On 7 October 2021, 11 candidates, aspiring to bag jobs in Dhaka University's Sanskrit Department, struggled to even read Sanskrit properly – a language they have to teach if recruited – before an interview board.
When the viva board started taking interviews, one candidate after another began to falter, eventually forcing the board to conclude the interviewing process without selecting an eligible candidate for employment.
"We have planned to change the syllabus and develop the existing curriculum to imbue students with proper knowledge in Sanskrit," Sanskrit Professor Dr Asim Sarkar, who was a member of the interview board, told The Business Standard.
He said, "It is not true that no one could read Sanskrit. Someone did better. We will issue a circular again and hope that we will get qualified candidates."
In another example, the Urdu Department of the same university could not find an eligible candidate to be recruited as a teacher in the department even after making three attempts. The department has issued three circulars since 2016 but has found no aspiring teacher with adequate knowledge of Urdu.
When contacted, Dr Md Rezaul Karim, chairman of the Urdu Department of Dhaka University, declined to make any comment in this regard.
The problem does not concern graduates from Sanskrit and Urdu departments alone. Many with degrees in Persian Language and Literature and Pali and Buddhist studies from Dhaka, Rajshahi and Chittagong universities could neither read properly in the languages nor write well.
Samiul, who graduated in Persian Language and Literature from Dhaka University in 2014, said 60% of his batch mates cannot write in the Persian language freely, while their reading skills are worse.
There are 3,710 students and 128 teachers at the Sanskrit, Urdu, Persian Language and Literature and Pali and Buddhist Studies departments in the three universities.
The average academic cost of each student per year is Tk1.5 lakh, meaning that the government spends about Tk56 crore to operate the departments.
Professor Dr Imtiaz Ahmed, a noted educationist, told TBS that a matter of concern is that most students of Urdu, Persian Language and Literature, Pali and Buddhist Studies and Sanskrit departments write answers in Bangla during examinations.
"I think the universities should bring the subjects under their respective language institutes rather than running separate departments for them," he said.
Professor Nasreen Ahmad, former pro-vice-chancellor (academic) at Dhaka University, said such departments are not in a condition to operate honours and masters courses with no qualified teachers.
"Once the departments had scholars who had deep knowledge of these languages. So, it is high time to abolish these departments, which now have no necessity," she added.
Sharing an experience, Nasreen said a second-year student of the Sanskrit Department came to her office to meet her. "I wanted to learn something about Sanskrit but the student had no knowledge of it. This is unfortunate."
"I tried to recruit some teachers for the Urdu Department, but I did not get any qualified ones," she said.
There were 43 students in the Urdu Department of Dhaka University in the 2013-14 academic session. They completed their masters in 2018. Of them, some have been doing jobs at different government and non-government organisations. A good number of them are yet to get jobs.
Unfortunately, no one has become a specialist in Urdu literature. And many students are completing graduation and postgraduation without adequate knowledge of Urdu language and literature.
The Business Standard also came upon a list of 250 former students of the Urdu Department, which shows that only one of them has been working as an Urdu lecturer at Sylhet Government Alia Madrasa. The rest have no connection with the subject and are not doing any research.
Shahin Alam, a former student under the 2013-14 academic session of the Urdu Department at Dhaka University, told TBS that students know that they will not get jobs if they learn Urdu properly. And that is why they concentrate on job-related studies just after passing the second year.
"A few students have some knowledge of Urdu literature and they can write fluently. But many have primary knowledge. We also had the option to write in Bangla and English in the exams. So, it was not necessary to have a high level of skill in Urdu," he said.
DU deans committee for decreasing seats
The Dhaka University Deans Committee recently took a decision to reduce the number of seats for first-year honours students in the Sanskrit, Urdu, Persian Language and Literature and Pali and Buddhist Studies departments.
The deans committee also recommended reducing seats at other less important departments like Arabic, Islamic Studies and Islamic History and Culture.
Sanskrit had been a part of the Bangla Department till 1970, when the Department of Sanskrit and Pali was established. In 2007, Sanskrit was given a completely separate identity.
The Persian language department was also part of the Urdu Department. In 2006, the Persian and Urdu Department was bifurcated into two independent departments and the Persian department was named as the Department of Persian Language and Literature.
Dr Md Mumit Al Rashid, assistant professor at the Department of Persian Language and Literature at Dhaka University, told TBS that the department admits 80-90 students every year. After completing the graduation course, the department does not get anyone willing to do research on Persian language and literature.
"Actually, it is impossible to teach language to 80-90 students at a time. We have urged the university authorities to reduce the number of students at our department. But the university authorities are yet to meet our demand," he said.
A former student of the department said no students willingly get admitted into the Persian Language and Literature Department.
Wishing to remain unnamed, a former student of Rajshahi University's Sanskrit Department said students had just wasted time at the department as they mastered neither Sanskrit nor any other subjects.
Professor Ataur Rahman, chairman of the Urdu Department at Rajshahi University, told TBS that the department has been trying to produce researchers on the Urdu language.
Urdu is not only a language of Pakistan but it originated in India. So, the graduates have the scope to have the language flourish while doing research on it.
Professor ASM Maksud Kamal, pro-vice-chancellor (academic) at Dhaka University, said the university will look into the matter and will discuss it with the higher authorities.
Professor Dr Selim Raihan, executive director at South Asian Network on Economic Modelling, said these departments can only allow admissions of a very small number of students who will contribute to research.
The universities must concentrate on innovating ideas and knowledge. They also must educate students, keeping in mind the future challenges they come across in the job sector.
But many departments enrol a big number of students who after graduation struggle to get good jobs, he added.