‘Education is what remains after one has forgotten everything he learned in school. It is a miracle that curiosity survives formal education.’— this statement of Albert Einstein has stood the test of time and never before did it sound so valid. Talking to a few students, Alik Bhowmik explores the state of higher education from the perspective of private university students and elaborates on the gap between student’s expectation from a program and the existing curriculum.
It is a miracle that curiosity prevails over formal education — another statement of Albert Einstein that need to be solidified through seizing over the fragile higher education system of the country. No way does the argument mean injecting education in your system is going to derail you from your desired future.
An undergraduate university degree is widely considered as the concluding hurdle before claiming to be educated and a socially acceptable individual in Bangladesh. However, it is saddening that the universities are currently pursuing curriculums that not only fails to meet the expectations of the students, but also failed to catch up with the advancing world.
Generally the curriculum in the universities offer a wide array of course which range from the history stone-age civilizations to history of Bangladesh. According to students, these mandatory courses cram information which ultimately fails to serve any purpose other than a safe route to a perfect grade, or perhaps chocking you and eating up your long cherished dreams.
‘The age old syllabus based around memorising the names of critically acclaimed historical king’s servants is perhaps a bit out of date, especially if you consider that these information are available for free and you just have to know how to type the words in google’, says Labannya Barman, a student from ULAB.
Ahmed Nafiul Karim, who was in BRAC University said, ‘I honestly feel like I wasted money on courses which I feel I can learn at home at my own free will, when I need to, I did not need to spend bucket load of cash for courses which were only going to let me know a line from history.’
The additional courses often seem like the extra credits just to earn total credits necessary to throw the convocation hats high in the air as you smile for a camera and announce yourself as a social elite just like rest of the people you happen to know.
Of course, there are students who will prefer grades over the discussion about their course content. Perhaps the thought and possibility of landing in a top level job and being a perfect spare part of the chain prevents them from entering into any conversation about the limits of current curriculum.
‘The information that I had jammed into my head over the past couple of months to prepare for BCS exam, makes me realise the redundancy of the course lectures. These were forced upon me in my university,’ says a student who just finished his undergrad from a university.
Talal’s statement raises a pivotal question about university education. Is it a gateway to become a civil servant? Are the universities factories of producing civil servants? If that is the case, and the general education courses does not even meet that demand then the legitimacy of such course curriculum itself is at stake. If the university courses are there to shed light in our otherwise darkened future, then these are surely lights which never refracts past the final scripts of a course.
When asked about the effectiveness and the inclusion of such courses in the academic curriculum of our universities, Dr. Sumon Rahman, associate professor of media studies and journalism department from ULAB said, ‘Well I do not know how the curriculum of those courses are formed. If these are simple information hubs, then of course, they are useless.’
He also stressed on the fact that, one can have a very particular point of view of studying or analysing Bangladesh, world civilization and its history. ‘When resources are adequate and known, ‘how’ is more important than ‘what,’’ said Dr. Sumon.
This problem is perhaps more prevalent in the private universities where there are multiple faculties for each course. The share of the blame behind the irrelevance of a given course maybe traced back to the faculties. Each faculty has his/her own version of the syllabus for the same course resulting in different version of history that we get to learn while being in the same institute.
‘You cannot expect a college going student to sit in a course of the 4th semester and writing every single word that comes out of your faculty’s mouth as they dictate the entire length of the class and failure to do so would bring upon a barrage of desperate indirect sarcasm that would tick the living day light of any sane human being. I like to think of myself as a normal individual and I clearly do not enjoy biding by the laws of someone who seems to be a reject of primary school tutoring. I really think you should have climbed your way down the ladder rather than making a leap of fate by clinging onto our interests and self-esteem,’ says another student of a private university seeking anonymity. While her/his remark reveals the lack of innovations in teaching practices at university levels, it also shows when the education relations are commercial, a student could speak of their teachers as ‘reject commodity.’
Syed Tanzil Hossain, another student from ULAB uttered his opinion about the failure to maintain standards in faculties he has seen so far in the university, ‘I have done quite a few courses here. I must say there have been a few faculties who truly inspired me and then there are a few who managed to kill the single bit of interest I have.’ Tanzil added, ‘In pursuing a life of gaining knowledge and exploring, I was forced to memorise lines from books to achieve grades which ultimately I thought was beyond anyone’s ability.’
The frustration among the students reveals a scenario in which education offered in private universities does not meet the eye of the students. The best students of a university are determined based on the earned academic grades and this given criteria in analysing the best from the lot could be a matter of debate. The current academic curriculum requires a student to be studious and it expects them to spend countless hours galloping down information.
‘The method of evaluation in judging a student should be altered, as the current curriculum relies very little on practical skills, and is more dependent on the ability to memorise theories. The current system is working but more importance should be given to practical work, but that too requires funding,’ says Barnana Bhowmick, a lecturer of mass communication and journalism department from Jagannath University.
The current curriculum poses the threat of idolising a student who is good at emulating and does not ask question. Tanzil could not help himself when asked about the matter, ‘I honestly do not think memorising few lines and gagging them back to fill up every inch of your examination paper makes anyone a student worthy being praised. A student, who lacks the courage and interest to question what is being taught, is just here for becoming another average individual with little aspiration to do anything worthy, I personally do not believe this education curriculum provokes any creativity and instead kills it.’
Students’ experiences elaborated here ranges of important question about the current state of undergraduate education in Bangladesh. While this feature only reflects the opinion of a handful of students, by no means they are representative of any group or institution, the question of thoughtful, timely curriculum is gaining currency for some time now. Along comes the question, what role a university should play in building a student’s future.
Alik Bhowmik is a student of University of Liberal Arts Bangladesh.