Fakrul Alam, a retired professor of English at Dhaka University, dreams of a Bangladesh "where the educational systems teach us to be democratic, secular, cosmopolitan, true citizens of the world, as well as patriots".
However, despite being optimistic about Bangladesh's youth, he regrets the decline in quality of learning. He also feels sorry about the unemployment that many graduates face as their "fate", given the job market situation and the state of public sector recruitment.
The academic is disappointed to see the difficulties that teachers at higher education have to face nowadays due to the declining quality of entrants.
"... these are dismal times for educators since they have to cope with students who reveal declining standards." He blames, "rote learning, “multiple choice” tests, a system where tutors are more important than teachers in classroom situations." He also holds poorly run and entirely commercial educational institutions responsible for the situation.
"I certainly regret the fact that our top universities do not come anywhere near the top in regional, not to speak of global rankings," Fakrul Alam told Prothom Alo in an exclusive interview. The full text of the interview is given below:
Prothom Alo: How do you look at the Bangladeshi youth of today?
Fakrul Alam: I like the vitality, the energy that I see whenever I look at our young people. We have been blessed to have a large pool of youth in every generation who have led us in key moments of our history and again and again have challenged injustice in society. The present generation is no different, as we saw recently. On them we must place our hopes for the future. In the classroom and university corridors I feel energised by our young people. However, I also feel that unemployment is a fate that many of them continue to face after graduation and am apprehensive about where frustration and lack of opportunities may lead a not negligible number of them, given the current situation in the marketplace and in government recruitment.
Prothom Alo: What are some differences in your views of life and about Bangladesh over the years - when you were a student and now after retirement from Dhaka University?
Fakrul Alam: We have seen our hopes realised and then dashed again and again. There was 1969, the elections of 1970, March 1971, the liberation war, the end of autocracy and authoritarian/military governments, on the one hand, and then the dark days of 1975, successive despotic governments, and the rise of fundamentalism and intolerance on the other. But Bangladesh has survived and prospered - relatively speaking, and on the balance, I am happy to be part of Bangladesh in our time. I only hope we would be a more tolerant, disciplined, liberal and progressive society.
Prothom Alo: Will you please share your observations about teachers of different ages of your life - what kind of changes do you notice?
Fakrul Alam: I like to tell this story about a student who came to my house for some reason or the other when I was chair of the English department in the mid 1990s and said to me: “Sir, what is the difference between teacher-student relationships in your time and at present?” I replied, “When I was a student I couldn’t dream of calling on my teachers in their homes and now you are here!” But I would like to see more interactive classrooms and more student participation elsewhere. The distance between students and teachers should be reduced further, although there should be respect for the teacher on the one side, and a surplus of affection for students on the other. I have had excellent teachers like SIC (Serajul Islam Choudhury) and professor Ahsanul Haq, I should add.
Prothom Alo: How will you evaluate the current state of quality of education in Bangladesh?
Fakrul Alam: Judging by the students I teach every year, I am afraid to say that these are dismal times for educators since they have to cope with students who reveal declining standards. Rote learning, “multiple choice” tests, a system where tutors are more important than teachers in classroom situations, poorly run and entirely commercial educational institutions that are not monitored properly have combined to create a situation where more and more students are admitted but learn less and less from most educational institutions. Only parents who can send students to the best schools, colleges and universities, and to good tutors and coaching centers seem to be able to learn anything much in our country.
Prothom Alo: Why have questions been raised about employability of recent graduates?
Fakrul Alam: I think my preceding responses to your questions should tell you what is going wrong. Too many students go through the school, college and university systems without learning anything much and/or learning things that do not equip them properly for the job market.
Prothom Alo: Do you repent the positions of Bangladeshi educational institutions in global ranking - why or why not?
Fakrul Alam: I certainly regret the fact that our top universities do not come anywhere near the top in regional, not to speak of global rankings. My visits to neighbouring India prove to me again and again how we are falling behind their educational institutions at all levels. The higher education system needs to be completely overhauled and an accreditation system for higher education put into place immediately. Public universities should be run without interference from vested quarters and held accountable and of course private universities should be monitored to ensure that profits do not override educational goals.
Prothom Alo: As question paper leaks have plagued the entire education sector, who and what will you blame? How to address this?
Fakrul Alam: I would blame most of the people involved! Students, for wanting the easy way out; parents, for not teaching their children proper values and supervising them; teachers, for the same reason and for not teaching as well as they should; question setters, for setting questions that can be answered easily; the system of examinations, for being so vulnerable to people who leak question papers!
Prothom Alo: What are some of your dreams for education in Bangladesh and of the country itself?
Fakrul Alam: My dream is that we learn proper values as well as acquire knowledge when we are young and acquire the capacity to think through things on our own and read much more than we are doing so that we can be in touch with the wide, wide world of knowledge! My dream is of a Bangladesh where the educational systems teach us to be democratic, secular, cosmopolitan, true citizens of the world as well as patriots!