Education is the key to a countries success. With education comes creativity, technical knowhow, free thinking, critical thinking, and specialization. Each of these things is critical for a country to become successful by giving it a huge amount of soft power. Soft power is a term coined by a Harvard professor Joseph Nye in the 1990’s to describe the ability to co-opt and attract rather than coerce others through money or military might (hard power). Not to say the two later forces aren’t important in fact you can make a case they are equally important; but let’s face it capitalism and democracy flourish in times of peace. Nye sums it up pretty well, "Seduction is always more effective than coercion, and many values like democracy, human rights, and individual opportunities are deeply seductive.” Cooperation almost always leads to prosperity, as each party can utilize its best assets to complete the task rather than attempt to go at it alone (recall JICA). Bangladesh is battling its way through the pangs of early democracy but it seems to be making a lot of good choices, yet many of them involve outside firms investing heavily in the country rather than use home grown talent.

One of the bright spots we have discovered has been the government’s dedication to two of the UN Millenium goals involving education over the last 15 years. Let’s take a look at all the United Nations Millennium Goals for a second:

1. Reduce those suffering from hunger and poverty by half
  1. 2. Ensure all boys and girls get a full course of primary
  2. 3. Eliminate gender disparity in primary and secondary education
  3. 4. Reduce child mortality of those under the age of 5 by
  4. 5. Reduce maternal mortality by three-quarters
  5. 6. Halt and begin to reverse the spread of HIV/Aids
    and other diseases
7. Integrate sustainable development practices into state policies
8. Develop non-discrimintory open financial systems

Bangladesh is slated to meet every one of these goals. Way to go Bangladesh, that is a major accomplishment, especially when they are expected to complete the last of them by the end of this year. What I do find interesting is when talking to locals, including the NGO the other day, the numbers reported while successful are not so promising in reality. Bangladeshi education is split into four categories:
Primary School
Secondary School
Higher Secondary School
Tertiary School
US Equivalent grades
Graduation Rate
The system is a little confusing as it also encompasses Muslim school and separate tracks. The Muslim schools, Madrasa education, can really be a great thing; with some schools taking in homeless kids and providing them housing and food as well as education. Additionally, the education system is going through a transition right now moving away from separate Secondary and Higher Secondary and making Secondary School 6-12. Maybe you can make sense of the graphics provided by the government below. Age is on the right, grade is the next column, and the column on the far right is the Madrasa track, but from there its anyone's guess.
 As the tertiary level is not free, but rather is set up similar to what we have back in the
states. While these are the reported figures I can tell you from experience these are highly inflated. On any given day when in the village about 25% of the kids are not in attendance at school. I am not sure this is due to overcrowding at the schools, apathy, or a lack of truancy officers. Additionally, according to the government girls are ensured free access to completion of a secondary school
degree. This seems odd to me that this specific policy is called out when Millennium goal #3; I guess it’s needed though given the cultural tendency of the “traditional housewife” stereotype for women here. In fact when you delve down into the school structure it becomes a tangled web of options and routes. In a way Bangladesh has really done a great job identifying the need to
specialize and starting training from an early age for a desired profession, but it does leave a white elephant in the room. How many of you reading this thought they wanted to do a specific job when they were 14 years old only to change your mind when you graduated high school and then changed your major in college? If you specialize at an early age the investment to switch tracks can be drastic. Never the less it is a wonderful step in providing the entire country with a solid platform for literacy. Right now the literacy rate stands at 71% for people over the age of 15, yet somehow when broken down by gender males have a 63% literacy rate and females are at 68%. In fact, Muslima we think had just learned to the alphabet not long before we came. The amount of pride she had, and the speed at which she was reviewing the letters, made me think she had just mastered the alphabet and was still working on her confidence. With 23.9 million kids enrolled in the education system things are looking up, but with 120 million people in the country there is a long way to go.

Now here comes my criticism and subsequent suggestion. Almost all of the people I have encountered no matter what the education level have no creative problem solving skill. The education model for the country is based off of a teach to the test concept. While teaching a theory and ensuring students understand the theory and can apply it in an abstract manor is a time and labor intensive education process it can result in students being able to apply that theory in a novel way in a field far different from its origin. From my experience here when a new situation comes up that Bangladeshis have never been exposed to before react to the problem in a very predictable way; they almost shut down or go into parrot mode where they repeat every word back to you. Not to say there are not any Banglas that can critically think but often its like talking to a brick wall.

