Call a spade a spade: education in Bangladesh
The Bangladeshi education system is a fragmented and struggling behemoth. What it needs is a comprehensive survey and scientific analysis, and policy implementation to mitigate the challenges identified therein. However, successive governments have formulated policies based not on concrete targets, rather to score political goals at the expense of said targets.
Our education system as a nation is in total chaos, sliced into three to four, if not more, modes of education. Namely, English medium based on mainly foreign curriculum, English version based on national curriculum, Bangla medium or the original national curriculum, and Madrasa system, mainly based on religious curriculum. The fragmentation underscores how little attention the nation has paid towards creating a well-rounded and sturdy education system.
Thus, the greater perspective of creating an educated and not indoctrinated nation laid aside, what is worse is that the children have been divided into a class hierarchy. Perhaps it is safe to say that the rich and semi-rich with some exception go to English mediums, semi rich and middle class have an increasing tendency to go to English version, middle class, semi middle class and the rest with some exceptions are going into Bangla medium.
Finally, we have another class of people who choose to go to the Madrasa system, and the background of this class of people is quite complex and intriguing as they are found to come from rich to ultra poor because the whole mind-set behind sending kids to this system is altogether different.
There was a mushrooming of so-called English medium schools in various alleys of urban and semi urban areas in the mid-eighties, most of which do not fit to the definition of a school.
Broadly speaking, a school is a place which must comprise of a few components like classrooms, teachers' rooms, administrative rooms, laboratories, playgrounds, etc., as supporting agents meant for the two main bodies, students and teachers. Now, except a small number of English medium schools, none have the required facilities. To make things worse, coaching centers have emerged to support so called schools. These centres are filled with students since most parents cannot cope with their kids' homework.
Sometimes, unscrupulous teachers burden students with needlessly complicated and heavy workload in an attempt to encourage students to go to their own coaching centres after school hours. A significantly large section of Bangla medium schools is operating on the same model.
The very definition of school has changed for majority of our kids. For them school means a small residential building which can accommodate hardly a few classes. Indeed, most of the schools are fragmented into junior, middle and senior sections or even more. So, the first thing they miss is the magnanimity and gravity of congregation of huge number of students in the same place doing physical training (PT) and singing national anthem together to start the day.
Students not only miss the opportunity to see the magnanimity but also miss the opportunity of being part of big group yet stay disciplined. The second most important thing they miss is the large play ground and the play time. These all should come as a package with school. Where the school authorities fail to provide these facilities, it becomes the responsibility of the government to oversee these matters and ensure that these facilities are in place.
Most of the things mentioned here is also true for English version based on Bangla medium curriculum, as well as a large number of Bangla medium schools as well. However, madrasa medium is altogether a different matter. Only exception is the public school where usually they possess all the material ingredients yet often fail for other reasons, like severe lacks in the scope and calibre of the administration and employees, as well as other causes evident to any discerning citizen.
No doubt that many English medium students are fortunate as they are getting good quality teachers since they are far better paid than their counterparts in Bangla medium. This is reflected in the marks they obtain in their exams, especially when coupled with the innate brilliance of each individual child. But are marks the only measure of a student? While many do exceptionally well in exams, I find them far from being complete students. In pursuit of an international curriculum, a large section of the students of English medium background ends up falling behind in the host language Bangla both in terms of language and literature, history of Bangladesh and of the subcontinent.
The Bangladeshi population is too large compared to the country's capacity, yet the only way to make this problem into a strength is to contain population growth and at the same time convert the existing mass into manpower. The first industry targeted for sustainable growth is education, as it supplies the main component of industrial growth — skilled manpower. To build the proverbial backbone of the nation, the builder — teacher in this case, must not remain ill-paid.
Sadly, in Bangladesh, teaching is often not the first choice as a profession for many who end up in it, especially in the primary and secondary school level, many are those who fail to get a job anywhere else. On the other hand, if the compensation packages for teachers were made better, the profession will attract good university graduates who otherwise do not even consider becoming teachers in schools.
The worst victims of the loss in quality of Bangla medium schools and the shift of the economic elite towards English medium schools are the public universities. Over the years I have observed a gradual decrease of students from upper class of the society entering the public universities. Even the children of the university teachers are no longer studying in their own public universities.
The children of this class of people are going mainly to English medium schools. The gradual depletion of the representation of the upper class has manifold affects, most important of which is the lack of heterogeneity in the sense that a class is not a full representation of the society — from all economic and social backgrounds.
This is hitting hard. In fact, a true university, as the name suggest, must have universality in the sense that there should be students from different economic backgrounds within the country but also from other parts of the world.
Admission system and the question papers in different public universities are set in such a way that student of English medium background does not find them even approachable. They find it easy to get admission in the best universities in the world like MIT, Harvard, Cambridge etc but not Dhaka University or BUET. However, Institute of Business Administration (IBA) of Dhaka University is different as they managed to overcome this situation and the result is evident in the vibrance of their student body.