The problems that plague our universities run deep
Before writing the piece, I scanned several national dailies to avoid producing the same old wine in a new bottle. I closely follow articles regarding the analysis of our higher education. When we discuss problems, we come up with some solutions to those problems at the end.
When the problem is technical, the solution is technical too. If the problem is the poor state of universities’ infrastructure, then the solution is infrastructure development. But when the problem is adaptive, the situation needs attention and also needs some behavioural change.
I want to shed light on some adaptive problems I personally faced. I realised that people only react to certain problems when they experience the problems first hand.
“Computer lab is only for fourth year students” — a notice hanging on the wall of my department. The computer lab, which is hardly used by fourth-year students, always remains locked. Once I got a chance to see the computer lab, all I saw was dust-covered computers. I wondered why on Earth would the authority set up a computer lab in the first place if they do not allow students to use it.
I know students download movies in computer labs, or use Facebook for hours. But I also firmly believe that at least some students utilise the computer lab effectively. I know I cannot jump to conclusions based on my department’s computer lab restrictions. That is why I did a very brief phone survey to learn the overall state of computer labs in Bangladeshi public universities.
Outdated and flawed
What I am going to tell you now is not new.
You already know that if fresh graduates are asked basic questions related to their major, they usually fail to answer. What you don’t know is that we still read age-old traditional note sheets and students who receive prime minister gold medal also read those note sheets and pass with distinction. This happens, at least, in my university.
The quality of higher education is at stake when almost all students read outdated note sheets. I, myself, have read note sheets of the 96-97 session. I was wondering what I would read to pass or secure a good CGPA in 2017, if that bhaiya did not prepare the note sheets in 1997.
I can remember a day when the Higher Education Quality Enhancement Project (HEQEP) inspection team visited our classroom and asked some basic questions related to a major, and none could answer. Imagine you are a Master’s student and asked to name a book with the author’s name, but all you could produce in response was a blank look.
I cannot express how pathetic it is to stand witness to such moments of silence. I will not propose any solution to this problem. However, I know for a fact that the current UGC chair is very proactive and dynamic. He seriously wants to make a difference.
Will pizza help?
We prepare plagiarised assignments with the stern belief that the faculty will not check it. One day, I posted a sarcastic status on Facebook. I wrote: If I become teacher, I will ask students to submit assignments online. I will sit a student down with a large pizza and ask to run those assignments in the plagiarism-checking software. If that student finds any assignment less than 60% authentic, then the assignment needs to be resubmitted.
One friend commented that students will attack me with machetes.
If you do not frankly discuss your ailment with the doctor, how will the doctor help you?
Sarcasm aside, respective authorities should have journal subscriptions and make regular renewal of the subscription compulsory.
Why? Well, when there is already an existing generation reluctant to read, and when recruiters become exhausted of turning down miserably incompetent graduates, what else can be done?
Incompetence in every step
A personal account can further stress the point of this article. I did my thesis and worked simultaneously; and so I struggled to meet deadlines. I could hardly manage time to type the reviewed literature, and so I planned to take on a research assistant who will type the reviewed literature for me, so that I can concentrate on data analysis.
I asked for a volunteer on Facebook. A good number of students responded immediately. Three students from the fourth year and also a Master’s student said they were never exposed to MS Office applications, specifically MS Word. It was the worst day of my life. I don’t know whether it is the university’s responsibility to ensure technological competence of students or not, but I felt the urge to bring this issue before you.
Now, this is something we should act on right away. Not all, but there are some students who are highly enthusiastic about doing research work for multiple purposes — research for intellectual pleasure, research to propel higher education, research for the sake of research, research to make sense of their membership to the intellectual clan, what have you.
If a student has a campus email account, then he or she can easily avail existing research work for literature review or keep pace with the current research. Only a handful of institutions provide students with a campus email address — a campus email account will be a great boost for students who aspire to do something big.
It can help them to create profiles on journal websites and avail research papers for free. They can download software and packages for free.
In a nutshell, it will unlock many doors for ambitious students that no human mind can imagine. I tried to open an account on Amazon Web Service where a student can have an on-demand cloud computing platform worth $100 every month, which is very hard to finish. But, the lack of a campus email account got in the way.
I also tried to create a student profile in Researchgate to avail research papers for free, but the same obstacle blocked new possibilities.
I did not write this article to showcase the miserable state of university students. I, myself, belong to the same generation I speak of — but, if you do not frankly discuss your ailment with the doctor, how will the doctor help you?
I believe adaptive initiatives will not completely trash the education system of Bangladesh, when question paper leaks have become part of our daily lives.
The odds may be against us, but leaders in the education sector have the scope to completely alter our current sorry state of education for the better.
Asad Uz Zaman Bhuiyan is Assistant Director (Research) at IID.