New questions and ideas on Education Day

Quazi Faruque Ahmed | Published: 00:00, Sep 18,2019

 
 

Students carry placard protesting at the Sharif Commission Report which attempted to legitimise the commercialisation of education in 1962. — Web

EDUCATION Day entered 57 years on Monday with new questions and ideas. Could students rely solely on education technology to educate themselves? How does artificial intelligence enhances education? To trace the background of the day, we find that on this day in 1962, school student Babul, bus conductor Golam Mostafa and domestic worker Waziullah sacrificed their lives in support of the movement of students. The movement initiated by students for the cause of education in then East Pakistan in the early 1960s culminated in September 1963. Known as the 1962 education movement, this was also a struggle against discrimination and deprivation in education and a series of onslaughts on the Bangla language, songs, especially Tagore songs, art and culture.

The immediate cause of the student agitation was the Shareef Commision Report on Education imposed by the government. I participated in the movement as an activist in the capacity of general secretary of the Dhaka College Students’ Union. The movement was initiated by students without any outside help. The central student leaders could not foresee that such a huge movement based on academic issues and problems faced by the students was possible. The momentum of the movement subsided when the then opposition leader HS Suhrawardy met East Pakistan governor Golam Faruk and persuaded him to defer the implementation of the Shareef Commission Report.

Some of the features of the Sharif Commission Report published in 1962 provoked the student agitation in East Pakistan. A few among them are: (1) the concept of free primary compulsory education is a utopia; (2) Roman Script should be introduced to introduce a lingua franca for Pakistan and for that Arabic should be given priority; (3) Urdu should be made the language of the people of Pakistan; (4) education should not be available at a minimum cost and at a ‘low price’; (5) There is reason to see it at par with investment both in industry and education; (6) the two-year degree course should be upgraded to three years for the improvement of the quality of higher education.

Students reacted sharply to the features mentioned above. They clearly pointed out that the door to education has been closed to the poor and low-income people. The very connotation of ‘investment in education’ triggered a sharp reaction from students. Action committees and sub-committees were set up in many institutions continuously to protest against the introduction of English as a compulsory reading and the enhancement of the tenure of the degree course from two to three years.

The agitation programme was started by Dhaka College students. One handicapped student of degree class, MI Chowdhury initiated it. Higher Secondary Certificate examinees who considered the new functional English courses at the HSC level an extra burden also participated in it. Sporadic strikes and abstention from classes by students continued throughout this period. Students of medical school and national medical institutions also resorted to movement, which also included hunger strike this time. However, the student movement took a new turn on August 10 when college students assembled in a meeting in the canteen of Dhaka College. Quazi Faruque Ahmed, general secretary of the Dhaka College Students’ Union, convened and presided over the meeting which was first of its kind.

There had been no link with the central leadership of student organisations before this meeting. Now this meeting bridged the link. The Dhaka College student meeting announced a general strike of students throughout the province for August 15. Students responded favourably to the programme. As a follow-up, a sit-in programme before the secretariat was also announced. A series of meeting were held in August 15–September 10 at the historic Amtola on the Dhaka University campus. A huge number of students, both from the schools and colleges in Dhaka, attended. The previously formed Degree Students’ Forum was renamed as the East Pakistan Students’ Forum with two joint conveners — Quazi Faruque Ahmed from the East Pakistan Students’ Union and Abdullah Wares Imam from the East Pakistant Students’ League. On September 10, a representative character meeting was held in the Dhaka University cafeteria where almost all the colleges of the city were represented.

The Dhaka University Central Students’ Union general secretary Enayetur Rahman, Jamal Anwar Basu, the Dhaka College Students’ Union general secretary Quazi Faruque Ahmed, the Jagannath College Students’ Union vice-president Abdullah Wares Imam, the Eden College Students’ Union vice-president Matia Chowdhury, the Quaid-e-Azam College Students’ Union general secretary Nrurul Arefin Khan, and the Tolaram College Students’ Union general secretary Abdul Aziz Baghmar, among others, were present. The meeting withdrew the previously announced sit-in before the secretariat but announced a fresh action programme of general strike for September 17.

