Shuvo shokal from Dhaka,
“There’ll be higher education for the toilin’ starvin’ clown,
An’ the rich and educated shall be educated down.”
So said Henry Lawson in his poem “For’ard”. The message resonates here.
I know that bringing a western education to Bangladesh has its doubters. After all, it’s a bit like imposing imperialist dogma on another culture, isn’t it? I had such doubts before entering the international school market. My colleague at Wollongong High School, Rod Hutton assuaged those doubts by saying, “No, they just want our skills”. It was the clincher for me. Am I reconciling the irreconcilable? Rationalising for the sake of personal convenience and gratification? Maybe. So be it. Anyway, here’s the case for the defence.
Western education is not all bad for these people. It has many elements which are nothing but positive for a nation like Bangladesh. The application of science and scientific evidence has to be a positive for a culture held back by religious dogma. It’s possibly this scientific outlook that engenders a desire to preserve and protect the environment. (You also need a thriving middle class for that to happen.)
Engineering expertise from the west is also much-needed in a developing economy. As well, the liberal attitude which western education espouses has brought great progress to the sub-continent. (The nationalist movement in colonised India was partially a result of the rich kids being sent to the UK for schooling, and returning with eyes opened by their liberal education – Gandhi included.)
I would contend, too that western education is more likely to allow a protest culture to develop. That’s unquestionably not present here in the Bay of Bengal. How much human progress can be traced to protest? On top of that, this is not a culture which values the recreational physical activity, even though the climate is conducive to it for most of the year. If their western education engenders an interest in recreational activity, that has to be a good thing. (Many people here are decidedly overweight.)
the education of women
During first semester, I taught an interesting unit to my Grade 10 Humanities class in which the students learned about the correlation between the education of women and the development of a nation. It was truly an epiphany for some of the students, and not just the girls. (One of the girls in the class subsequently hosted a weekend symposium – at her own initiative – at our school on The Empowerment of Women.)
the caste system
Studies of history can put the last vestiges of the caste system into historical context. When they learn how the British imposed a system of virtual feudalism, neatly incorporating their observance of the iniquitous caste system for their own benefit, contemporary students can see the injustices inherent in such a regime. They may just convert the knowledge into action for the betterment of their own community.
one generation to blow it
The kids at our school – to call upon another generalisation – are good people who are willing to have their eyes opened. Typically they live in cloisters, isolated from the real world. Ryan in Grade 11 – himself a very comfortable and cotton-wooled teenager – wryly remarked that it only takes one generation for bloated offspring to blow it. When that’s true, there’s still hope for mobility between the classes through education. When some are being educated up, others are being educated down, learning how others live and learning to appreciate their fellow man. That has to be a good thing.