During this pandemic, many of our universities, both general and technical, have set the target of completing undergraduate final examinations before January 31. They have given the highest priority to these particular examinations over all other academic activities, including in-person classes. They have done so to enable final year students of undergraduate programmes to apply for the 43rd Bangladesh Civil Service (BCS) examinations. This week, the University Grants Commission (UGC) requested the Bangladesh Public Service Commission (BPSC) to extend the deadline for BCS applications till March 31.
Nowadays, the BCS examinations have come to be the prime goal (if not the only one) in the lives of our students, and they are investing all their efforts and energies in its pursuit. Our educational institutions have also started endorsing this pursuit by complying with the requirements of these examinations. Our students have become so serious about the BCS exams that they start preparing for them as soon as they are promoted to the second year of their undergraduate studies, often at the cost of their regular academic activities. What is more, when they get enrolled in Masters programmes, many of them are not regular and mindful about attending classes. Even when they attend classes, most of their attentions remain occupied with BCS preparations.
Consequently, the very objective of their acquiring subject-based in-depth knowledge through comprehensive reading and research, the objective for which they get admission into a particular department of a university, is ultimately neglected. And we the teachers, in our turn, are day by day getting used to this reality, and are making necessary adjustments to match the priorities of our students.
Why has the situation taken this turn? We need not go far to find an answer. University of Dhaka lecturer Rubaiya Murshed, in a column in The Daily Star on January 2, diagnosed some of the causes behind this. The first cause in this respect is the discrimination and corruption that is rampant in government sector jobs, which prevents our students, the job-seekers, from finding prospective government employment in most areas. Finding no other alternatives, they are compelled to turn their attention towards BCS examinations. According to Murshed, the authorities of the BCS examinations have so far managed to maintain the credibility of these examinations to a great extent, thus making the BCS a first choice for most job-seekers. It is a view that I must agree with, as well as the fact that BCS cadres enjoy a certain level of social status and dignity in our society. Another point presented by Murshed in her column is significant, but also worrying for our society. She deplores the fact that we regard someone's success in the BCS examinations "as one of the most valued achievements in our society", and because of our excessive glorification of this success, our students desperately run after it, sacrificing their mental peace and comfort in the process.
However, it should be mentioned that all the jobs of the BCS cadres are not equally valued in our society. Some particular cadres are held superior to others, and it is to the jobs of these particular cadres that we, as members of society, ascribe all the dignity and importance. But why do we attach so much more value to these jobs than to others?
The answer should be sought in our failure to uphold morality and ethics in our social and national life. It is regrettable that we do not hold law-breakers in contempt, do not despise those who are corrupt, and do not resist those who misuse power. Instead, we applaud them for their guts in breaking the law, admire them for their ability to go unpunished after engaging in corruption, and place the powerful over the powerless and the humble. As Murshed rightly writes, we are "assigning value to what should not have so much value". Very often, we overvalue the persons who assume overlordship, or those who exercise overarching power.
In our society, the status and dignity of some particular cadres or of some particular professions have come to be synonymous with the extent to which they can exercise power and earn money, or can establish supremacy and dominance over people and other professionals or cadres, whether it is done rightfully or wrongly. We eulogise them for the power they possess, but we do it mainly because of their opportunity and capability to misuse their power and office.
In a society where there are gross deficiencies in the rule of law, in good governance and in democratic practices, it is obvious that these particular cadres will happen to get greater opportunities to abuse their power, override others' jurisdictions, or obstruct others' legitimate rights. And it happens because they have little fear of being held accountable for their misdeeds.
In such a backdrop, it is quite natural that the professions or the jobs without any prospects of gaining so-called power and illegal money will lose their lustre and glamour, but the ones involving those prospects will gain extra brightness and splendour. That is why the glory and recognition of job-holders in the fields of knowledge, research, education, healthcare, science and technology, art and culture, film and media, etc, are fading away, day by day, in our society. Our students are no longer being lured towards the professions of scientists, researchers, educators, journalists, writers, artists, social activists, etc, or even of doctors, engineers, architects or agriculturists, which were once highly sought after.
I do not find it unusual when I see my students, who have already been selected as BCS education cadres, still trying again and again to become cadres related to administration, law enforcement, tax, customs, etc. I do not wonder when I see increasing numbers of medical, engineering or other technical students rushing to apply for the jobs of general cadres, especially some particular ones, and choosing to leave behind their own technical specialisations. But how do we resist this trend? Will the principle of moralising to our students about concentrating on acquiring knowledge and working for the philanthropic good of society come to any use? Should we attempt to convince them that their talents are needed not only for the jobs of some particular cadres, but also for jobs in many other sectors or areas, for the greater interests of our country?
I think mere moral or didactic speeches will not yield any results until or unless we can change the total value system of our lives, creating a new one based on ethics and morality—until we can change this sorry state of our society and build a new one based on the rule of law, a system of checks and balances, and patriotism. We need to build a society where everyone will get his or her dues, where there will be mutual trust and respect among people and professionals, where no hegemony of one profession will exist over another, and where transparency and accountability will be the core principles of our governance. Unless we can build such a society, the allure of certain BCS cadres will continue to work its magic on our students.
Mohammad Emdadul Huda is Professor and Head of the Department of English at Jatiya Kabi Kazi Nazrul Islam University in Trishal, Mymensingh.