The great American educationist Horace Mann (1796-1859) rightly stated that “Education then, beyond all other devices of human origin is a great equalizer of the conditions of men, the balance-wheel of the social machinery”.
In 1996 on his presidential address to American Economic Association, Professor Theodore Schultz made a revolutionary statement that education was a kind of investment by which necessary human capital was built. In 1979 when he was awarded the Nobel Prize he reiterated his views and laid great emphasis on the role of education.
In the developing countries like ours if adequate attention is not placed on education, there will be little or no chance for worthwhile economic development. Market mechanism may not achieve an adequate allocation resources in favour of education. Growth in the education sector largely depends upon public investment.
Long ago, in 1959, Dr Mohammad Shahidullah said, “in no civilized country there is more than one education system. Broadly speaking we are imparting three types of education: religion based, English oriented and the rest”. In our Constitution in article 17 of part 2: Fundamental principles of State policies; it has been provided, “The State shall adopt effective measures for the purpose of;
a. Establishing a uniform, mass oriented and universal system of education and existing free and compulsory education to all children to such stage as may be determined by law.
b. Relating education to the needs of society and producing properly trained and motivated citizens to serve those need.
c. Removing literacy within such time as may be determined by law.
This is in a chapter which is not justifiable and the government may demure say no provision of law has been violated. Curiously enough with every term of government, we get a committee or commission on education.
This time it appears that the education department has succeeded considerably in implementing the policy. Unfortunately the base of our education is very shaky, resource mean and the flow of energy haltering slow. In one survey of government, it has been said that 70% of the dropout students can’t properly read, write or count. We have got one teacher for 55 students. The Dhaka University which prides itself as the Oxford of the East has now been ranked 4922 amongst 6000 universities of the world. Our standard in science and mathematics is much below than the international level. Our place is 113 among 144 countries.
96 percent of our labouring force are below secondary education. Male 40.6 labour and 41.3 of female labour have got no education. For production, for dealing with banks and marketing more education is needed. Remittance from our labours in foreign country will definitely increase, if the labours are imparted a little education.
Our well wishers may unwittingly be a great cause of woes. Away from the metropolitan din and bustle of Dhaka, Chittagong and Rajshahi, three universities were made at the outskirts of the metropolis namely Rajshahi, Jahangirnagar and Chittagong University. Far from being expected idyllic hermitages they have turned out to be great trouble spots. There are always a trouble between the towns and gown. If the land space is available in town, there will be no harm in building a public university within the metropolitan boundaries.
Generally we are against raising the fees in public universities but we are ready to pay ten times more or even more than that in a private university. Curiously enough private universities are free from maladies like session jam, etc. that public universities suffer. The degree seekers and degree conferring universities appear to be in happy understanding of mutual interest and benefit.
Unfortunately our universities are getting more local, not even national. Our failure to attract teachers and students from other countries must be remedied if the university is to be turned into true Biswabidlayo.
In 1916 when the American Association of University Professors were founded, John Dewey, the great American educationist told us two committees were constituted — one for academic freedom and tenure and the other for academic obligation. On several occasions there were numerous discussions on academic freedom and tenure. Dewey did not remember whether any discussion took place on academic obligation. Man’s propensity to talk about rights is understandable, we understand also human reticence not to talk about the responsibility.
In the past, before and after the independence of 1947, the students took part in politics during the time of election and acted as voter-educators. Now in the present set-up of public consciousness they are hardly required to take the role of voter instructors.
If we look for a role model and are seeking one, then it is our peasant. He has got no time for Hartal, polemics or throwing incendiary missiles. He knows well that he will have to prepare the ground, sow the seeds, clear the weeds and gather the harvest in time. Students pursuing their goals in the universities, their first and foremost obligation is to their study.