My fellow grad students stateside have commented to me in the last few years about a similar issue that’s occurring at home. No student left behind. While it has its graces, and has a noble purpose, many educators I have talked to are disenchanted by it. There has been a notable decrease in the
creative problem solving abilities of the latest freshman class to start at SDSU this last year. This trend has been confirmed by my colleagues in other areas of the country as well. What is the fix, none of them know, including a good friend of mine who got her Ph.D in pedagogy (study of teaching). What every educator has told me though is that teaching to the test is the opposite of what should be taught. We have an idea at home that if all of the requirements are the same
across the board then all of the output will be the same. This idea is inherently flawed as what is good for the goose is not always good for the gander (I know I changed the phrase around). Think about it we all have different learning styles, some are tactile, some are visual, some are auditory,
and some are reading-writing learners. If we apply the same mold to all we will not all succeed. Bare with me while I switch gears, I worked on a transition for like 20 min and nothing came to me so, sorry...

To learn more about the students Jordan was teaching, he and Nazmeen asked the students to give a short presentation about their families. Out of the 80 students only two had mothers that did something other than keep house. The favorite activity of house wives was almost exclusively cooking or reading the Holy Quran. Now, yes we are dealing with a pious culture that is highly traditional, so I would anticipate a high level of old school domestic roles; but when you ask the girls what they would like to do when they get older they almost always they say they want to be a house wife. If they aspire to work at Panigram their absolute dream is to be a maid. Being of Western culture it’s a hard pill to swallow that someone's biggest dream is to be a maid for the rest of their lives. I have to constantly justify these statements with the fact my culture is on the opposite side of the world, these people have their own culture, and no persons culture is right or wrong it’s just different from our own. While there are deplorable acts conducted by some cultures that can never be justified in my eyes, is the dream of becoming a maid really that bad? It is a step up from house keeper where the woman makes no money at all. It’s a philosophical question that I urge you to think about some quiet evening, what would you do in a situation where someone is so excited to attain a job we regard as bottom of the barrel? How would you advise them? What would you say? Would you challenge them to attain better at the risk of upending the cultural norm?

Thinking big (globally, personal potential, creative, career, all the different day dream kind of thinking) is another problem here. My thought is it has something to do with the relative isolation of the country. With only two connections to the internet, and very few foreign tourists there is little
exposure to the outside world outside of the capitol. Even then when Jordan and I walk down the street in the diplomatic enclave of Dhaka we get stared out intensely.

So now for my recommendation on how to fix this problem. Creativity is missing from the schools almost compleatly, and while creative writing is not something many people make a living off of in the states, it sneeks its tendrils in everything we do. Architects write their mark in a building they design, software engineers creatively write code, chemists imagine new ways to activate different taste receptors, it’s a critical skill in our countries success. If I had one recommendation for Bangladeshi schools it would be to implement an art program in your schools that is mandatory. This program should be focused on traditional handicrafts allowing history to be woven into the lesson. Engage both the left and right sides of the brain encouraging inter-hemisphere communication. This will come at minimal cost to the school, will provide national pride and
respect, and strengthen historic cultural identity ensuring it isn’t lost as globalization continues. To really make this motive succeed supplies are needed, think of what goes into some of the best novels you have read, for me if a book has a map in it I’m game! Savaila once said to me as she was reading a copy of A Brave New World  that I brought along, “I love books written in English, they are always so full of imagery.” She read a passage to me about how one of the Delta’s had a bubbly of
milk in the corner of his mouth. As she read I looked at the passage from her eyes and could see that yes our novels are incredibly vivid. Typically to achieve this level of writing requires practice, it requires art, and it requires a supportive and through education.

So in terms of meeting your Millennium goal Bangladesh I congratulate you, but overall your students, even those who have college level degrees, are not up to the global standard in problem solving. It will take time to improve and you are making progress toward universal education, keep a primary focus on education you will find your economy busting at the seams in a few years. You will have a batch of students ready to combat the challenges of the early to mid-21st century that have strong national pride. Most of the country is at sea-level or slightly above, and with raising ocean levels homegrown ideas to mitigate the effects will be an amazing saving grace. You have the potential, embrace it, but most of all run with it. 


11/02/2013 3:57am

Clark. A job well done. Your observations are very astute. Is there a particular craft or skill you noticed that could be of value to the Bengalese that is marketable to the rest of the world?


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