Thoughts on Improving The Quality of Higher Education inn Bangladesh

Thoughts on Improving The Quality of Higher Education inn Bangladesh

Few days ago I got an e-mail from a teacher of a US university requesting to help him in his study in “Evaluating the quality of higher education in Bangladesh” by filling a questionnaire. The questionnaire told me to indicate whether I agree, disagree, neither agree nor disagree etc. regarding : (i) whether the development and/or improvement of curriculum was the most important element in higher education quality improvement in Bangladesh, (ii) whether the mission and objective of academic program aligned with those of the university, (iii) whether defining program objective and mission accordingly was important, (iv) whether goals and objectives of the academic program were clearly defined and the faculties, familiar with those, (v) whether the courses had well defined objectives and student learning outcome, (vi) whether the program objective and learning outcomes were mapped with the course objectives etc., (vii) whether the aim of the course material was aimed at development of critical thinking skill development of students, (viii) whether subject matter memorization was an important aspect of students’ academic success etc.
In case it was a student’s assignment, I would have been happy to comply with the request. But I could not understand how the comments of a teacher like me on these issues can help someone in performing a difficult task like, “evaluation the quality of education in Bangladesh”. I could not understand if things are handled so lightly in the US universities. So I regretted for not answering. As a matter of fact I was afraid if my comments are used by someone mistakenly.
After a few days I saw an article published in a local English daily on this issue in which there was reference of the above mentioned questionnaire where it was mentioned as “interesting findings”. It disclosed something like, ‘80-90% agreed on improvement of curriculum with defining clear program objective, 61% opined that note memorization was primary attribute of academic success, 50% of faculty did not try for improving instructional methods (in the questionnaire there was no question to reveal this information), 90% lacked training in pedagogy’ (Ref: previous comment), lack of support or incentive from university for pedagogical research (Ref: previous comment), etc. .
The author also mentioned the findings of two other survey works, one by an official of UGC and another, a private university teacher. The findings of the first one was, the quality of 1/3 of the teachers of a public university was good, 1/3, mediocre and remaining 1/3, poor. The other finding was, the students of private universities were in need of advising and counseling beyond class meeting. Without mentioning any other genuine reason, the author then proposed for utilizing the services of expatriate Bangladeshi teachers and experts in pedagogy for the purpose of improving the quality of education in Bangladesh. My question is, are things really so easy ?

The first step to improve the quality of higher education in Bangladesh is to know its present state, and that by no means can ever be done by knowing the comments (agree, disagree, neither agree nor disagree etc.) of a few teachers through a questionnaire. By all means it is a much more complex job and deserves handling delicately and carefully. Until one can find out the root cause, any proposal for remedy seems useless. Also presenting the proposal for utilizing the expatriate teachers to teach pedagogy seems to come out from misconception.

What may be quite difficult for an US-teacher to realize, however, may be relatively easy for any experienced university teacher in Bangladesh, because they are in constant touch with the students and they know the problems or opportunities faced by their ex-students. The prime factors on which the quality of education in general depends upon are : (i) Quality of teachers, (ii) Quality of students and (iii) Teaching of courses. The other factors are (i) academic environment and (ii) aides (including library, communication facilities etc). Pedagogy is extremely important for those who teach the children in the lower class, a bit less important for those teaching in school and still less for those, in universities, even though it is natural for the experts of relevant fields to preach that it is important in all phases. In the lower classes, the teachers may have lesser educational qualification and they need to know and understand the psychology of the students. It helps them to reach the students academically. In Bangladesh there are many training programs for such teachers. In the university, the teaching is so difficult that the teacher need to concentrate wholly on the subject. Neither they have the time to bother about the psychology of their students, nor are the students, after 12 years schooling immature.

TEACHER : The time a student have reaches the university, he is supposed to be too matured to understand the teacher’s lecture. In case he is not that matured, there might be something wrong in the 12-year schooling program, and the university has nothing to do for them. In the university ‘the subject of learning’ itself is difficult and spending time of student’s psychology or acceptability is nothing but wastage of valuable time and energy. However, a teacher can teach the subject only if he himself has got good understanding of the subject. One having brilliant results throughout his career is the fittest person for this job. Still, for safety, in the universities the first appointment of a teacher (lecture or may be, assistant professor) is based also on oral interview in order to know his speaking ability and skill of explaining things. A teacher with inferior academic results and with marvelous pedagogic skill can never be the substitute for a good teacher. So, the first criterion of ensuring the quality of education is, employment of good teachers, i.e. those having good results throughout their career. The public universities have systematic rules for this purpose, which at times is deviated due to political interventions. Nothing can be opined about such appointments in the private universities, where they follow their individualistic rules and standards.

