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Dhaka Tribune

So simple, a child could do it

Young people won’t save us if new ideas aren’t respected

Update : 24 Nov 2018, 06:17 PM

If older generations were not continually replaced by younger ones, progress would probably come to a halt.

That is not to denigrate the accomplishments of our parents or our ancestors -- they worked with what they had in their day; they fought for what they saw as progress, and as their progeny, we stand on their shoulders.

We owe a debt to the cavemen who first made fire, and the early humans who invented agriculture, and the engineers who created the first personal computers we like to laugh at today, and all those who fought for our independence, without whose belief in something new we would not have a nation today.

Progress often requires a child-like simplicity, and the faith that something that has not been done before just might work; doing something new requires us to mute that nagging voice of experience that keeps telling us “it won’t work.”

But do we have enough young minds to make that happen?

But of course, you say. Nobody doubts that Bangladesh, especially in its urban areas, is absolutely bursting at the seams with young people. We may lack a lot of things, but strength in numbers is not one of them.

And this so-called “youth bulge” has made a lot of pundits comment on the demographic dividend that we are currently experiencing, or are about to experience. This youth bulge will change our country for the better, we are told.

Wouldn’t that be nice -- energetic, optimistic young people taking charge, chucking out the old ways of doing things, turning away from approaches and plans that have not worked, and looking at things with fresh eyes?

Out with the old; time to do things in a different way; time to work with visions of the future, not with ghosts of the past. If only we could say that and mean it.

But this youthful plasticity in our thoughts regarding policy and development is not so much about just being young, but actually thinking young.

We all know that twentysomething who refuses to read anything new, put any effort into anything, and has a frame of mind identical to their grandparents, and we all know that exuberant septuagenarian who, with all the learning power he can muster, genuinely wishes to figure out how Snapchat works.

Innovation is a frame of mind, and one that can be fostered and encouraged -- or one that can be killed.

In Bangladesh, sadly, we talk about the same things over and over again and expect positive change.

Our cultural and political discourse, just like our city streets, smell of dust; it is as if so many of our top brass and policy planners have not received the memo that this is the year 2018.

The millions of young people in the country eager to make their mark have been let down, choked and thwarted by an education system which broke down a long time ago and which nobody bothered fixing.

Dhaka University, an institution that still brags of being at the centre of so many movements that pushed us out of oppression and into nationhood, is now largely seen as a joke, where the streets are ruled by politically connected goons, session jams wreak havoc on the flow of education, and sexual harassment is business as usual.

And while it is easy to point fingers at the young cadres who never seem to have received a basic education on how to behave, we should really hold accountable the questionable education they receive, both at home and from their teachers.

Some of the distinguished, older faculty members harbour the same appalling mindset seen in the political goons and cadres, and why should that be surprising? These respected professors, after all, are the ones who pass on the toxic values, as they roam around campus with an unearned sense of privilege.

As a result, we are, collectively, stuck in a very bad place.

Unless and until we push ourselves out of our mental comfort zones, neither young people nor old people will save us.

But who wants to do all that? It seems like too much work.

Easier to just pat ourselves on the back for something we did in the distant past than to think in a rational way, and truly care, about the future.

Abak Hussain is Editor, Editorial and Op-Ed, Dhaka Tribune.

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