Serajul Islam Choudhury, an eminent educationist and professor emeritus at Dhaka University, sees “great potential in the young generation of the country”, but also warns of the “dangerous impacts of technology abuse”.
Comparing the employment sector of his generation and that of today, he finds that it has become “uncertain” over the years and students not serious in their studies as there is no guarantee of a job once they earn their degree.
The academic considers the chief driving factor for youth, both in his day and for now, is “self-interest”. He thinks the “youth nowadays are not provided with opportunities to make them culturally rich.”
“Jobs were assured if one would obtain a degree, say a Master’s. There is no such assurance today,” Serajul Islam Choudhury told Prothom Alo in an exclusive interview. The full text of the interview is given below:
Prothom Alo: What are the differences you see between your generation and ours?
Serajul Islam Choudhury: We had less scope. The middle class was still poor at the time. Pakistan was being formed. We saw the birth of Pakistan. The middle class had no other options other than jobs. To get a job, we had to study. There were no corporate jobs or opportunities for business. So education was important. I would not say that the teachers we got in our schools and colleges were high quality, but they were sincere. They did not think about leaving the profession and going anywhere else.
Prothom Alo: Did the teachers have dreams about their profession?
Serajul Islam Choudhury: Actually, they had passion and dream about their profession. They imparted their learning with much care. We also studied seriously. We had the limitations of less opportunity to study abroad. Only a handful of us could do so with scholarships. The way people today study abroad, on their own expense, was not possible then. Among all this, I do not think that idealism occupied a lot at our time. The symptoms we see today were there too in those days, including marital problems, sexual oppression and so on. But the scale was not so extensive. Here is a difference that the youth in that age could identify the enemy. That generation identified the state as the enemy and it was Pakistan.
Prothom Alo: Could one say it was a visible enemy?
Serajul Islam Choudhury: Yes, the enemy was visible. The stream of nationalism grew within that generation. The socialist stream was also growing. But there was little scope for this. Literature and materials were scarce. We had to rely on personal interactions. That generation saw Pakistan, the new state, not fulfilling their expectations and they felt Bangladesh should be born.
It is often said that Dhaka University was a rich institution. It was not actually. There was an average quality. The teachers who joined here were educated at other educational institutions.
The year 1947 gave us two big pushes. One was that Pakistan, as a new state, was teeming with opportunities. Another factor was many scholars left the country due to partition. Academics left schools and colleges, but this gap was not fulfilled.
The dream of our fathers’ generation was Pakistan and for us it was Bangladesh.
Prothom Alo: What do you think was the shortcoming of your generation?
Serajul Islam Choudhury: In our times, the strongest organisation was Bangladesh Students’ Union. Bangladesh Chhatra League was a very backward one. It did not have a good culture. The progressive section was with the Union. However, the quality of Students' Union also worsened due to pro-Moscow reformists later.
Our generation was also self-centred. Their dreams were personal ones. The most meritorious would join the civil service. The salary was good and so was the security and power. The state drew them this way. There was another way to draw them: through scholarships. For example, I got the British Council scholarship. Thus they were drawn both by the state or the capitalist world. Take Abdullah Al Muti Sharfuddin. He was a student of physics. He took up a job as a college teacher. The Americans took him to teach education. He no longer remained in physics or politics and pursued training in teaching instead. Another example is Munier Choudhury. He was imprisoned twice. He was an English literature student. He took his Master’s exam in Bangla literature from jail. The Americans selected him and got him admitted into linguistics studies. Linguistics was only introduced to take him away from literature. Ultimately, he became a pro-American. The lustre and progressiveness of Munier Choudhury departed with this. He also admitted this saying, “I’ve succumbed to the lure of life.” This was the lure of personal establishment.
Actually, a very few number of people could overcome the worldly lure. Those who had overcome this did not succeed either in the final run. Abdul Matin is an example. He took part in the language movement and was imprisoned. He joined the civil service and later became involved in politics again. But he could not stand strongly in the political field. If their politics would develop, we would get something different. Just as CPI (M) [Communist Party of India (Marxist)] in West Bengal. So the state pulled them in, capitalist opportunities pulled them in. In our case, partition placed us in a small arena from a big one. We got opportunities and the appeal for progress was there.
Prothom Alo: What do you consider the worst about youth today?
Serajul Islam Choudhury: The youths nowadays are using technology excessively. They are being drawn in by the internet, mobile phones and such things. This is so destructive. It may seem that there are many advantages. But they are being distracted and not pursuing their studies sincerely. The second problem is they are not being provided with any opportunities for cultural growth. The biggest example is there is no student council in the public universities now. We had these in our times. We could grow up because of the councils in Pakistan period. I stood for the Salimullah Hall student council election, the year I got admitted in university during 1952.
This was like a festival. Every year we had our festivals. We published magazines. Stage drama, inter-hall debate competitions were held at halls. We had a life then. That life has been terminated. It was terminated, so interestingly and significantly, in 1991. No government has so far arranged for the students’ council election after then. The discouragement that is being given is symptomatic. BTV once held debate competitions for school children. Such educational programmes are not held today. There were speech and debates on literature. These are missing.
One reason is commercial. Another is capitalism that only counts profit. Capitalism spread this sense of profit among the young generation. We had alienation too. But, it is the main problem for this generation. There is less communication as well as trivial matters turning serious so easily. Killings even take place. Drug addiction is a major threat. Back in the day, youth smoked to show off, but the current generation is being spoiled by drugs.
We were more secular. There is a growing inclination towards religion. Parents find it safer with the children taking resort to religion as they would, otherwise, be drawn to drugs. So the opium of religion is preferred over actual narcotics. In our age, the lure of material world was the main problem.
Prothom Alo: What is positive about this generation?
Serajul Islam Choudhury: The positive aspect is they have great enthusiasm. That has been seen in the latest student movement. Also, the Shahbagh movement, the quota reform movement along with the students’ protest demanding safe roads, showed their understanding. They perceived there was a whole range of issues including public awareness, traffic rules, professional drivers, fit vehicles, end of extortion and so on for safe roads. But, most of all, they perceived that the state itself required repairs. They have this clarity of perception.
Prothom Alo: How do you evaluate the media today?
Serajul Islam Choudhury: Newspapers are surviving due to advertisements. The media has turned fully commercial. It is centred on money. The actual role of the media could not be carried out in these circumstances. But, the journalists are more advanced than the media here. The contradiction is sharp. Journalism is actually ruined due to ownership. The journalists can understand what is happening in the media, but they cannot express it. Their talent is being wasted.