“Due to an unavoidable circumstance, the authority of (name any public university) has declared that the university will remain closed until further notice” — this is the most common and frustrating news that any student who studied or studies in public universities gets here in Bangladesh.
Days pass by, uncertainties brew in, frustration mounts — and one day the universities open, classes are managed, and exams are taken.
The situation has changed slightly for the better recently, when many public universities are maintaining their academic calendars accurately.
The semester system means that teachers and students need to move by the clock, life becomes busy, work is routinised, exams are standardised, results are duly published, and the next semester comes by too quickly.
The boom and success of private universities in Bangladesh partly lie on the long-standing and unresolved failures of the public universities.
In the early 2000s, when private universities first started to increase in numbers, they were a breather in our claustrophobic and vision-less higher education system. We envied our distant friends who were able to study at private universities because their parents could afford to.
Their fluent English, their rambling about presentations and quizzes, their confidence lin anding a job shamed us. Our only consolation was repeating to ourselves we were the truly brilliant students, yet, deep inside, we knew even that was not true.
I now teach at a private university. And I see my students with wonder.
While I just observe, my students take action to change their world. They are no copycats; they are human beings with a real sense of perception and ability. They are firm and controlled — they know how to share the world together
They are kids of today, as I look at them and I realise, silently yet rapidly, how our education system (not all the structural criticism withstanding) has produced groups of young people who are brilliant and empathetic, who are global thinkers yet are firmly rooted in their local causes.
I teach courses on feminism in literature, media, and culture; and I see how my students take in the lecturers to transform themselves and their surroundings for the better. I see them boiling in anger when they realise that discussions in the classroom are the hardest to translate in the real world.
Our society changes slowly, the education system moves in contradictory directions, and the entrenched autocratic system, even in the relatively liberal institution such as universities, are fed on the power of iron hands.
While I just observe, my students take action to change their world. They are no copycats; they are human beings with a real sense of perception and ability. They are firm and controlled — they know how to share the world together.
Let them grow up, let them be the rightful voices of tomorrow. They are our best parts. If we destroy them, we will be destroying ourselves.
Rifat Mahbub is Assistant Professor, Department of English and Humanities, BRAC University.