All the students in Bangladesh who sit for their Secondary School Certificate (SSC) and Higher Secondary Certificate (HSC) examinations are subjected to the hierarchy of academic disciplines. The National Curriculum and Textbook Board (NCTB) system of the country requires any student who would be promoted to grade nine to be categorised under Science, Commerce and Humanities based on their "academic merits". More specifically, a student with higher marks in their grade eight final ends up studying science subjects; whereas a student with the lower/lowest marks has to settle with the subjects of commerce and humanities regardless of the student's preference for the subject. Even though this practice of classifying students has been going on for decades, its usefulness can be questioned in the age of Industry 4.0.
A big concern regarding Industry 4.0 is how machines will take over the jobs of unskilled workers. According to a joint study by the Bangladeshi government's a2i project and International Labour Organization (ILO), 53.8 lakh (5.38 million) jobs will be lost due to the automation of Bangladeshi industries. The study also suggests that the workers who are involved with the garment industries, tourism, furniture making and agro-business face the highest risk of losing their jobs due to digitization of industries.
But in reality, it could be even worse for people with university degrees here, because most of them were educated through a colonial education system which requires them to repeat the same knowledge again and again. For to the lack of proper research in the country, there is barely any creation of new knowledge.
Due to this flawed system, many of them just memorise their textbooks without understanding the content - just to ensure good grades (Golden GPA 5) in the final exams.
The classification of disciplines on the basis of grade eight results, in fact, worsens the situation. Despite the insidious nature of this system, it is still in practice due to a particular prejudice among Bangladeshi people. They believe that students studying science are more meritorious than the other two groups because they produce medical practitioners and engineers who make better professions out of their majors.
However, this is strongly debatable. Consequentially, a student who ends up with a commerce or humanities background is often made to think that they are inferior to the students of science.
Additionally, a student who could have been a better humanities practitioner due to having various artistic qualities might end up with a quantitative science degree just because the society and the education system demand that the student would use their talent better by studying science.
One such example could be found in an interview of Maisha Imdad, a high school student of science, conducted by The Daily Star. She says "I would choose humanities or commerce if I were allowed to choose. Unfortunately, after JSC results came out, all students who scored A+ (Golden GPA 5) in all subjects had to choose Science and I've been stuck with a discipline I don't enjoy studying."
Thus, a strong sense of both superiority and inferiority complex is created from a very early stage of a student's life which they, in turn, keep passing on to the next generation.
This educational inequality might create a huge obstacle for Bangladeshi students encountering the industrial revolution 4.0. An enormous part of this revolution is about developing Artificial Intelligence (AI) and managing big data. This will be possible only if we have enlightened minds who have a better understanding of natural intelligence and its environment. Successful technological research would require experts from all the different disciplines who posses high leadership and creative skills, and strong critical thinking ability.
In a technology-driven world, we not only need engineers, neuroscientists and computer programmers who would be making the manual labour easier by creating new types of automated machines, but we will also need arts and philosophy majors who can utilise their academic skills to know more about AI ethics and consciousness. Without the latter knowledge, the applications of the machines would fail to succeed in real life. Furthermore, to know how machines should be used and governed across the world, we will also be needing students from commerce and social science backgrounds. Thus, students with the highest range of interdisciplinary knowledge will be the most successful in the age of industrial revolution 4.0.
In this way, a student gets to cover a topic in a more in-depth manner from many different perspectives. This system also helps the students to think and analyse problems more critically and synthesize original solutions. This is a very unique human quality which artificial intelligence has yet to master.
As opposed to the reductionist and monotonous colonial curriculum, only an interdisciplinary system of study can promote these useful qualities within a student. Students should have the option to study whatever subject they find interesting throughout their education life. At the end of their education years, they should focus on an area of interest for their future career.
In this era of global digitization, when technologically developed countries are looking for ways for the world to achieve "technological singularity" through bypassing superhuman intelligence and combining the best minds of many different disciplines together, while students in Bangladesh are still fighting over their science, arts and commerce background. It is time the education researchers and policymakers of the country realise that we need actual brilliant minds who study the "science of art" and the "art of science" while connecting one discipline with another, and thus manage to see the bigger picture as envisioned by the polymath Leonardo da Vinci during the time of Renaissance.
To face the challenges imposed by the digital era, Bangladesh needs to nurture more researchers with leadership skills who would be able to successfully look across various disciplinary restrictions to consider other viewpoints by comparing and contrasting concepts across different subject areas.
Nazam Laila, is a senior fellow and instructor of World Civilisation, Asian University for Women, Chittagong, Bangladesh.