It’s been 15 years since Professor Muhammad Yunus won the Nobel peace prize alongside Grameen Bank for their role in creating economic and social development by popularising the concept of microcredit. No other Bangladeshi has been considered for this price since then.
Having a population of roughly 165 million and 135 universities, we should have won more prizes by now. Our neighbouring country India has 10 Nobel laureates. The list includes three Bengalis as well.
It's obvious that there is something not right here in Bangladesh. It’s not mandatory that you have to win Nobel prize but winning such a global prize indicates something about quality.
Flawed education, but passionate effort
The country’s education system has some inherent and serious flaws and the entire sector needs to undergo reforms to bring meaningful changes and raise overall quality, according to Rubaiya Murshed, an Economics teacher at the University of Dhaka, currently pursuing her PhD at the University of Cambridge. “Bangladeshi students and youth have tremendous potential, talent, drive, and passion. And whatever progress they make and success they achieve despite going through a flawed education system is commendable. If our education system helped students unleash their potential, hone their skills and nurture their passion, more students would live up to their potential.”
She goes on to point out the core problem with our educational system. “The pedagogy of our education system from primary to tertiary level is about memorisation and it doesn’t instill creativity and critical thinking into our students. It’s high time we figured out ways to teach students to think and truly learn.”
Research facilities has to be improved
Azwad Adnan recently completed his graduation in physics from Dhaka University. When asked about the chances of a Bangladeshi winning a Nobel in physics, he looked a bit skeptical. “Public universities in our country don’t have the ideal environment to conduct research nor do they have the state of the art facilities,” he said, however, adding, “There are a lot of Bangladeshis who have worked or are working in renowned research labs including the likes of CERN. By the next 50 years we might see a Bangladeshi win a Nobel prize in physics or accolades of such stature.”
“If we really want to see Bangladeshis win Nobel prizes we must make working in the research fields and academia more lucrative so that we can galvanise the best and brightest minds to stay in the research domain,” Adnan insists.
Education abroad and little optimism
However, there is a reason to be optimistic. More and more Bangladeshis, in recent times, are studying at Ivy Leagues and other top ranked universities. Studying at these universities provides better facilities for research and opportunity to work with best professors and academicians.
Maisha M Prome is studying Bio Engineering at MIT. She has already done undergraduate research in various projects and plans to stay in the research field for the rest of her career.
While talking about her journey to MIT, she said that her participation in the International Biology Olympiad (IBO) played a huge part in getting into MIT. “Being selected as one of the four in the international round is such a big honour and I think, that’s the kind of thing schools like MIT want to see. They want to see past accomplishments. They want to see your potential and your determination to make positive change, to contribute to the future of science, technology or humanities, to improve the lives of other people.”
Now a valid question that arises is how far are our universities from the rest of the world? Or maybe the appropriate question should be – how long will our universities take to close the gap so that they can compete with the best universities in producing world class academicians and researchers?
Tasnim Momtaz has a unique experience to share in this regard. After studying one year in economics at the University of Dhaka, she went to pursue a Bsc in economics at University College London (UCL).
Academic gaps and space to improve
“My experience as an international student in UCL has been phenomenal. It has given me a platform where I have been exposed to peers and lecturers from across the globe. From attending lectures by a world-class faculty, participating in economic talks from the most distinguished economists of the age, to interacting with peers from varying backgrounds and knowledge, I have had an unparalleled experience.”
When asked about the differences between the two universities she has experienced, she talked about academic differences and researches. “I can only share my experience at DU as a first-year student. I found the first year to be more devoted towards introductory courses whereas at UCL, the core courses besides being extremely demanding, equipped me with knowledge of complex concepts and fine skill-set required for research.”
Her words have an obvious indication of a need for change. From academic curriculum to research facilities, all need to be upgraded to meet the challenge of the time.
Arts and humanities ignored
Most Bangladeshis who go abroad for higher studies pursue education in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) or the social sciences. In a way this is a reflection of our society’s view on literature/humanities. If we don’t encourage our youth to pursue creative writing or even provide a platform to showcase and nurture their creativity, we can’t expect them winning international literary awards, let alone a Nobel prize.
Anishta Khan is double majoring in Public Health and Creative Writing at John Hopkins University. She was always passionate about writing and used to write in a popular English youth magazine during her time in Dhaka. She feels that taking up the creative writing course was the best decision she could make for her university education.
“Every class I have taken has made me stop, consider, and reflect on my experience as a person in the world, to hold my stories and those of others, to entertain and challenge my mind by building worlds and characters, and to hone community engagement and civic action skills through the creative process.”
Arts and literature inject life into a society, a nation. Not only for Nobel Prize, literature has to be owned for the sake of the betterment of the community. Anishta has some advice to share for the young and aspiring writers in this regard: “Keep at it, for your sake and the sake of the art. Writing should be primarily for yourself and what it does for you- whether it lets you see inwards, outwards or find a community. Finding a community of writers is especially important because writing can be a lonely task and the community will remind you that you are not alone.”
The Nobel prizes are awarded for original and outstanding contributions in the respective fields or any life-changing discoveries. If we really want to see Bangladeshis winning the most revered recognition in the world, we must increase funding and incentives for research, create an education system that fosters critical thinking, and last but definitely not the least, change society’s fascination only for civil service and encourage the youth towards other routes like research, arts, and academia.
Mansurul Kafi studies economics at Dhaka University. [email protected]