 

September 17

STUDENTS started picketing from early morning on the day. The black-coloured Mercedes Bencz of the provincial minister Hasan Askari was set on fire by the students. Some other cars were also set on fire. In the morning, a contingent of police, led by Surgent Hafiz, chased prospective demonstrators from Sadarghat to Nawabpur railway crossing. By 9:00am, the Dhaka University campus was packed up with students from school and colleges of Dhaka city. It was virtually unmanageable to hold any meeting just this time. A news spread out that the police fired ib Nawabpur road and a good number of people, including students. It was scheduled earlier that a procession would be brought out at 10:00am. But on hearing the news of firing, a huge procession was brought out with Sirajul Alam Khan, Mohiuddin Ahmed, Rashed Khan Menon, Haider Akbar Khan Rano, Ayub Reza Chowdhury and Reza Ali were in the forefront of the procession.

The procession entered Abdul Gani Road crossing the High Court when the police fired from behind. Babul, a student of Naba Kumar High School, died and bus conductor Golam Mostofa, domestic worker Waziullah and many others were seriously wounded. Waziullah later died in hospital. The firing on Abdul Gani Road infuriated the protesters which not only included students but also workers and employees of different mills and factories, rickshaw pullers and boatmen from across the river Buriganga. It is said that the 1952 language movement cultivated the spirit of nationalism and the 1962 education movement inculcated and infused the ingredient of progressive content in it.

Two chief characteristics of the 1962 education movement deserve special mention: firstly, the movement was initiated by the students alone without any outside influence; secondly, central student leaders could not foresee that such a huge movement was possible based on academic issues and problems faced by the students. The movement subsided eventually when opposition leader HS Suhrawardy came over to Dhaka from Karachi during the last leg of the movement. He met East Pakistan governor Golam Faruk and could persuade him to defer implementation of the Sharif Commission Report.

This year the day came when controversies dominate public opinions centring on the wrongdoing and mismatch in our existing education system, particularly in higher education, which pose many questions ranging from admission to universities without following the normal practice and student politics to the role of teachers, engaged in both teaching and educational administration. On the other hand, the emergence of artificial intelligence in the footsteps of automation in the arena of education has brought two new pertinent questions: (1) could students rely solely on education technology to teach themselves? (2) how does artificial intelligence enhance education?

 

Addressing the questions

ACCORDING to UN reports, there has been an unprecedented transformation in human education and learning in the past few centuries: a change from only a minority of global elite being literate to the vast majority. Today’s younger generations are more literate than older generations, a trend that is consistent across all countries. In our modern age, it may seem easy to assume that students could rely solely on technology to learn and educate themselves. In that case, why do teachers matter? This is actually a very complex question and one that has far-reaching effects on the communities. There are some people who believe as access to technology in education increases, it will diminish the need for good teachers. This is totally untrue. I believe their role will be enhanced by technology and allow them to teach more effectively.

It is very much true that artificial intelligence has a transformative power. It has changed business, banking, governmental processes, marketing and industry. It has changed education, too. Technology has become an inevitable aspect of the way we approach the learning process.

During UNESCO’s Mobile Learning Week 2019, the participants focused on finding solutions to ensure equitable and inclusive use of artificial intelligence in education. The organisation is focused on offering equal learning opportunities to all people regardless of ethnicity, location, gender, and socio-economic status. Artificial intelligence helps in that. One of the best examples of artificial intelligence in education is the Third Space project, which uses real-time feedback to make online tutors more effective in teaching. The system detects all reactions of students, analyses the data and gives hints to the tutor so that they can adjust their pace and style. Is that not completely different from the education we once knew? To understand the role of artificial intelligence in education, we should go through specific examples that show how it has changed things for both learners and teachers. A few of them are (1) e-learning is the next logical step; (2) artificial intelligence makes students ready to hit the job market; (3) teachers are getting their smart assistants; and (4) access to education is more available than ever.

I believe that the future is already here. To quote a report from UNESCO, ‘The progress is not done yet. We’ll see AI developing further, and we’ll see it bringing new changes into the educational system. But it’s safe to say that we’ve come a long way from the traditional classroom that we used to know.’ It would be prudent on parts of all concerned with education to ponder over the new messages of Education Day 2019. Long live the spirit of the day!

 

Professor Quazi Faruque Ahmed was an organiser of the 1962 education movement and is a member of National Education Policy 2010 committee.

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