Hail hypocrisyby Md Khalid Bin Kamal
SHERLOCK HOLMES, the brilliant detective made alive by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, did not know that the earth moves around the sun (A Study in Scarlet, 1887). He didn’t need to, as his creator would argue; knowledge about the solar system had nothing to do with his profession. Holmes believed that the mind had a finite capacity for information storage; hence, storing useless information would only limit his ability to acquire useful ones. As none of the criminals he was after had found a way to evade the law by hiding in any other planet of the solar system, Holmes’s ‘inventory management’ was beyond any question. Sherlock Homes was the earliest example I could find vis-à-vis limiting the learning process exclusively around ‘necessity’. Today, such examples are galore since the whole system seems to be addicted to limited and requirement-based learning. Life is a rat’s race and rats we are. Shedding extra weight does make sense, doesn’t it?
Of minds and moneybags
IT APPEARS that both the education system and the students eye each other as profitable goods and become absolutely obsessed with profitability. We all know the rhyme; lekhapora kore je gari-ghora chore she (he who studies can afford to ride cars). Knowledge to grab a good job (only the ones recognised as ‘GOOD’) seems to be a good enough incentive for students. For that reason we find that almost everyone is targeting some specific professions such as doctors, engineers, lawyers, bankers, etc. As these are the ones which provide better income opportunities. It appears that there is an increasingly fewer number of students who want to study literature, logic, fine arts, etc. Most private universities in Bangladesh offer courses only in selected subjects. One can hardly find any of them offering courses in, say, Bangla, philosophy, mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology, etc. They mostly offer courses in business, economics, computer science, engineering, architecture, etc. It may be because these universities give too much emphasis on better job opportunities for their students. While the rationale may be sound, it is more suited for coaching centres rather than universities.
But who do we blame? In public universities, similar subjects are also preferred. I know of a number of students who have let go of the opportunity to study literature as they deemed it less profitable, in terms of earnings in future. And now, in our country, the tendency of choosing science is on the wane as business graduates are believed to earn more. In the University of Dhaka the tendency of choosing Bangla, philosophy, mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology, etc is decreasing at an increasing rate among admission seekers. It is, thus, not about ‘who you want to be’; it is more about ‘how much you want to earn’. It is mostly about the moneybags; our dreams of its shape seem to be dominating our choices in life.
Textbooks and notebooks
I WENT to different schools as I was growing up. In most of these schools, there was either no library or, if there was one, it would remain closed for days, weeks and even months on end. It was quite a shock for my tender mind. It does not shock me anymore, though. In Bangladesh today, library does not seem to be an integral part of schooling. Why provide students with any reading material other than textbooks when a majority of them would not even go through the textbooks? The last school that I went to was then more than century old; its library was closed down because there was no librarian. No one seemed to care, no one does.
The first lesson: hypocrisy
AT SCHOOL, at one time or the other, students are asked to write the essay ‘My aim in life’. When my turn came, I wrote that I wanted to be a teacher. It was not that I really wanted to be a teacher; I just wanted a good grade. Does anyone smell hypocrisy here? If an education system makes children write innumerable essays on moral issues and human character but fails in every way to contribute to a better national morality, there must be something wrong.
During my high-school years, I tried hard to find those books from which the texts in the syllabus were taken. I was mostly discouraged. Questions would not be framed from those books, I was told. ‘Ideal’ students were expected to memorise the answers on those poems and stories, and not look for their source. They were expected to be able to write pages after pages on the life and works of the poets and the authors but generally discouraged to read their other works. The trend continues; students still memorise names of books and authors, year of publication, etc for the preparation of competitive tests like the Bangladesh Civil Service examinations.
The bite marks
WIDESPREAD frustration among the youth seems to be a significant output of the process. A newspaper report recently revealed that every year, almost half of the candidates having GPA 5, both in secondary school and higher secondary certificate examinations, fail to get the pass marks in the admission test of the University of Dhaka (Prothom Alo, December 25, 2012). Indeed, the incomplete and suggestion-based learning process does not pay off even in the short run. The nation has already witnessed with dismay that among the best of the students a large number fly abroad for better opportunities, not to come back ever. It may be a reflection of lack of patriotism and self-centred social culture, and could make one conclude that a better student does not always represent a better human being. Who else is there to blame but the system fostering highest level of individualism and rivalry? We have even forgotten the ways of encouraging the search for knowledge. In most universities, both public and private, academic research fails to claim enough funds. Most of the research work is done in a poor and insincere manner as very few take them seriously.
A form of compound hypocrisy seems to be absorbing our minds and moralities. We are taught from the very beginning of the learning process that it is alright to say or write what we do not hold to be true. Even lying seems to be no longer deemed as a major slip in our society today. It seems okay to lie, cheat or accept and offer bribe. Sometimes even the corrupt people are celebrated and idolised. The tendency to measure everything with money poses a grave threat to the moral fabric of society.
Certificates seem to have become more important than knowledge and potential. And thus the culture of unethical competition evolves and leads to the unhesitant use of unethical means in the examinations. The recent outbreak of incidents such as question paper leaks of various examinations tends to bear testimony to this effect. It is money which seems to dictate our thought process and even social relations. Hypocrisy and corruption seem to be taking over.
Hoping against hope
WE CAN only hope for changes in social and educational structures to prevent this takeover. A long-term initiative to find out the problems in the system is required. An education policy with specific vision, mission and goal is urgently needed. The policy must allocate ways to integrate moral education and ethical issues in the system with a realistic plan to implement. The extracurricular activities which have almost been eliminated in the last few years must be revived. Our teaching processes are to be changed to make it more appealing to the students. Hypocritical practices and syllabuses must be revised as early as possible. We must forbid the way competition gets in our minds. Life in never a rat’s race and we surely, are not rats.
To break the monopoly of the few, career opportunities of other disciplines should be widened. Students of all the educational institutions must be encouraged to read as they wish. The guardians and the teachers must understand that the learning process is not (and was never) directed to having better jobs. Its direction is rather to build potentials of the young citizen and thus creating a better nation with capable, enthusiastic and prudent citizen.
Only some earnest attempts to make positive changes might just save the day.
Md Khalid Bin Kamal is an editorial assistant at New Age.
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