Some people believe that if the deliberation or explaining of issues of one teacher can attract the students, then he is a ‘good teacher’. Also, the students may take a teacher ‘excellent’ if they can get (i) ‘ready to answer notes’, (ii) ‘few probable questions’, (iii) student-friendly class tests/assignments and finally, (iv) ‘generous grades’. All these are wrong. Even though it is true that teacher’s deliberation or explaining of issue can attract the students, this act or quality should never be taken as universal. Even though some subjects (like, Arts, Literature etc.) are of such nature that those can be explained in interesting way, some others cannot be. There are some science and engineering subjects which may be explained in plain language, but can never be made interesting or attractive. Both the university administration and the students should realize this fact. Needless to mention that no teacher with inferior academic results would be able to explain things in which he himself is in confusion. The students themselves should be acquainted of the special nature of various subjects and make their choice accordingly.

Another problem with teacher is the case with part-time and temporary teachers. Whatever learned or experienced a part-time or temporary teacher might be, in the university he has to work under many pressures like, (i) Completion of courses within limited time or lecture hour, (ii) Fulfilling the condition that the students might be happy with their grades, (iii) Fulfilling the conditions that the authority would be happy to renew appointments. All these act adversely to the development of quality. From what has been explained above it is not difficult to understand that popularity among the students, or capability to satisfy the authorities cannot be regarded as the criterion of a good teacher at university level. “THE QUALITY OF EDUCATION IN ANY UNIVERSITY DEPENDS DIRECTLY UPON THE QUALITY OF THE TEACHERS, AS REFLECTED IN THEIR ACADEMIC RECORDS AND THE CONDITION OF APPOINTMENT”.

STUDENT : The second factor responsible for the quality of education in any university depends upon the quality of the students. Supposing no unfair means has been adopted in the pre-university public examinations, we can consider that the higher is the grade of the student the better he is. It is not possible for a teacher or the administration to tolerate that most or all the students of a subject fail. Now if the intake of the students is such that most of the students come with lower grades (say, GPA 3.0 in a scale of 5), then the concerned teacher will have to lower down the standard by simplifying the course materials and deliberations, adopt easy means (like, giving notes in ‘ready to answer’ format, allocate more grades on class test or assignment etc.) and thus to ensure generous grades. In this case, even the good students admitted in such a university would pass out with shallow knowledge. It is natural that a teacher teaching students having higher grades may maintain higher standard of teaching because of better accepting ability of the students. Thus “THE QUALITY OF EDUCATION IN ANY UNIVERSITY DEPENDS UPON THE PREVIOUS ACADEMIC PERFORMANCES OF THE INTAKE”.

CURRICULUM OF COURSES : In the public universities the curriculum of courses are prepared by a group of experts formed under rules and regulations imposed from above. In doing this job, the committee takes examples from the established universities of the country and abroad. There are provisions for occasional revisions of the same. Whatever ‘bright’ the curriculum of a foreign university might be, it is not possible to accept those as it is, by any country, without considering the backgrounds and consequences.

The private universities have their own system of preparing course curriculum. Since these curriculums are published in websites and occasionally checked by the university Grants Commission, they endeavor to show the best in it. One should not wonder if the best type of curriculum of courses are prescribed by the worst type of private universities. WHAT IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN CURRICULUM OF COURSES IS THE WAY, THE COURSES ARE TAUGHT TO THE STUDENTS AND THEN EVALUATED.

EDUCATION IN BUET : In Bangladesh, BUET (Bangladesh University of Engineering and technology) is said to maintain the highest standard of education in Engineering subjects. All public and private universities teaching similar subjects feel safe to follow them. The two prime factors responsible for BUET’s high standard are :
(i) They employ only their best students as teachers and
(ii) They accept only the top quality students.
The third factor may be (iii) their tradition and (iv) the unique system of dissemination of knowledge. Their long earned image and tradition maintains moral pressure on the teachers and students to maintain high standard. As for dissemination of knowledge, the teachers generally follow the following practice : (a) Only the difficult topics are explained in easy language, (b) No class notes are given to the students and (c) The entire course is never discussed in the class. Because of the last factor, the students are compelled to visit the libraries and consult books. To their good fortune BUET has got excellent libraries (central, departmental, rental and internet) to provide what the students need or want. In BUET some of the students prepare class notes in a presentable way, photocopy those for selling with the name “chotha”. Even though it is a deviation, this practice could not lower down the quality of education, because those never cover the full course. On the other hand it helps those who could not take notes in the class for one reason or the other. Some deviations, however, are taking place for altogether different reasons. We shall explain one such deviation.

In view of the growth of many private universities offering engineering subjects, BUET teachers get good opportunities to teach there with fat remuneration. One departmental head was asked about the affect of this practice on the standard of education of BUET. In reply, the head replied something like, ‘earlier my teachers used to rush to the class and give lectures. Now, since they visit private universities, as per their rule, they need to prepare class notes for the students. Later they use the same notes for our students and they are benefitted’.

