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OP-ED: Keeping the fire of intellectualism burning

  • Published at 12:30 am December 14th, 2020
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Why are careers in journalism and academia avoided by the youth?

Today is Martyred Intellectuals Day. On this day in 1971, just two days before the War of Liberation ended, a depraved plan was being put into place by executing noted journalists, teachers, and educationists. 

Since defeat was imminent, the last bite was to cripple Bangladesh by taking away its intellectuals. We all know the story. 

Most of those killed were from academia and journalism -- two arenas which are going through turbulent times at present. 

While the coronavirus has created a predicament for all sectors, education and media seem to be worse off because these two disciplines were already in a morass. 

Apathy towards education

In the last 10 years, there has been a phenomenal shift in the mind-set of the youth freshly out of public universities. The main focus for most students is government civil service because they are determined to bring security to their lives first. 

Consequently, talented students who could have pursued a career in research, writing, or innovation, end up choosing civil service instead. Nothing wrong in that because, even in government service, there is plenty of scope for innovation, research, and development. 

Unfortunately, the interest towards academia has seen a precipitous fall. In the 80s and 90s, it was quite common to hear a young graduate harbouring the desire to pursue a career in teaching at government colleges. There was respect in the profession, plus security. However, in the last 10 years, the desire to be a teacher has become something of a rarity. 

To be blunt, the profession simply does not have the bling factor, something which is important for a young man or woman. I have even heard people say that a young lecturer is often not preferred in the marriage market. 

Unfortunately, in a predatory society driven by consumerist ideals, the first question asked is: How much will a teacher earn? 

There is a preconceived idea that a teacher at a public college will not have the financial wherewithal to live comfortably. When most concepts are formed by superficial knowledge, formation and proliferation of such flawed notions only demonize such a career path. 

The best students of the country from public universities usually toy with three possibilities: Government services that have the “wow” factor and attract social admiration, education abroad with the possibility of settling there for good with respectable employment, and multinational companies. 

These options are certainly laudable and those who fall in the three categories mentioned deserve to be lauded -- but why aren’t talented students attracted towards education? 

Of the total number of martyred intellectuals, a staggering 991 were teachers; we pay respect to their sacrifices yet do not choose their profession. 

Shunning journalism

Among the murdered intellectuals in 1971, 13 were journalists. Today, journalism as a career is in the doldrums due to the lack of a system to protect their rights and livelihoods. 

Thousands study in the communication and media departments at public and private universities, though the top students rarely pick journalism as a long-term career. No one can blame them because journalism as a profession never fit within a conventional format of socially accepted professions. 

One of those killed by the collaborators in January 1972 was film-maker and journalist Zahir Raihan. Every year, Raihan is remembered along with the journalists killed in 1971, though the profession itself seems to be languishing as the country steps into her 50th year of independence. 

There isn’t any quick fix solution to the problems afflicting academia and media but, if these sectors are actively promoted by the authority in a way which broadens social perceptions, talented students may feel encouraged to pursue career sin these fields. 

Bangladesh has countless development agencies working to eradicate social ills and, while many of these do remarkable work, it’s time for some agencies to diversify to focus on academia, media, and other creative fields which are inexorably sinking into an abyss. 

Research institutes, innovation labs, and creative media platforms can play crucial roles in bringing out new ideas which will also make money. 

Since profit appears to be in the minds of most, the “money” factor needs to be taken into consideration, though I feel that intellectual productivity leading to innovative ideas will soon outshine the lure of the fast buck. 

On this day, if we want to pay respect to the intellectuals, then let’s make a pledge to encourage the best into academia, media, and the creative fields. 

Naturally, security comes first, and government service will be top priority, but even while working for the country, there should be enough opportunities to make contributions to intellectually enrich the nation. 

The evil design of the collaborators may have dimmed the fire, but they could not snub it out  completely -- let’s make sure to keep that spirit ablaze.

Towheed Feroze is a journalist and teaches at the University of Dhaka.