Professor Kazi Shahidullah, chairman of the University Grants Commission of Bangladesh, told New Age on Thursday that basic education at school level should be ensured to improve the quality of both students and teachers.
Commitment and dedication of teachers along with the mind-set not to chase financial interests only were also crucial to maintaining quality and discipline in the education system, he also said.
In an interview with New Age, the professor of history, department of Dhaka University, shared his views on some relevant and contested issues that have long remained unresolved in the education sector.
Kazi Shahidullah said that in Bangladesh, speaking and writing in English were the most important judging tools for the quality of any student.
‘During job interviews the former students are not judged by the subject they studied but by their smartness, languages and practical issues,’ he said.
He recalled that during his student life, the quality of the students and teachers was excellence as the district-level schools and colleges were hubs of competence.
‘The students from districts were as good as the students born and brought up in the capital while the district students also boasted excellent results in board exams,’ he continued.
But currently these educational institutions were in a pathetic condition and for that reason when students from these institutions already came with a handicap — they could not went through a grounding in English to pursue higher studied in that language in the universities, he said.
‘We have to start working from the basics. If we can improve the basic aspects of education students received, then we will have improved the overall education system,’ the commission chairman said.
For improvement, we would have to work with the basics, he mentioned, adding that in the world there were still two basic disciplines — one is communication, which is English in Bangladesh, and another is mathematics.
Students with good command over these two subjects may not be best in their academic performance, but they usually excel in jobs and interviews, he said.
Kazi Shahidullah further argued that the system of schooling was good in the past because rules were followed to ensure results.
‘In the past, the school teachers were not very brilliant but they were committed, dedicated, and had never given their profession a bad name by chasing after money,’ he said, adding, ‘They always prioritised the schools’ interests without getting entangled in financial matters. That is why they were treated with utmost respect by the people though they were poor.’
He said that at present a good number of teachers were only found at the educational institutions where the traditional systems were followed.
About the proposed central admission test system at the public universities, he said that public overwhelmingly favoured this system.
‘I don’t know what tomorrow will bring but I can tell you that at least we are trying,’ he said, adding, ‘Since 2010, discussions on this system were being held but each year the decision to adopt this system got postponed. So we decided that we will make a start,’ he said.
Authorities of some universities, who were yet to decide about adopting the central admission test system, also did not show any negative attitude towards the system and admitted that this system would be better.
‘But we can’t wait eternally for their decisions so that we set them time limit, which is till the end of this month and we want a positive answer. We are hoping that the universities will join us though their authorities are asking us many questions about the system while the idea still seems pre-mature to many,’ he said.
The commission chairman said that initial response to this system was overwhelming but currently many questions were being raised.
UGC was collecting these questions which would be presented in front of all the public university authorities for their consideration, he said.
‘Some are expressing fear that in this test the questions could be leaked. Who can give you that guarantee? According to my experience if you are careful and take adequate measures you can stop question paper leakage,’ he said.
Kazi Shahidullah also said that some continue to debate the uneven standard between Dhaka University and other universities.
The question papers for the central admission test would be prepared by experienced and senior university teachers, he said and added that each student could get admission in the universities as per their (universities) own requirements, he said.
‘UGC is not interested in conducting the exam as this is not our job. We are a facilitator,’ he said.
‘Last year we conducted the admission tests of the agricultural universities in a cluster system. After that I told them that my job is over as holding exam is the responsibility of the universities,’ he further said.
He also said that the president and vice-chancellor of all public universities Abdul Hamid, prime minister Sheikh Hasina and every sensible person wanted this unified admission test system.
‘If you are serious, you want something to be done and you are positive then there will be a solution for everything. Some people are already determined that they would not let it happen. If they act like that then what can we do!’ he asked.
Once the system is established, the end result would be satisfactory while initially there would be some questions about the process of the system, the chairman explained.
On the overall ambiance at the educational institutions, Kazi Shahidullah said that nobody wanted to continue to allow things like ragging.
A very small number of people were engaged in such ill-activities and they were holding the nation hostage, he said.
‘At Dhaka University we never have this ragging. It is a cruel joke to humiliate fellow students. You do not have the right to assault your fellows. Continued unabated, this also created mental anxiety and left a lasting psychological imprint on the impressionable minds of the young,’ he said.
On the decision of closing evening courses at the public universities, he said that the decision did not come out of the blue.
He said that the university authorities were appointing more candidates against wanted posts, which was an example of lawlessness.
In many cases, the staffs were granted scales which were not commensurate with his or her rank and this was unacceptable in the educational institutions, he pointed out.
He said that evening courses were affecting the day courses in bad way.
‘If a teacher teaches at Dhaka University in the morning and at private university in the afternoon, and lastly at the evening courses, then where will he or she get time for the necessary research or even prepare for classes,’ he asked.
UGC chairman said that monitoring should be done by the university authorities as it is responsible for everything.
‘We took action when something disastrous happened and became public,’ he said.
In the public universities, the departments gradually made to splinter into many additional departments and students of these departments failed to get jobs due to the presence of too many candidates belonging to the same category, he observed.
He said that there was also no assessment on the intake capacity — no one knows how many students would be accommodated in a particular department.
‘You will not find another university in the world which has so many departments as does Dhaka University,’ he said, adding, ‘This university is perhaps going to make it to the Guinness World Records because of this.’
‘We cannot make everybody happy no matter what,’ he said, adding, ‘We have to take initiative after considering the advancement of the majority of the people.’
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