Bangladesh has just passed its 50 years of independence. Though it has achieved a lot by the time, there are fields like education that need further improvement. In this age of science and technology, our education system must not fall behind, none would disagree. So what kind of education system should we have during the country’s birth centennial, exactly 50 years from now?
In fact, everyone would want Bangladesh to have by then such an education system that is purpose-driven, self-correcting and innovative and that is helpful to ensure a career for everyone based on their skills and knowledge.
Learning institutions should be offering curriculums comprising of courses that serve both career and academic purposes, carrying forward the message of success for students. Vocational training should not be limited to some specific ‘underrated’ courses or subjects, but to such ones that help them find their employment or help them become entrepreneurs.
“I would love to see Bangladesh enriched with intellectuals in various fields such as information technology, artificial intelligence, business, robotics, space exploration and research,” said Farsia Kawsar Chowdury, a second year student of mechanical engineering at BUET (Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology).
“Every school should have a research and development centre where students can have a hands-on introduction to the basic topics they are supposed to learn throughout their academic life. They should be introduced to the diverse options available in a fun way that encourages them.”
And evaluation would not be based on papers. Students would be able to generate ideas individually and in groups, and get the support needed to implement them, she said, adding, “I hope at least 20 per cent of our universities would rank among the world’s top for their excellence in advancement and teaching procedure. Bangladesh would be a hub of world-class research and researchers.”
If the focus is shifted on the present day, the decreasing illiteracy rate is definitely laudable but the increasing unemployment rate is rather worrying. The present illiteracy rate stands at 26 per cent (approximately), according to the latest study in 2019. Stefen Trines, research editor at WENR (World Education News + Reviews), stated in a report published in 2019 that youth unemployment in Bangladesh has doubled between 2000 and 2017.
According to the ILO (International Labor Organization), 27 per cent of youths aged between 15 and 24 are not engaged in any form of education, employment or training in 2018. This gap in the economy engulfs job opportunities in Bangladesh and around 400,000 of people every year leave home to get employed abroad.
The current education system in Bangladesh is certificate-based, rather than skill-based. Rote learning and cramming books are practised over learning or developing skills. Lack of training for various job sectors and stereotyping subject preferences ignoring essential life skill-based disciplines discourages dropouts to re-enter the stream and complete their courses.
Dropout levels are unfortunately high with nearly 20 per cent of students not completing elementary school (2016) and 42 per cent girls leaving school permanently before completing SSC (2017), shows data provided by WENR in 2019. Most of these dropouts find education to be of little use in practical life and the lack of life-oriented practical training discourages them to join this quite expensive flow again.
By 2071, the centenary of Bangladesh’s independence, these things must change for good. Education should be provided to every citizen depending on their skills and knowledge. Every citizen should be trained in the discipline of their choice and be directly prepared for the job market ahead.
Usama Rafid, a second year student of mass communication and journalism at Dhaka University, expressed his vision saying, “Our system is more like ‘get a certificate and earn a job,’ but that doesn’t suffice when we are to compete with the global workforce. There should be a practice-oriented and technology-based education system that merges theory and skills together.”
Rafid would love to visualise a system that combines private companies with university labs, facilitating the research. And students would thus gain experience and the economy would boost up. Schools with curriculums that encourage creativity and self-sufficiency from childhood can play a role in bringing about radical changes in the society, she believes.
Atofa Alavy, a fifth year MBBS student of Ibrahim Medical College, hopes for a country where the stereotypes of career choice will no longer exist. “Ignoring disciplines that are not medicine, engineering or other technical jobs leaves huge manpower out of focus. But they consist of the majority of the workforce. Giving them the chance to be educated and trained will create equity ensuring justice,” she said.
Robaet Ferdous, an associate professor of mass communication and journalism at Dhaka University, told this writer: “Technology should dominate every spectrum of life and so should education. Overcoming the barrier of discrimination in dissemination of technological advantages should a priority. Our students should be active participants and recipients of advanced technologies.”
He compares our education system with that of Germany where technical discipline needs the fulfilment of certain requirements by students in every class, and students who fail to get enrollment under a technical discipline may have a huge variety of training and vocational courses to shape their career paths.
“In Bangladesh, there are subjects that have little relevance to the current job market, yet easily available. But students who enrol in those have little to no job opportunities open for them. For the lack of training, they can’t build a sustainable career and it’s a waste of valuable manpower. This scenario must reform,” Mr Ferdous said.
Vocational courses in Bangladesh have been ignored and undermined for a long time. Though gross enrolment is on the rise, participation is still not encouraged. The government has targetted 30 per cent enrolment by the year 2030, but it is important to make it attractive for more enrolment.
Nitai Chandra Shutradhar, pro-vice-chancellor of Bangladesh Textile University, wrote in a special supplement run by Prothom Alo, “The first step towards advancing in vocational courses is to change our mentality towards practical training and encourage more participation.”
Jennatun Naher, URC (Upazilla Resource Centre) Instructor at the Department of Primary Education and Ministry of Primary and Mass Education, said, “We have conquered the barriers of basic knowledge of technology and have given utmost dedication to make online education technologies accessible to teachers at the remote corners of the country during the pandemic. The unexpected, but overwhelming, success from this project has made us more hopeful about the future of education in Bangladesh.”
Business administration and corporate fields now dominate the managerial sector of the job market — that’s a common guess. It is already noticeable that in the job market in Bangladesh and abroad, requirements based on fixed study discipline are changing.
So, what are the tasks ahead to develop corporate and entrepreneurial skills to develop an excellent skilled manpower?
Tasneema Afrin, assistant professor of IBA (Institute of Business Administration) at Dhaka University, answered: “Now we define core work skills to communicate effectively, solve problems independently, handle basic technology, think critically, work in teams, lead effectively and so on.”
The future demands more on sophisticated technology and automation which will be the core of all changes in the future. Most of the manual and semi-automated job responsibilities will be replaced by highly productive machines and artificial intelligence, according to her.
“Therefore, to handle the new job responsibilities, future generations should have a combination of hard and soft skills with adaptation to technology and changes at the heart of it. Those who are able to collect and organise data, find trends in them and make decisions interpreting the results, will be in high demand,” she said.
And to fulfil the target of reforming the education system everyone would agree to have by 2071, when the country’s birth centennial is to be observed, the following could be considered:
- Changing mindsets and applying rational thinking to uplift neglected training-based jobs that cover the maximum of the job sectors.
- Children should be encouraged towards creative and life-related occupations as well as technical ones.
- Teacher-student participation should be compulsory in classes and focus on practical and experiential learning methods. Teachers and management should be student-friendly.
- Extending the span of compulsory primary education with an active curriculum that encourages vocational and practice-based learning.
- Advancing in national data management to increase accountability and transparency.
- Imparting effective training to trainers and teachers of all disciplines to ensure their quality and efficiency.
- Universities should step back from ‘profit’ motive and commerciality as it discourages re-entering the education curriculum.
- Continuous training helps develop competency, and it is followed in banks and corporate bodies. This should be emphasised in all job sectors.
Above all, the education system that advocates and empowers the nation may not be there now, but to have a tomorrow doing justice to every citizen of the country, the making of such an education system must start today.
Tahseen Nower is a student of mass communication and journalism at Dhaka University. E-mail: [email protected]