Bangladesh - the race for education

Published on Sunday, December 6, 2009

There is a very famous old saying in Bangladesh: "Lekha pora kore Je Gari Gora chore se" (Those who are educated will succeed). This traditional thinking of education as the ticket to the good life emerges in different ways and degrees in Bangladesh. Education is seen as something that is received rather than achieved, and education has become increasingly dependent on certificates.

Bangladesh's three-tiered and highly subsidized educational system has failed in different ways, being dictated by the different political regimes that have ruled Bangladesh over the last four decades. One of the biggest causes of this massive failure is the absence of an effective education policy and its implementation.

In the last four decades, Bangladesh, a nation full of possibilities suffering from various problems that need solving, has never seen a progressive, scientific education policy implemented. Dictators and democratic political regimes alike have denied the need for an effective educational policy, despite the country's constitutional commitment under Art. 17 of the Bangladesh Constitution to provide all children ages six to ten with a basic and free education.

While Bangladesh's government has succeeded in putting on a show for the international community that the country conforms fully to the Education For All (EFA) objectives attached to the Millennium Development Goals, in reality Bangladesh has one of the lowest literacy rates in South Asia, with a study showing that 15.5 percent of primary schoolteachers remain absent from school.

When a government is struggling to ensure literacy, ensuring quality higher education for its citizens is hard to even think about. "Over 275,000 students passed the HSC exam, but less than 100,000 could be admitted to universities," writes Fakhrul Islam, for the Financial Express. Where will the rest will go? This trend seems to be becoming the norm according to the results of the HSC exams in Bangladesh in 2008.

Higher education is only a way to gain access to a better job, when learning and the quality of education is secondary and the higher degree itself is primary. This horrifying attitude towards higher education is leading the nation towards a pattern of unemployment that having more university graduates cures. This implies that the system is not working efficiently or effectively.

Once again, the Awami league government has adopted an education policy, which will span five years starting in 2009. But some major things are still being ignored in this education policy, which will obviously lead the nation towards another race, where its citizens will run after certificates for employment.

I don't ignore the need for employment, but I cannot ignore the race for the material side of education or the polluted system of education in Bangladesh, where education has become inhuman and the pride of the elite. In this system, both public and private institutions have become vehicles for those with money and power. And those who enjoy a better education get better higher education as well.

The poor cannot even think of getting education at a private university, due to the cycle of education and prosperity, and in public universities, most poor people cannot keep up in the race for education.

The government should consider introducing a liberal education, as Donald Knuth advocates, "I don't know where I heard it first, but a liberal education is supposed to teach you something about everything and everything about something."

Tre Cool, a member of the American band Green Day, admitted, "I never completed high school, and I am very rich and very successful." Yes, the system of education should not just be "to be rich", but the government should think hard about how to remove education from the sole grip of the elite, so that Albert Einstein's wish that "Intellectual growth should commence at birth and cease only at death" can become a reality.

I will urge to the government that, instead of introducing a generalized national education policy, it should consider a liberal system that would extensively accommodate each and every individual citizen from their respective positions, in which education would be a system of transmission of civilization.

William Nicholas Gomes is a human rights activist and freelance journalist. He can be reached at

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