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How they crippled our education system

  • Published at 05:36 pm December 13th, 2018
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Can our university system truly stand proud? DHAKA TRIBUNE

Pakistan wanted to destroy our intelligentsia on that day. This article was previously published in Dhaka Tribune on December 14, 2017

I was an education reporter at an English language daily at that time, and when there was any event, related to education, I seldom found educationists who could speak knowledgeably or comprehensively about our education sector as well as he could. 

In any standard report, comments from two or three experts are needed -- getting that during an important event, when other newspapers and television channels are also looking for comments from experts, is difficult in Bangladesh. 

Kabir Chowdhury was exceptionally generous though. There were times when his relative or family member would answer the phone and tell me that he was too sick and couldn’t talk, but he would take the phone from them and talk to me. 

I am sharing this anecdote to highlight the dearth of educationists and experts in Bangladesh. 

Now, whenever I do any reporting or feature on any topic, I feel the acute shortage of qualified experts that Bangladesh suffers from. 

There are not more than three or four people in any given field who can speak on every aspect of the sector. Instead, we have only a handful of “experts” who have opinions on everything. This shortage of experts and scholars is directly related to intellectual killings during our Liberation War.

When the Pakistani army realized that defeat at the hands of our brave freedom fighters and the Indian army was certain, they began a killing spree -- with the help of collaborators -- targeting prominent Bengali teachers, writers, doctors, engineers, and other intellectuals. This happened only two days before Victory Day on December 16.  

It is thought that Major General Rao Farman Ali of Pakistan army planned the killings of December 14. Some historians have pointed out that after the liberation of Bangladesh, a list of Bengali intellectuals was discovered in a page of his diary left behind at the governor’s house.

In my opinion, universities and our overall education system are still suffering from the loss of our brilliant intellectuals on that fateful night. I have covered the education sector for at least two English language dailies for almost ten years. To me, our education sector has only one problem -- a leadership crisis. 

It wouldn’t be unfair to say that the numerous vice-chancellors, deans, and department heads we have at every university are not a good fit for the positions they occupy. However, authorities have to give them the positions because they do not have any other option. 

Bengalis were already deprived during the Pakistan era and, as a result, we only had a small number of intellectuals but even they were killed before the birth of Bangladesh as an independent nation. 

This left young Bangladesh with few professors and scholars to edify and instruct the next generation of leaders, and so, down went the quality of learning and, with it, the level of skill and knowledge in our population.

The setback that we suffered then has had a negative multiplier effect and that unfavourable momentum can only be stopped, and reversed, with a tremendous amount of coordinated, well-planned, and well-executed efforts. 

A nation’s education system is the foundation for all other sectors. If there is a weakness in the education sector, all other sectors suffer. And we are seeing that even today.

The loss was incalculably huge. We have not had another Shahidullah Kaiser, Munier Chowdhury, Mufazzal Haider Chaudhury, or Altaf Mahmud, or a historian like Abul Khair, or a lawyer-politician like Dhirendranath Datta, since then. 

We lost a dynamic entrepreneur like Nutan Chandra Singha. When I read literary works of Shahidullah Kaiser and Munier Chowdhury, I feel that Bangladeshi literature today would have been immensely enriched if they had survived even for a few more years.  

We would have a different Bangladesh -- more mature in its culture, its policies, and human development. 

Pakistani army and their collaborators -- the traitorous Rajakars and Al Badrs -- wanted to cripple the soon-to-be independent Bangladesh so we would never progress. But the one positive thing is that we proved them wrong. 

It is true that we are still feeling the effects of that loss and that we have had to struggle a lot to get to where we are, but we have endured, and are well on our way to becoming a middle-income country. We are even leading in many human development indicators among South Asian countries.

Our education sector still has many problems but our universities are emerging as quality institutions of higher learning. In any case, we are doing much better than Pakistan, whose army wanted to destroy our intelligentsia and cripple our nation. I remember how often I used to disturb the late national professor Kabir Chowdhury; sometimes, even when he was sick. 

Mushfique Wadud is a freelance journalist.

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