Our tertiary level education is more concerned with ensuring employment for students rather than producing the best minds in society
It is alarming to note that our education model is quite job-centric. Even after almost 50 years of independence, we could not introduce a convenient national education policy. Such failure raises an important question: has the spectre of Macaulay gone from our education model and cultural mindset yet? Or are we still carrying the same colonial legacy?
Why do parents send their children to schools, colleges, and universities? The answer is simple. They educate their children so that after graduation they have a good job. It is not a problem on a superficial level. But it points the finger at a serious flaw of our socio-cultural mindset because this education-for-employment approach marks a predominant continuity of colonial education. It is like Macaulay's model in which education for Indians was to produce clusters of 'brown sahibs' who can be employed under the British Raj.
If our education, mostly education at the tertiary level, is taken into perspective, we find that it is more concerned with ensuring employment for students rather than producing the best minds in society. The success of a university (both public and private) depends on how many of its students have secured 'good jobs', not on how many innovative researches have been done. It should be a matter of concern today that our universities, which could be the world's best education institutions, are not even appearing in the lists of ranking.
The job market is manipulating students' desire. Families decide what their children should study. And the decisions are mostly dependent on job demands in the country. We have no basic policy to fend off this tendency. Things have gone so far that even humanities as academic disciplines are not studied much in the private universities. Most of these private universities offer disciplines apparently compatible with current public demands that are both produced and manipulated by the global and local job market.
Even today the science and technical disciplines are not popular choices among admission seekers. Also courses which are studied in universities are not mostly inter-disciplinary. As a result, a student of law does not need to read literature, and a student of literature does not study basic law. Perhaps, the syllabus planners are not even thinking about that. But, I think, designing interdisciplinary course curricula is an important step towards making an all-encompassing education system. If we can make our disciplines truly interdisciplinary, we might see in near future that our natural scientists will be able to work with social scientists and vice versa. This might be a one big step in changing our current education pattern and making it more skill-based, receptive, and performative.
We have to remember that economy leads the trajectories of higher education; for instance, there is a huge demand for IT specialists in the world, especially in the developed countries. Hence, the number of science and technology universities are increasing in the subcontinent. It is good news that many more South Asian students are getting employed in Google, Microsoft and other organizations of global repute. But our education system must counter the capitalistic interests which try to dominate students' learning capacity by determining what they should learn in the schools, colleges or universities. The basic purpose of education is to enlighten the world, not serve the interests of corporations.
When education has to depend on capitalistic interests, it loses its true functionality. It is like being unable to fly even though you have wings. Also, it is more intimidating when education's utility is only specified by what employment or privileges it can manage. In that case, this sort of education cannot produce the best minds; rather, it can only supply a bunch of workers equipped only with the knowledge needed.
I am not suggesting everyone should be knowledgeable or everyone should research or be an academic in the world. We need everyone - from low level workers to CEOs, from menial labourers to intellectuals. But what is important is to hand over the agency of deciding "what one wants to be in life" to individuals or students alone. This is their own choice to make. Any manipulation brings havoc. This will be a good starting point to challenge such tyrannical imposition of "what one should be," the question of choice that comes from the capitalistic fronts. Our national education policy should not feed capital's belly anymore. We need to come out of Macaulay's evil circle and introduce a functional education model which is useful for our society.
Currently, the situation is as such that if job markets do not categorize any specific discipline as needed, then some of the disciplines are branded as non-prospective, and, therefore, marginalized. In most of the private universities of Bangladesh, we do not find disciplines such as Bengali, History, Anthropology, Physics, Mathematics, and so on. Why did they do that? Perhaps because these disciplines are not welcomed by our local employers. Even sometimes humanities and social sciences are really looked down upon as some marginalised categories in the job sectors. This capitalistic design of education, which is gradually dehumanising education policy, is producing a different 'success image' in the society. Young graduates are running after this success model like wild geese. The race never ends until questioned and challenged.
Anupam Kamal Sen is doing a PhD in Social and Cultural Encounters at the University of Eastern Finland.