Amazing has been the advancement of science and technology. Never before in human history has there been so wide an application of science to technological development and innovation as it currently is. What is even more satisfying is that the technological dividend has not remained confined to the privileged upper class of society. The wonder gadgets have become exceptionally cheap for the most ordinary and poor people to either own or have access to those. The cell phone is a case in point.
Unsurprisingly, its impact on livelihoods, human and social relations, communications, system of production, transportation, marketing, trade and economy and the overall lifestyle has been great. Life has undergone a drastic transformation. Many of the forms of traditional knowledge, values and practices are no longer able to keep pace with the rapid changes.
How is Bangladesh prepared to go along with the journey of human knowledge and education? Sure enough, life's journey for every individual is a continuous lesson. Yet it is the academic pursuits that mostly count for individuals or any people on this planet. How they collectively build up a system of education, research and scholarship ultimately becomes an indicator of a nation's strength and weakness. Up to the higher secondary level, education is more or less a ground preparation. It is at the level of higher education that knowledge is truly created.
However, there are not enough causes for waxing lyrical about Bangladesh's higher education either. Scholarship, research and innovation -be those in any branch of knowledge - seem to have stymied as if the steam has long exhausted. But once scholars of international fame taught at Dhaka University. Dr. Shahidullah, Satyendra Nath Bose, Budhhadeb Basu, Motahar Hossain Chowdhury and lately Professor Razzak and Sardar Fazlul Karim among others were the standard bearers of scholarship and erudition.
Today, the context has changed so much that philosophy and humanities have been relegated to the back burner and business administration has come to the fore on the one hand and on the other information and communication technology (ICT) has taken the stage by storm. In fact career building rather than devoting talent and effort to the greater good of society has become the overriding predilection for students and teachers. Concentration on these areas has been producing results as well. That students of the International Business Administration (IBA) Faculty of the University of Dhaka and the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET) are laudably competing with their counterparts from the world's best universities is certainly a cause for celebration.
Yet there is a feeling that something is missing from the overall standard of higher education. Have these highly talented students been adding something to pure knowledge or advancing any project proposal aimed at solving problems of the poor segments of society? Or, are they just putting their talents at the service of multinational companies or local big business houses? If their works touched the lives of the millions of hapless countrymen or similar people across the world, they would have served the humanity better than just earning fat salaries.
Clearly, the tilt towards business, science and technology education, particularly the latter, warrants a wider scope for familiarity with the respective trade through practical application. Enough fund and well-equipped laboratories for research and experiment are a prerequisite for driving creative energy towards a set goal. It is a kind of tradition on which successive scholars build their forte.
A report carried in a Bangla contemporary on November 14 last throws some light on how the country's premier university has been helping the cause or not. Its contention is that the University of Dhaka has been introducing one after another department and institutes without creating required facilities. When departments and institutes are created under a university, the motive behind the exercise nowadays is to meet the demand of the market. If the exercise misses the target, it has to be considered a needless one -only more so when the groundwork has not been done meticulously.
Sure enough, some departments such as the department of communication disorders make one wonder if those really are fit to qualify for a four-year honours course. When there is a department like the clinical psychology, there was perhaps no need for one like this. It could very well be addressed under this department. Lack of facilities is so acute for many of the newly introduced departments that those do not have their own offices, rather are compelled to use dean's or chairmen's rooms for the purpose.
If the physical constraints are at this level, one wonders how the teaching staff there is. The report on this is clear that in some of those departments teachers were recruited without the minimum required qualifications. There are other irregularities as well with the appointment of chairmen for the new departments and their replacements.
Now if the objective is to create knowledge through tertiary education, the DU's introduction of departments and institutes can give some insight into the matter. There is no need to delve deep into many of the new departments but the syllabi and courses offered by those will be suspect because of the paucity of books and teachers. Instead, it would have been better to diversify related programmes under departments. If done, this does not require appointment of a new chairman. Recruitment of a very small number of teachers and other staff can serve the purpose. If the prospect of employment of the graduates and master degree holders produced from DU's new departments is not high, it is difficult to justify the creation of quite a number of departments.