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The Hegemony of the Dominant: Barriers for building Popular Education in Bangladesh

Popular education and barriers

Education is the gradual process of acquiring knowledge; it is a preparation for life. It is widely recognize that education serves as an engine for a community; it plays a vital role in the all around development of the society. So, the national development of a country highly depends on education. Education has two general aspects, (a) philosophical aspect and (b) structural aspect. If the philosophical position is progressive and scientific, the structural position of popular education will be modern and pro-poor.

The role of education is to build the nation and making linkages with knowledge and empowerment. Education should be a means to empower people to become active participants in the transformation of society. It is true that popular education directly influences politics, culture and economy of a country. Ideological influences play a crucial role in shaping our educational framework. Society is fundamentally unjust and education should have an open, political commitment to work with the victims of social, political or economic injustice in their struggle to bring about progressive social changes.

But it is a matter of pity that in Bangladesh the philosophical aspect of education is very unscientific, non-progressive and sometimes conservative. So, the structural aspect is not strong and poor-friendly. As a result, discussion and thought on education are limited in an apolitical discourse. In popular thinking and practice, education is assumed as a neutral phenomenon. It is not analyzed in relation to colonialism, globalization, cultural imperialism, nationalism and other political issues alone. It is though campaigns and educational initiatives are enough to establish a people oriented educational system. That’s why our educational system is not encountering any criticism and resistance and thus, is being used as a tool of post colonial neo liberal power.

The colonial era can be marked of as the period of raise and expansion of the dominant ruling class and the time of the rise of education as the mean of consolidating hegemony. During this period, colonial rulers found education as the best mean for protecting their interests and for consolidating and legitimizing the British rule, and created education system in line with their interests that formed Bengali middle class. The British ruling class and native ‘gentlemen’ class both felt the need of shaping education in order to fulfill their interest and to consolidate their power, in consequence of which emerged the colonial education policy.

The post-colonial rulers also incorporated the attitude and practices of the colonial ruling class regarding the education system. In 1947, the provincial government of the East Bengal constituted an education commission headed by Moulana Akram Khan, proposed to give primary education in mother tongue and make religious education compulsory. Furthermore, four more education commissions were formed in this period. Each and every of these commissions had given more emphasis on higher education over the primary and secondary education and on the quantitative aspect or the expansion of education over the qualitative aspects of it than ever, which resulted in a discriminatory and class-divided education system.

In the case of education policy, two aspects subsidized the post-independence period of Bangladesh with its uniqueness; firstly, the internal feud among different factions of the ruling class over the control of popular education system, and secondly, the interference of International Financial Institutions (IFIs), like World Bank, IMF & ADB and in the national scale non-government organizations. As a result, the education system was continuously transformed particularly in the field of conflicts of opposing interests. For example, during the post-independence periods, the issues of gaining independence and the history of building the nation became the centre place of controversy and as the perfect mean to carry the demands, the educational policy entered in the party-political arena. Thus, the description of national history in the textbooks became synonymous with the change in the government. Every government wanted to shape national identity in its own ways, and the education system has got itself confined in the trap of fabricated history.

On the other hand, global capitalism acts as the driving force for rapid transformation in education sectors. So, the process of globalization and the policy divide have impeded creation of a complete and comprehensive education system in the country. These rapid neo liberal reforms present a weak linkage between knowledge and empowerment making education inaccessible and dearly. The educational divide has given rise to an inward, concentric and conformist pattern of knowledge generation and dissemination, where diversity and inclusiveness of education remains reclusive and empowerment and socio economic growth becomes a far cry.

As with everything else in the IFI’s vision of the `Knowledge economy’, it generally wants to see education privatized, deregulated and marketized. World Bank states in a report on its `Reform Agenda’ for Higher Education, ‘The Reform Agenda is orientated to the market rather than to public ownership or to governmental planning and regulation’. Underlying the market orientation of tertiary education is the ascendance, almost worldwide, of market capitalism and the principle of neo liberal economics’.

During 1990s when primary education was liberalized and as a result of this, privatization in primary education was increased on one hand while quality of public primary education was deteriorating on the other, no serious attempt was taken to unearth the underlying politics behind this. As a result, private provision increased drastically and primary education reduced to NGO activities; furthermore, to a commercial product. As a part of this process, public primary education system had turned into a ‘guinea pig’ for WB and IMF, which has resulted into an inefficient, inactive educational system.

On the other hand, since 1990s, privatization in higher education has been initiated and as a result, private sector has become dominating in the field of higher education for the last few years. The issues of public welfare and state responsibility remained out of analysis too. This is due to our misunderstanding to the approach of education.

Now the present government is under consideration of implementing a Strategic Plan for Higher Education in Bangladesh 2006-2026 which will discharge the autonomy of higher education. This would further privatize and commercialize the higher education sector making it out of reach for the poor. These popular education policies shift will instill neo liberal reforms in education replacing the colonized educational reforms that will keep pace with the ever changing western order of development needs. The ongoing changes in our education sectors do not reflect the people’s experiences and aspirations.

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