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OP-ED: University of mediocrity

  • Published at 09:00 pm July 2nd, 2021
File photo shows a general view of the Central Library entrance on Dhaka University campus Mehedi Hasan/Dhaka Tribune

Did DU fail to live up to expectations?

I’m deeply indebted to the University of Dhaka, for I could learn a foreign language there (to an extent), which is nowadays called the global language, during my years as a student in this institution. At the same time, I’m also very grateful to the people and tax-payers of this country who contributed and allowed me to study in an institution with almost no tuition fee.

Having expressed my gratitude, allow me to express my dissatisfaction, for I didn’t get what I was expecting as a learner at this seat of higher education. My institution may have had a glorious past in forming the history of my country, but by the time I entered as a learner, it already became a factory that bred political workers.

It was also a battleground for establishing political supremacy. An autocrat was trying to tighten his grip on state power and the university campus became the arena to prove that. An atrocious loss of lives took place on the campus, as gunfights were quite common.

The teachers and the administration deserve praise in this respect. They kept the university going, even in this adverse atmosphere. One would never imagine the intensity of the negativity that was prevailing at that time if s/he hadn’t experienced it. That situation would seem like a story from movies to many people now.

This was also the time when our teachers got politically divided. But not as they were during the pre-independence years. They engaged themselves in petty party politics. They started losing their sense of responsibility as educators.

That fact wouldn’t dismay me if I witnessed that the political leaders who were being supplied into the mainstream political arena served the nation with high integrity, sincerity, and had great skills in statecraft.

You might ask: “If you were so dissatisfied, why didn’t you just leave and study somewhere of your liking?”

Thanks; let me respond.

After being disqualified to become a student at the engineering university, I didn’t have any other choice. I didn’t want to study medicine. I came out of my college as a mediocre person. My college teachers didn’t understand me, and I also didn’t fathom their way of teaching. I had a poor dad, and had to give up the idea of going abroad to study. And at the same time, I wasn’t good enough for an overseas scholarship. This university was my only option.

I did study -- as best as I could, as thousand others did. However, I have a strong feeling that we came out as mediocre professionals unable to lead the nation towards what it needed to excel, as far as the international standards are concerned. Let me confirm to you that I wasn’t comparing the quality of education of my university with any high-ranking and globally reputed universities. I was simply thinking about what a university should be like.

Yes, a foreign philosopher is on my mind when I say all this. I believe in Socratic thinking when it comes to higher education, and I also wanted to be a thinker. I wanted to be a thinker who could participate in the international arena. My university couldn’t inspire me to seek knowledge, if you like. It simply taught us how to pass the exams and get jobs and start earning our livelihood.

You might again question: “Why do all need to be thinkers? Some will think, and the rest must be implementers when it comes to nation-building.”

OK, understood, and I accept. However, I believe, if we talk about implementers, the first and foremost sense of responsibility that the university should instill among us is to serve the people with integrity. After all, the founding thoughts of establishing Dhaka University was to develop the lot in erstwhile East Bengal. And after all, we studied in this university with people’s money.

Yes, the majority of the students are seen to serve the people, as hundreds appear in the public exams and become bureaucrats. In modern-day diction, we may call them managers of the state of affairs.

The questions remain: How efficient and sincere are they when it comes to serving the nation? What is our experience about the skills, thinking ability, and integrity of these bureaucrats? Do we all trust them? Can we blindly depend on them?

I hope I can get the answers one day.

During the colonial era, both British and Pakistani, our university had served the role of developing a national psyche, a psyche that helped us to be self-conscious as a nation and at the same time, created the professionals required to build the nation.

In the present-day scenario, the university (all universities) is playing the role of producing managers for commercial growth. Good. We need economic growth at the moment. But if we’re so focused on producing managers for growth, why are so many foreign nationals working in the business sector in Bangladesh?

Why are the foreign managers better than us? Simple. We’re not skilled enough to be self-sufficient. Honestly, we are mediocre.

We often express regret by saying that there’s not much research done by the teachers and students of Dhaka University, or for that matter, in all the universities of the country. Now, let us ask the questions: Why shall we research? Just because we have seen universities such as Oxford, Harvard, and the like doing it? Or should the sense of research evolve from our own needs and wants?

We often heard that our university was the Oxford of the East. Why? Because we were copying the curriculum and the model of exams Oxford had adopted. This is where the sense of research should play a role. Why didn’t we research what model we needed? Why did we have to copy a university of the colonizers that may have served their own purpose?

A hundred years for a university is more than enough to become a mature seat of learning. Now, where do we stand after 100 years? Isn’t it time for honest soul-searching? Isn’t it time to come out of the political character and start the journey towards a holistic approach to education?

Only citing the example of the university’s glorious role before independence will never satisfy the present or the future goals. Yes, goals. Dhaka University must have goals.

Apology to readers. 

It would be great if you forgive me for the title of this piece. I truly feel this way -- mediocre. My expectation from my university was, and still is, sky high. 

Ekram Kabir is a yogi, a story-teller, and a communications professional. His other works are available on ekramkabir.com.

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