TBS: In the QS ranking, Dhaka University was ranked 600 in 2012. But it has come down to 1,000 in the latest ranking. Dhaka University got 18 out of 100 in academic reputation, one of the factors in the ranking. We know that the pass mark is 33. Can we say that the DU has failed here?
SMI: It is a kind of failure. We are lagging behind because we have no improvement. But 500 universities from other countries have improved. Some new universities have also entered there, especially from China. In the next 20 years, they will compete with any university in the western world.
For example, we can compare Bangladesh with India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. They have moved forward but we are constantly moving backwards. The quality of our education is constantly going down which is very concerning. We don't talk about quality as much as we talk about the quantity of education.
We all say that we need to improve the quality of our education. There is also a national consensus on this issue. But I do not see any reflection of it in the work of the government and its institutions. Like, they are not increasing the budget allocation for education.
Our universities often produce headlines for reasons like corruption by VCs. How do these issues affect the reputation of our universities?
SMI: We have moved away from running educational programs with a good reputation. It is not only the responsibility of the VCs; teachers are also responsible.
In the sixties, university teachers did politics but never by neglecting their work or research. They did politics by following their conscience. Many university teachers in the western world also get involved in this sort of activism.
Teacher politics was free from party politics until the 80s. We have fought against dictatorship, for democracy, for freedom of expression. Journalists and cultural activists also stood by us. Universities were a place of trust. Universities were ready to show the way.
We started to go backward from the day teachers started to get involved in party politics.
Are teachers being able to show a way to be free of this deadlock now?
SMI: No. A large number of university students are anxious to sit for BCS exams. I can't blame them. The BCS seems to be the only exam where you don't need any political connection to get the job. But it is not the duty of the university itself to produce BCS cadres. It will produce talented scientists, social workers, and philosophers. That is not happening in our universities now, because we can't show the way.
Should we blame the universities only? What is the condition of the three steps that students go through before coming to the university?
SMI: Student life starts from pre-primary education. The formation of life skills begins in primary school where a student takes cultural and humanitarian lessons, lessons in ethics and aesthetics. Secondary school education is preparation for another world. Then comes university education.
But we are not able to provide quality education at the secondary level. A scientist said an average student of our country passes SSC with mathematical knowledge and language proficiency equivalent to class seven.
The salary structure of our primary education is so inadequate that good, quality teachers are not attracted.
Is primary education the most neglected?
SMI: Allocating money is not the only solution. The quality of teachers must be improved. I had a dream that those who teach in primary schools get a salary of Tk50,000 to Tk60,000. If this were true, the most meritorious university students would be attracted there. You cannot expect good students without good teachers.
Research shows that in order to develop the country's economy, the allocation for education should be increased and teachers should be respected. What is your opinion on that?
SMI: We have to pay more attention to primary and secondary level education. Students are so ruthlessly thrown under pressure of exams that there is no joy in education. I have not seen such a joyless education system in any country.
Education needs respect. There must be political will to respect education. That should be given the highest priority. In Cuba, 9.5% of GDP is allocated to education. In Vietnam it is 6% to 7%. First, we have to increase the allocation for education and then we have to manage the allocation properly.
We have to hire the most talented people as teachers, maintaining transparency in the recruitment process.
We have to modernise the curriculum as well as the examination system. We have to invent alternative methods of evaluation. Students should be made responsible for their world and nature with joy.
I would say the budget of the current financial year is very business friendly. But we have to understand that the garment business will be ruined if we are not prepared for the Fourth Industrial Revolution because artificial intelligence will take the place of manual labour.
Is education important for the sake of business?
SMI: Super managers come to Bangladesh from India, Sri Lanka, and take $6 billion. Why can't we make an education system that can produce super managers? If we had invested in education, the situation would be different.
How logical is it to dream of a developed Bangladesh in 2041 with the current education system?
SMI: I don't see the logic of it.
For the future of entrepreneurs, I would like to say that if you do not invest in education, business will collapse in 5 to 10 years, because Artificial Intelligence (AI) is coming. Then how will we survive? We have to move forward and our scientists will do that.
So we need to improve the quality of research at our universities. At the same time, the allocation for education should be increased. Emphasis should also be given to learning foreign languages.
I appeal to the government to make a separate pay scale for primary teachers. Spending a few billion dollars here could change the landscape within a generation.
What is our hope in education?
SMI: First, I see a lot of hope because education is a priority for every family. The revolutionary change that has taken place in women's education is also appreciated by all.
Second, young people are getting ready. If the standard of living for primary teachers is improved a little, they will jump into the development of education in the country.
Many young people are going abroad for higher studies. When they see there are good opportunities for them to work in Bangladesh, they will come back. If the government helps them, the young generation will be able to bring about a revolution in the development of the country.