money and intelligence

Shuvo shokal from Dhaka,
        This may seem a strange vantage from which to argue for public education. Better to study the behaviour of the fox from within the fox’s den, I would contend. There is in fact no better position from which to see the pertinent issues crystallise right in front of one’s eyes.
        It goes without saying that money and intelligence don’t go together. Private schools are undoubtedly the best place to observe the fact.

fabric sale, Dhaka

At our school, we have the same broad range of academic abilities as you will see in any comprehensive school. The difference is that International School Dhaka’s clientele comes from the moneyed classes. These children have stupendous amounts of money thrown at their education and for many it frankly represents good money thrown after bad, to borrow a hackneyed phrase. They just don’t have it and never will, no matter what work regime is imposed on them from above. (Keep in mind that this is nowhere near the majority of our student body.)

removalists in Dhaka, lining up

On the other hand, a huge underclass – in the general population of the country – is served by a fragmented education system consisting of a very piecemeal offering: an admixture of non-profit private schools, non-systemic public institutions and a plethora of independent international schools. *

Solmaid Community School

I’ve already cited the piteous example of the gorgeous kids from Solmaid Community School, jampacked in a small converted house, catering for families where the opportunity cost of sending them to school is just enough to keep them enrolled. Schools like Solmaid only exist because altruistic foreigners resolve to leave a legacy of meaningful change in a city that has made an impact on them. At Solmaid –  and out on the streets – there is exactly the same intelligence quotient as there is at our school.
      The obvious conclusion is: there’s a lot of intelligence going to waste (not to mention the sheer injustice of the inequality of opportunity). If a nation wants to nurture its human resources in a way approaching the optimum, they don’t want this intelligence going to waste. They can’t afford to let it go to waste.

on the streets of Dhaka

The answer is to have a universal and free public education system. The responsibility of the state is to maintain it and protect it from all of the vested interests who see it as a drain on the public purse – or more likely, as a threat to their ideological dominance. The role of the state is to convince the populace that expenditure on education is an investment rather than a cost.
      The people who inflict damage on an existing public education system are those who want to keep the uneducated in their places. (It’s a whole lot easier to govern uneducated masses, eh what?!)

Solmaid Commuity School, Dhaka

When you immerse yourself in a society in which the public education system is primitive and fragmented and far from universal, you tend to more readily see the clarity of the case for public education. Perhaps more complacent Australians should come to a place like Bangladesh.

khoda hafez


* The word ‘independent’ actually correctly applies to many non-government schools here in Bangladesh, unlike those in Australia which pretentiously – egregiously – use the epithet at the same time as putting their hands out for public money. Grrrr 

Other photos from hereabouts

Solmaid Community School, Dhaka
at the LEEDO orphanage, Dhaka

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