This explanation is totally erroneous. The teachers teaching in private universities need to give notes such that the inferior quality students may pass. If the same practice is introduced in BUET, the standard of BUET would surely decline. It is high time for the BUET authorities to look into the matter with all seriousness.

IMPORTANCE ON PASS AND FAIL : Failing and passing in the universities should be accepted as normal phenomenon. If the authorities stress on passing of more students and the teachers take conducive steps, the standard of education would decline. If any university declares with satisfaction that all or most of their students pass in the examinations, then it in fact reveal their low standard of education.

AFFECT OF COACHING CENTRES ON HIGHER EDUCATION : The only means of comparing the quality of students is through their grades in public examinations. However, this criterion would have worked much more efficiently if there was no ‘coaching centre business’ in the country. Since the coaching centers supply “well written answers” of selected questions, the inferior quality students memorize those and get higher grades. However, the grade in Mathematics (inclusive of all mathematical subjects) may be considered as exception. If the education boards take a decision of giving altogether new problems in mathematics question in the public examinations, then the grade of mathematics can be given the best criterion of quality.

The university teachers feel the ill effects of the coaching home through the ill performances of students with high grades. The students accustomed to ‘coaching centers’ in general are reluctant to take the trouble of finding out the answers by themselves and expect the teachers to do the same for them. In some private universities the teachers in fact have submitted to their ‘pressures”. ONE EFFICIENT WAY TO IMPROVE THE QUALITY OF HIGHER EDUCATION IN BANGLADESH IS TO CLOSE ALL COACHING CENTERS.

The best way to know the standard of education of any university is to collect the reactions of and feedback from its alumnae. For obvious reasons some universities, specially the private universities do not show much interest in alumnae association, even though BUGC (Bangladesh University Grants Commission) has stressed upon its formation. The ex-students have got the natural advantage and scope of expressing the truth. Being ex’s they are absolutely free to opine about their ex-teachers, administration and their teaching. Also, being in practical field they are aware how much they suffer for getting jobs or admissions. The expression of their experiences may be taken as the true and neutral picture of education in their ex-universities. Also incorporating their suggestions by the concerned universities should be taken as the best means of improving the standard.

In place of mere suggesting the universities for forming alumnae associations, the BUGC may proceed one step ahead. They may ask the universities to deposit ex-alumnae fees (on the basis of number of passing out students) with a bank account with UGC. The alumni associations of various universities may be asked to meet at least twice a year in conference and prepare their observations and recommendations. The BUGC may hand proportionate amount of fees after getting their reactions and recommendations. Then BUGC may publish their findings and ask the concerned universities to take remedial steps. ONE EFFICIENT WAY TO IMPROVE THE QUALITY OF EDUCATION IN THE UNIVERSITIES IS TO COLLECT REGULAR FEED-BACK FROM ITS ALUMNAE.

Improving the quality of higher education is a difficult job, much difficult than what a teacher of a US university may think. It needs serious and well-thought steps for finding out the root cause and then suggesting remedial measures. In conclusion, I wish to summarize the problems mentioned above and the suggestions there of.
(i) Condition : The quality of education in any university depends directly upon the quality of the teachers and condition of appointment.
Suggestion : Only those with best academic records should be appointed on good conditions as teachers.
(ii) Condition : The quality of education in any university depends upon the academic performances of the students seeking admission.
Suggestion : Endeavor should be made for taking superior quality students, specially in Engineering and Science subjects. Universities may put bar on students using coaching centers.
(iii) Condition: Superior Curriculum of courses is important, but more important is the method of execution.
Suggestions : The universities generally prepare good quality curriculum. Endeavor should be made to monitor how those are being executed.
(iv) Problem : The coaching centers enable inferior quality students to achieve superior grades. They also produce students who are reluctant to work hard for gathering knowledge.
Suggestions : All coaching centers should be closed right at this moment for the sake of improvement of the quality of higher education in Bangladesh,.
(v) Problem : It is difficult to know what problems or opportunities the ex-students of various universities are facing in job market, professional jobs, admission in higher education etc.
Suggestion : Efficient way to collect reactions of the alumnae should be found out.

What has been written above have been done on the basis of the author’s experience of teaching at various levels in public and private universities in Bangladesh and some working experience in a few foreign countries. Before taking active steps, the author however, feels that the authorities, specially BUGC should investigate the related issues and collect information. As a professor at present working in a private university, this author strives for seeing superior qualities in higher education in the country. This author knows that BUET has invented its own and unique system of disseminating knowledge. His question naturally is, why others cannot invent theirs ?


PROF. BIJON B. SARMA. Department of Architecture. Ahsanullah University of Science and Technology, Dhaka. Ex-Professor, Architecture Discipline, Khulna University, Khulna.

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