The ‘less important’ subject debate: Should study disciplines align with job market to be relevant?  

Shadique Mahbub Islam   | Saturday, 5 February 2022

The idea of so-called ‘unnecessary subjects’ is quite a heated debate at Dhaka University right now. Judging the subjects by their job compatibility value is perfectly rational, but the core idea of degree solely as the ship to cruise along the ocean of the job market or the notion of ‘what does not work in the mainstream job market has no value at all’ sounds a bit questionable.

Recently, the debate has taken the internet by storm whether subjects like Pali, Sanskrit, Urdu, Persian are compatible with the current job markets, and how the departments fare in the field of academics and research.

Sanskrit had been a part of the Bangla Department till 1970 when the Department of Sanskrit and Pali was established. In 2007, Sanskrit was given a completely separate identity.

The department of Sanskrit and Pali had been created from the Department of Bangla in 1970; later the department of Pali branched off from Sanskrit in 2006. Similarly, the departments of Urdu and Persian Language and Literature were together till 2006, later they were made independent departments.

The Department of Urdu currently has 358 students and 20 teachers; the annual intake is 110. In the new master plan, it has been recommended that the number of seats in the first year will be reduced to 70.

A student from the Department of Urdu shared their opinion to the writer seeking anonymity for obvious reasons. 

“As a department, ours need not exist. The department has neither the essential structure nor the necessary curriculum as a distinct department, and the department fails to keep itself as a proper entity. Being labelled as a so-called ‘less important subject,’ we do not get our due regards. We do not have enough classrooms, therefore we have to take classes at our computer lab.”

The department does not need this many seats, think many students. Also, many students migrate to other departments shortly after coming here. So the department should clarify the subject and its curriculum to the aspirants so that only those who desire to pursue research and academics in this language get themselves admitted here.

“The department reflects a sorry state of the university itself. The department is dependent on the university for many of the key aspects, and the university sometimes fails to provide those. The department should update its curriculum and take necessary steps to help the students cope with the ever-changing job market,” remarked the current student who cannot disclose identity.

Shafiun Ibn Shaheen is an alumnus of the Department of Persian Language and Literature. He thinks that the language-based departments should be under the Institute of Mother Languages (IML), as the departments are not equipped well enough to conduct the necessary research.

In his words, “The language-based departments produce very little research due to various constraints. And the university should focus on making the students compatible with various skills and abilities; therefore, such departments should be specialised place where a small group of dedicated, skilled researchers will conduct research, and using the surplus fund, the authorities need to prioritise job-market oriented subjects.”

The Department of Persian Language and Literature currently has 433 students and 14 teachers.

Department of Sanskrit has been blessed with many prominent academicians such as Pundit Haraprasad Shastri. However, the current state does not seem very promising to the current students.

“Students, in general, do not show interest in this department. They just study to pass the examinations, and so, they take little from the courses and learn.”

“This tendency has created a vacuum in the field of research and academics. Students must improve themselves for the job market; since a degree in Sanskrit will not help in the future unless we learn the skill-sets,” said a student not willing to disclose identity for restrictions.

He also recommended a small class size and better research facilities.

Honorary Professor of the Institute of Education and Research, Dr M Nazmul Haque has shared his opinion in this regard.

“Language related subjects like Urdu, Farsi, Pali, Sanskrit should be merged together in a separate oriental language-based umbrella department, of which the sole purpose will be research.”

“The class size should be very small, but dedicated, supported by equally supportive faculty members,” added Prof. Nazmul Haque.

Not being directly related to the current job market does not make the oriental languages less important, he thinks.

“Pali and Sanskrit may not be used in our daily life, but they play a very important part in the history of not only Bangladesh but also the region of South and South-East Asia. So, they need to be thoroughly researched and studied, but with a skilled, efficient team of researchers. These departments need to create researchers, not job-seeking graduates,” he explained.

Former Associate Professor of the Department of Persian Language and Literature, Dr A M M Arif Billah has also shared his insights in this regard.

In his opinion, “Languages like Sanskrit and Pali are not just languages, they are part of two major religions as well. Studying these two languages allows young minds to study and understand the religions. They serve as an important medium to understand history, culture, and literature.”

So, he recommends that the departments need to curtail their class sizes and give the students better training and curriculum. Better accountability of the teachers needs to be assured as well.”

He also emphasised creating skilled researchers.

“The lack of job compatibility is not restricted to these subjects, it is a university-wide problem. The university itself needs to be modernised to suit itself to the modern job market. The administration should step in and figure out the most suitable plan for such modernization,” he concluded. 

The Department of Pali has 390 students and 17 teachers with an annual intake of 90 students. In the Dean’s Committee recommendation, it has proposed to reduce the number of seats in the first year to 50.

In the recent Dean’s Committee meeting, the recommendation for reducing seats in the aforementioned subjects, along with 40 others is indeed remarkable progress.

A joint effort of the University authorities, the faculty members, and the students of the language-based subjects will go a long way to solve the current constraints and modernise the departments to meet the needs of the 21st-century job market.


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