Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences 2019 has been announced and we have come to know about yet another global model of development economics in order to alleviate poverty. Abhijit Banerjee, (a Kolkata-born Bengali economist), his MIT colleague and wife Esther Duflo, and American economist Michael Kremer are jointly sharing this year's award.
This trio has been awarded with this prestigious award for their contribution in development economics with an on-the-ground approach.
Abhijit Banerjee has now joined the honor-board with two other South Asian Bengali economists- Amartya Sen and Dr. Muhammad Yunus- though Dr. Yunus' award was not in the economic sciences category. Yet, it is relieving to know that South Asian economic models are being recognized and they tend to contribute significantly in our development index.
Though the two previous models of welfare economics and micro-credit have faced their share of appreciation and criticism, we haven't yet got a clear and comprehensive picture of Banerjeeet al's poverty alleviation model. The model propounds a clustered approach dealing with the development catalysts, rather looking at poverty and economic development from a holistic standpoint. Instead of adopting a cross-country approach to economics, they focused on the local and individualized aspect of economic crisis and ran a number of experiments in India and some sub-Saharan countries.
The statement from the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences saying "this new research is now delivering a steady flow of concrete results, helping to alleviate the problems of global poverty," serves as a witness of their model's success in some rural parts of India and Kenya when applied for upgrading education for poorer communities.
One finding of their experimental research was that the primary factor behind the poor education quality was the lack of teaching support and teaching accountability, not the lack of resource. Such micro-level study of different development components such as education and healthcare have, in my opinion, sheer relevance for countries like Bangladesh which are still swinging between the "developing" and Least Developed Countries (LDC).
Leaving the development status issues apart, we need to focus on standard of education of our country and locate, as Abhijit Banerjee's economic model does, the key factors affecting our education on a ground level. We have been in the limbo to decide difference between criteria at different levels including uniformed admission test at tertiary level, creativity at primary and secondary education and so on. In both these criteria, we tended to generalise different parameters of education.
For instance, have we thought about the potential challenges of creativity at primary level at extremely rural vicinities? Have we considered the subject and university-specific requirements and variations while thinking in favour of uniformed intake criteria? Have we even given a thought to the compulsory aspect of our education? Does compulsory education have to do with three meals a day?
Well, these are just a handful questions among many others which should be kept in mind in order to ensure successful implementation of any policy.
Development economic model shows that in mixed economic countries like Bangladesh any single development measure, be it in economic sector or education, might not function in its fullest.
Banerjee, Duflo and Kremer's model shows that one of the main reasons behind poor education in Kenyan rural areas was teacher accountability that is also very common in our universities.
A common misconception lurking in our most public universities that it is very hard to lose your job once appointed. Such misconception badly affects our performance, our sense of responsibility and accountability. Added to this is teachers' political affiliation which at times avails us with demonic indifference to the ordinance.
The very idealistic aspect of being accountable to our "conscience" as stated the 1973 University Act sometimes lead us to sheer ruthlessness in the academia. Hence, working on accountability and governance at education sector can be a way to solve a number of regulatory and disciplinary loopholes existing in our education system. Even the phrase "education system" is quite generalized and vague; hence, it is vital to define different education levels and to locate their own individualized crisis.
As I just mentioned, lack of good governance at university level is what plaguing our higher studies. The point that I would like to make here is that instead running macro-educational policy or theories, now we need to concentrate on micro-educational factors. We have been trying for large-scale structural changes over the last two decades in our education sector with rarely any positive qualitative up gradation in global index.
We need to verify what we really mean by terms like 'uniform', 'universal', or 'mass-oriented'. Is the concept of 'universal' education feasible in a South Asian country which is economically imbalanced and mixed? Almost half a century after the liberation, do we think the age-old education policy will serve us the same as before? Or revision and customization is the urgent call of our education system? Even the term "compulsory" has sugar-coated denotation in it if we disregard the economic solvency to properly eat three meals a day?
Now we have around 46 public universities and 80 private universities, numbers which for a country like Bangladesh are quite impressive. However, the performance graph gives us a different image.
Time has come for us to grasp the difference between higher education and post-secondary education. Despite having the analogical aspects, these two terms have their share of differences. If undergoing an MSc research on molecular reproduction is considered to be a component of higher education, learning how to run and fix an X-Ray machine at a technical school can be considered to be an example of post-secondary technical education. Both types and performances are essential for our country, though our focus is always at the tertiary education.
Mass enrolment at universities may produce a generation with just theoretical mettle, not hands-on knowledge. Essentializing university degree for employment has its negative aspects. We thus create just the certificate holders who might end up in frustration at the ineffectiveness of academic certificate.
Though Banerjee, Duflo and Kremer's model is aimed at the economic side of development, we cannot ignore the vital role that education plays in the economy of any country. An inflated purchasing power does not cover up other deficiencies such as in education and culture. As their economic model vouches for a careful need analysis in micro-level, so our education policy-makers should start compartmentalizing the different sectors and levels of education and start dissecting the cluster-wise lacking and their solutions.
Kazi Ashraf Uddin is an Associate Professor at the Department of English, Jahangirnagar University