Studying abroad remains one of the most sought-after opportunities for ambitious boys and girls. Every year, a staggering number of them embark on a life-changing expedition. At least 44,338 Bangladeshis went abroad in 2021 for higher education, up from 24,112 in 2015, according to UNESCO Institute for Statistics. Their number in, for example, the US, the UK, Canada, or Europe, is snowballing. They undergo a remarkable journey of personal growth and countless triumphs to build a better life and career.
As more Bangladeshis pursue high-quality education, what does this mean for the country? In other words, are we ready for global academics, a competitive job market, or up-to-date research? However, access to tonnes of scholarships, grants and other awards has widened the scope and the trend has opened prospects on different fronts for Bangladesh.
"Access to world class education is a vital agenda for Bangladesh with its youth bulge and a rapidly closing time window for realising demographic dividend," notes Dr Hossain Zillur Rahman, executive chairman of Power and Participation Research Centre (PPRC). Given the sheer number of the youth, he adds, Bangladesh has no choice than to walk on two legs to pursue its quality education ambition - identify strategic entry points to improve national education and explore global educational tie-ups to enhance access to world class educational opportunities.
Unique skills, knowledge and cross-cultural understanding the foreign students acquire, and the overall international exposure they have, can be applied to numerous sectors like academia and industry, entrepreneurship and public administration in their home countries. Bangladesh, too, can benefit from the knowledge transfer that can contribute to human capital development and driving innovation, higher productivity and economic growth. Some of them may launch startups or entrepreneurial ventures, leveraging their global attributes and networks.
On completion of their study in the developed countries, many international students send a portion of their earnings to their families back home. Bangladesh, according to the World Migration Report 2022, is the eighth largest remittance recipient and sixth largest migrant-sending country in the world but it has the scope to enhance its remittance earning from white collar jobs, beyond a few wage-earning concentrations like the Middle East and Southeast Asia. With that end in view, we need to start addressing the loopholes that lie in our education system. The country still has a long way to go in preparing its population for the global economy.
K-12 (Kindergarten to grade-12) education that is holistic and high quality can be an answer. Certainly we need to insert global standard learning experiences into our curriculum. Students who are educated in a K-12 system are given access to a wide range of information, abilities, and competencies required in this contemporary world. They can acquire a global psyche, cross-cultural communication skills, critical thinking, creativity, problem-solving ability, and digital literacy. They then can prepare themselves for international educational and other opportunities. With a solid foundation built in their early years of education, students can become more well-prepared to navigate the challenges of studying in foreign institutes.
The government can help schools deliver quality education by providing them with guidance, logistics and materials and non-material support. As the country is blessed with a favourable age structure, popularly known as demographic dividend, Bangladesh needs to prioritise school education quality. Areas such as language skills, maths Olympiad, ICT, debate, sports, and cultural programmes can be utilised to curate better inquiry-based learning methods in the classroom.
To capture the global horizon and build space for our country in the global market, we must fix our goal - to enable high-quality education in schools. Thus, we can create a talent pool who stand ready to deliver real impact. Dwelling on this issue, Hossain Zillur Rahman says, "Bangladesh enjoys enormous global goodwill and it will be incumbent upon both the government and leaders of the field to make an honest and effective scrutiny of the global educational landscape to identify more socially beneficial educational tie-ups. However these processes play out, getting serious on quality education is number one priority."
The writer is a communication professional.