In passing from barbarism to sophisticated civilisation from the arrow throwing stage to the throwing of poisonous arrows. Our sans-cullotes in the metropolitan areas have graduated from the bomb throwing stage to that of petrol bomb stage. To others we are often described as hujjat-e-bangal. Instead of translating the term as quarrelous Bengalis, I have compassionately translated the epithet as an argumentative Bengali. We are asking for songlap, a never ending thing for us. We have failed to develop the art of negotiation. In olden times in China the young aspirant bureaucrats had to be good in calligraphy and archery. Now we are to impart to our ambitious young men and women the art of negotiation and that of dispute resolution. In this regard, the university can engage itself in an interdisciplinary research in collaboration with social scientists, and social engineers.
Unfortunately our universities are getting more profit oriented and are less keen in investing a part of its receipts in the field of research and inquiry. Last year, the private universities in our country earned a profit of one thousand eight hundred fifty crore forty two lac seventy thousand Taka. In the same year only forty one crores three lac eighty four thousand Taka, 2.3 % of the total income and 2.41% of the total expenditure was spent in research. Expenditures made on non-categorized items comparatively has found to be higher and it does not look transparent. Out of 60 private universities, 15 have not spent any money on research. The University Grants Commission has rightly regarded this as a retarding step in the development of higher standard of education. The matter also offended the Private University Act of 1992. It is good to know that the Independent University, Bangladesh is the third amongst the universities disbursing sizable amount of money on research. Last year IUB spent more than Tk 7.8 million for research.
At present there are 79 private universities which are licensed under the law of 1992. The government as the licensing authority are to regulate the activities of the universities so that they run according to law. The government, due to its multifarious activities and various engagements, lack of expertise and experience or for sheer partisanship refrain from taking disciplinary action against the offending universities and goes on making exceptions after exceptions. Some universities have got no campus of their own, adequate libraries and laboratories. In Banani within half a kilometre there are nine private universities and in Dhanmondi area alone there are 30 campuses of private universities.
The private universities, whatever their standard, they are meeting the market demand for higher education. Many of them have exotic names and run like private enterprises. These days there is a craze amongst nouveaux rich for owning a newspaper, a television centre and a private university, the status symbol of present day world. Some trustees are engaged in litigations as if they are fighting for title and ownership of their ancestral paddy land.
It is my considered view that all students should be given a first lesson in mother tongue, and they must at first try to know their country, and then their neighbours, and lastly the rest of the world. It may be inadvisable to inculcate the ideas of darul Islam and darul harb in the formative stage. We should rather try to foster ideas of darul aman, darul ahad and taqui. I am reiterating these views which I had an occasion to make in the First Islamic Ministerial Conference on the children’s education in Rabat, Morocco. I am glad it is really very reassuring that your university has curricula on Bangla Language, Culture and History of Bangladesh.
Young graduates, you are all adults and you can exercise your right of franchise. I am not a fool to advise you not to do politics. When the sea of unrest is howling around the campus, it will be difficult for the students as well as the teachers to keep silent like a Buddha. I am not against politics. Any society to rise and prosper is to be optimally politicized. Politicians listen to us, they represent us and act as our friends and advisors.
As a senior citizen, I have, however, got the right to encourage you and tell you that you can bring happiness to yourselves, to your parents and guardians and your teachers if you attend to your prime obligation to studies. I must also warn you that you may cause great mischief and miseries to yourselves, to your parents and guardians and to your teachers if you fail to attend to your primary obligations as students. Our country badly needs good citizenship. Please do not enhance the deficit and try to do your best to enhance the citizenship capital.
Let the present state of things not be a cause for despair. Do not get disheartened. Like cyclones, the activities of the political psychopaths will not be able to sustain themselves. They will die out. They are destined to be doomed. I say, you shall overcome all hurdles on your way and you will conquer.
Let the Almighty help us all.
(The article is based on the convocation speech made at Independent University, Bangladesh (IUB))
Muhammad Habibur Rahman is a former chief justice and the chief adviser of caretaker government 1996.