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New messages for Education Day 2019

Quazi Faruque Ahmed | Published: September 20, 2019 21:25:48


September 17 was the Education Day which reminds us of the eventful activism of students backed by a cross-section of people with the participation of the common masses in 1962 in the then East Pakistan. This year the Day has come when controversies dominate public opinion centring on the wrongdoing and mismatches in our existing education system, particularly at the higher education level which pose many questions ranging from admission of particular students/leaders in universities without following the normal practice in vogue, students' politics to role of teachers, engaged in both teaching and educational administration. On the other hand, the emergence of artificial intelligence (AI) in the footsteps of automation in the arena of education, has brought two new pertinent questions: 1. could students rely solely on Ed Tech to teach them selves ? 2. How do artificial intelligence enhance education ?

Background of the day

Education Day entered 57 years on the day. On this day in 1962, school student Babul, bus conductor Golam Mostafa and domestic worker Waziullah sacrificed their lives in support of the movement of students. The movement initiated by students, for the cause of education in then East Pakistan in the early sixties, culminated on September 1963. Known as the 1962 Education Movement, this was also a struggle against discrimination and deprivation in education and a series of onslaughts on Bangla language, songs (particularly Tagore songs), art and culture. The immediate cause of the students' agitation was the Shareef Commision Report on education imposed by the government. I personally participated in the movement as an activist in the capacity of General Secretary of Dhaka College Students' Union. The movement was initiated by students without any outside help. The central student leaders could not foresee that such a huge movement based on academic issues and problems faced by the students was possible. The momentum of the movement subsided when the then opposition leader H.S. Suhrawardy met East Pakistan Governor Golam Faruk and persuaded him to defer implementation of the Shareef Commission Report.

Some of the features of Shareef Commission report which was published in 1962 provoked students' agitation in East Pakistan. To mention a few among them: (1) The concept of free primary compulsory education is an utopia. (2) To introduce a Lingua Franca for Pakistan, Roman Script should be introduced and for that Arabic should be given priority. (3) "Urdu should be made the language of the people of Pakistan". (4) Education should not be available at minimum cost and at a 'cheap price'. (5) There is reason to see it at par with investment both in industry and education.  (6) The 2 years' degree course should be upgraded to 3 years for improvement of quality at the higher education level.

Students reacted sharply to the above stated features. They clearly pointed out that the door of education has been closed to the poor and low-income people. The very connotation of "Investment in education" triggered sharp reaction from the students. Action committees and sub-committees were formed in many institutions, continuously to protest against the introduction of English as compulsory reading H.S.C, and enhancement of the tenure of the degree course from 2 to 3 years.

Incidents on Sept 17 in 1962

Students started picketing from early morning on the day. The black colour Mercedes Bencz car of the Provincial Minister Hasan Askari was set afire by the students. Some jeeps were also put a blaze. In the morning a contingent of police led by seargent Hafiz chased prospective demonstrators from Sadarghat to Nawabpur Railway crossing. By 9 a.m. Dhaka University Campus was packed up with students from the schools and colleges of Dhaka City. It was virtually unmanageable to hold any meeting just this time. A piece of news spread that the police opened fire at Nawabpur Road and a good number of people including students. It was scheduled earlier that a procession would be brought out at 10 a.m. But hearing the news of firing a huge procession was brought out with Sirajul Alam Khan, Mohiuddin Ahmed, Rashed Khan Menon, Haider Akbar Khan Rono, Ayub Reza Chowdhury and Reza Ali in the forefront of the procession. The procession entered Abdul Gani Road crossing the High Court when police fired from behind. Babul, a student of Nobo Kumar High School, was killed. Bus conductor Golam Mostofa, domestic worker Waziullah and many others were seriously injured. Waziullah later died in the hospital. The firing at Abdul Gani Road infuriated the protesters which not only included students but also workers and employees of different mills and factories, rickshawpullers and boatmen from across the Buriganga river. It is said that the 52-language movement cultivated the spirit of nationalism and the 62-education movement inculcated and infused the ingredient of progressive content in it.

Two characteristics of the 1962 education movement deserve special mention: firstly, the movement was initiated by the students alone without any outside influence. Secondly, the central student leaders could not foresee that such a huge movement was possible based on academic issues and problems faced by the students. The movement subsided eventually when opposition leader H. S. Suhrawardy came over to Dhaka from Karachi during the last leg of the movement. He met East Pakistan Governor Golam Faruk and could persuade him to defer implementation of the Shareef Commission Report.

How to address two questions

How to address the questions I raised at the beginning of this article?  Could students rely solely on Ed Tech to educate themselves? How Artificial Intelligence Enhances Education. According to the UN reports, there has been an unprecedented transformation in human education and learning in the last few centuries : a change from only a minority of global elites being literate to the vast majority. Today's younger generations are more literate than older generations, a trend that is consistent across all countries. In our modern computing age, it may seem easy to assume that students could rely solely on technology to learn and educate themselves. In that case, why do teachers matter?  This is actually a very complex question and one that has far-reaching effects on our communities. There are some people who believe access to technology in education, will diminish the need for good teachers. This is totally untrue. I believe their role will be enhanced by technology and allow them to teach more effectively.

It is very much true that A. I (artificial intelligence) has a transformative power. It has changed business, banking, governmental processes, marketing, and industry. It has changed education, too. Technology has become an inevitable aspect of the way we approach the learning process.

During UNESCO's Mobile Learning Week 2019, the participants focused on finding solutions to ensure equitable and inclusive use of AI in education. The organization is focused on offering equal learning opportunities to all people regardless of ethnicity, location, gender, and socio-economic status. AI helps with that.  One of the best examples of artificial intelligence in education is the Third Space project, which uses real-time feedback to make online tutors more effective at teaching. The system detects all reactions of the student, analyzes the data and gives hints to the tutor, so they can adjust their pace and style. Isn't that completely different from the education we once knew? To understand the role of AI in education, we should go through specific examples that show how it has changed things for both learners and teachers. To mention a few : 1. E-Learning Is the Next Logical Step, 2. AI Makes Students Ready to Hit the Job Market, 3. Teachers Are Getting Their Smart Assistants, 4. Access to Education Is More Available than Ever.

I sincerely believe that the future is already here. To quote a report from UNESCO, 'The progress is not done yet. We'll see AI developing further, and we'll see it bringing new changes into the educational system. But it's safe to say that we've come a long way from the traditional classroom that we used to know'.

Impact of 1962 Education Movement

The 1962 Education Movement provides a teaching that the consequences of confrontational attitude in policy decision result in paying heavy prices for it. The process of consultation, providing scope for ventilating one's opinion, and accommodating divergent views ultimately pays. To me the major malaise in our existing education system lies in the lack of proper decision making and timely action, absence of pre-service and in-service training of teachers, regular updating of the syllabus in line with the global experience, mismanagement - to be more specific, politicisation of the educational institutions - and malpractices in the recruitment of teachers and disparity in education. The challenges which continue to remain unaddressed are : Absence of proper functional literacy, lack of due allocation for education, delay in passing the Education Law, inability to constitute a Permanent Education Commission and Teachers' Recruitment Authority. Now concerted efforts are needed for a way forward taking full cognizance of the achievements already attained. All concerned should note that education creates new hopes and paves the way for all-round development and that it evolves continuously.  Long live the spirit of Education Day!

Prof. QuaziFaruque Ahmed was an organiser of '62 Education Movement and is a member of National Education Policy 2010 Committee.
prof.qfahmed@gmail.com

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