Responding to the ‘knowledge demand’ of the times

It should be abundantly clear that the new century and the new millennium would belong essentially to those with knowledge. Those without knowledge would continue to suffer poverty, despair and deprivation.Where stands Bangladesh in this unfolding scheme of things? Any proper assessment done would place Bangladesh in the list of countries which seem to be little prepared to cope with the huge knowledge demand of the present and the future .
Bangladesh today is an example of the mismatch between rhetoric and reality. Its leaders never miss a chance to tell their audiences how smartly they recognise the needs of the future. They can even back up their statements with figures of rising allocations for the education sector. But such figure rattlings do not hide the fact that the present spending on education is largely wasteful and ineffectual and promoting entirely wrong developments.
The country’s intelligentsia are all for highly prioritised attention to the ills in the education sector. They are of the opinion that such highly focused attention to the education sector by the government is very necessary to put it into the right track and make a sense out of the present high budgetary allocation of public resources on education or human resources development.
As it is, the resources on education or for human resources development are seen mainly misspent on unearned higher salaries of teachers and corruption. The focus, therefore, needs to be on, first, careful monitoring of all activities in the education sector. First of all, it needs to be seen whether the salary increases and other monetary benefits that teachers in general have received across the board in recent years have created the motivation in them to teach sincerely. If not, then a way must be found out to ensure that they will perform up to the mark to deserve their pay increases and other benefits.
Many educational institutions have ghost teachers in their payroll. It means that teachers are found in their payrolls and regularly government approved salaries or grants are being drawn against their names. But physically such teachers do not exist and the money is really misappropriated by unscrupulous sections of the management of such educational institutions. Resources now being drained regularly in such corruption are considered to be not small but substantial. This corruption must be thoroughly probed and smashed for the optimum utilisation of scarce resources.
A great deal of the resources now being spent for physical capacity building in the education sector such as school buildings, laboratories, etc., are reportedly not creating long standing real assets but are proving to be get rich quick schemes for a class of contractors and their accomplices in the relevant ministry and its departments. For example, a large number of primary school building created at a great cost in recent years are examples of very poor construction. A number of them collapsed or were found unfit for the purpose right after their establishment. In other cases, equipment of laboratories in government schools and colleges were found useless or substandard when attempts were made to use them. Therefore, a big issue facing the government is the one of effectively addressing effectively and at the earliest the intolerable and pervasive corruption in the education sector.
The other and more important aspect is recasting of the system of education entirely. A complete overhaul of the education system is very necessary. The present system produces mainly literate or generalists. They are of no use for the country’s developmental or economic needs.
The thrust right from the primary to secondary and higher secondary stages should be on need based education. Agricultural, vocational, scientific, technical and managerial education should form important components of syllabuses progressively throughout these stages. Sea changes will have to achieve to these ends in the field of teachers’ training, recasting of syllabuses and other related matters.
Substantial investments are required to build specialised educational or training institutions to create diverse human resources in fields such as leather technology, fashion designing, marine technology, agro-products processing, information technology, seafood processing, modern farming, etc. Investments in these specialized and sector based educational institutions can have the most effect in taking care of the supply sides requirements to expedite economic growth.
Primary education is presently using up a lion’s share of the education budget. While this emphasis may continue, very urgent steps need to be taken to invest much greater resources than hitherto on technical education. The number of engineering universities, colleges, technical institutes, polytechnics, etc., must be rapidly increased in the coming years so that education can become real life oriented and can create adequate human resources to work as catalysts for the aspired economic growth. Greater public sector investments in technical and higher education is also necessary because the majority of the pupils are in no position to afford such education at home or abroad. Only greater public sector resources going into these forms of education, even at the cost of government subsidies, should produce the highly beneficial long term effect of creating a growing pool of technically able manpower in the country for engaging in various tasks to expand the economy.
For a country of over 160 million people, Bangladesh has few universities of engineering and technology worth their names. But it has thousands of religious schools and colleges to produce religious persons and prayer leaders. There is nothing wrong in religious pursuits. Morality is also considered as an indispensable ingredient of development. But that morality can be taught also compulsorily to pupils of all faiths at primary and secondary schools with good effect. There is no need to proliferate endlessly exclusive religious schools to attain this goal.