and whim. The society has become one-eyed. Not many people nowadays think about the other side of the coin.
The cornering of the rural population will in no way yield benefit for the nation. The circulation of blood in the head, depriving other parts of the body, is not a healthy symptom. Rather it will quicken the death. Our achievements will see a similar fate if measures are not taken in time.

Nazrul Islam is a freelance contributor to The Daily Star.

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