One of the abiding New Year rituals is to make a wish list for the year which features people’s expectations about themselves, their families, their country and humanity at large. Not everyone however, is equally self-less, so the content varies; but by and large people hope for peace and prosperity and continued wellbeing of the near and dear ones. Last year we went through the same ritual, and if I recall, our newspapers and TV channels were optimistic about a turn of events that would change things for the better in 2017. The anchor of a TV talk show even went as far declaring 2017 as the year that would see the end of drugs. His optimism was based on stories about local resistance against dealers in some villages in the country’s southern districts which had led to big drug busts and arrest of some dealers.
But that proved to be a flash in the pan. The drug menace, if anything, is more widespread now than ever, because of the influx of Rohingya refugees, some of whom are being used as couriers. Myanmar’s leaders may have developed an allergy to Bangladesh for its strong policy on the refugees, but on the question of drugs, particularly the insidious Yaba, they encourage their drug lords to keep close contact with Bangladeshi dealers. And these notorious dealers, many of whom enjoy political protection, continue their trade knowing fully well how they are destroying their country’s future. I frankly see no respite in drug trade in our country in 2018 because, as the years go by, these criminals have multiplied in number. The establishment, instead of showing the much vaulted ‘zero tolerance’ to them, keeps its eyes shut as they go about their business.
The New Year comes amid many such concerns and anxieties. 2017 saw an increase in kidnapping and unexplained disappearances of people, often without a trace. Many of these ‘desaparecidos’ have been journalists, political activists and teachers. Mercifully, some of them have returned, but many still remain beyond the radar of our law and order agencies. Nobody knows who picked them up and why. But the incidents of disappearance and kidnapping cast a bad light on our human rights scene, and blight’s the country’s progress in many fronts, including economy, which has drawn praise from all around the world.
Environment remains another lasting concern. We have proved to the world that we are a nation which has no concern for its rivers, its rain forests or its fragile ecosystem. We fill up low lands and wetlands instead of protecting them, we fell trees and entire sections of forests (as is happening in Chandra and Kaliakoir areas and elsewhere in the country) in the name of ‘development’—conveniently forgetting that the price of environmental degradation is one that generations are burdened with. We have no respect for our rivers—many of them (like the Buriganga) are polluted beyond recovery. This, despite a standing order from the country’s higher courts to stop river pollution and encroachment of rivers. The perpetrators are often tied to the powers that be, which grants them impunity. The practice has been rampant in 2017. Will we see a respite, a ban or a continuation in 2018?
Education, which has shown a great deal of progress in the last decade in reaching the most marginalized communities of the country remains another concern. There is no doubt that education today is more inclusive and more accessible, and has ensured that more girls attend schools and complete their studies, but it is failing to ensure a minimum standard which would allow our learners to hold their grounds in an increasingly competitive world. After decades of failed – and halfhearted—attempts we were successful in formulating a national education policy (NEP) in 2010, which incorporates some of the visions of the 1974 report of Qudrat-e-Khuda commission, an outstanding policy framework which reflected the aspirations of a newly independent nation. The report was however abandoned by the regimes that followed the assassination of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in August 1975. The full application of NEP 2010 however still remains a distant prospect. In the absence of an operational guideline—which is what the NEP was envisaged to be—activities in the education sector remain chaotic. The government introduced two public examinations in the school level—the primary and secondary school certificate exams—which have done more harm than good to school education. Although the NEP has no provisions for the exams, these were introduced on the plea that they would add to the students’ confidence. What the exams have done instead is spread the practice of private tuition to the village level. This has encouraged many other unethical practices such as leaking of question papers. Indeed, the most regrettable news of 2017 is the leaking of Class II question papers in Betagi Upazila of Barguna which led to the postponement of examinations in 140 government and non-government schools.
There will however be ample scope to redress the situation in 2018. To begin with, the government should cancel these two unnecessary public exams, ban private coaching, increase the salaries and perks of teachers so that they don’t take up private tuition, introduce creative classroom teaching and testing and allow class teachers to evaluate the students’ performance. Our expectation is that the government will take up the challenging task of ensuring quality education to students. In 2017 I was stunned by reading the news item that appeared in the country’s newspapers including The Daily Star that ‘super managers’ from India, South Korea, Sri Lanka and some other countries remit more than 5 billion dollars from our country to theirs. Apparently, we are failing to produce these super managers, because we cannot provide them with required language and subject skills, as well as the confidence needed to operate in the corporate world. Our education is now solely geared towards producing examiners who are happy with a certificate and a transcript of the final academic examination, but are badly prepared to face the competitive world of business, science and technology and advanced management.
2018 is going to be an election year, which, ideally should have meant a year of festivities. On rare occasions we have demonstrated how elections can be fun. But in recent years, elections have meant violence and bloodshed. The elections of 2014 which the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and its allies boycotted led to scores of death. Buses full of passengers was set on fire, polling stations were sprayed with bullets and bombs blasted in remote areas claiming innocent lives. The world press picked up the news of the incidents of violence which greatly tarnished our image globally as a peaceful country. The people are afraid that 2018 will see a repetition of 2014, and are worried that both the scale and intensity of violence will increase. But here again, we have the opportunity to show to the world that we are better than what we are projected as. Just as we have proved to the world that we are not a country of mindless terrorists who kill in the name of religion, we can also do the same with our election year image.
Terrorism, apparently on the decline, still worries us. But we are reassured by popular resistance against extremism of all kinds. Our people are deeply religious but they respect each other’s religions and come together in times of crises. I am sure in 2018 we will see a Bangladesh which has successfully dealt with issues of religious extremism.
Our fear is that corruption will continue unabated in 2018 which will put a spanner in our national works as usual. Our anti-corruption efforts, spearheaded by the Anti Corruption Commission, popularly known by its Bangla acronyms Dudok, have picked up a bit, but are no match to the extent of corruption.
Over the years, Bangladesh has solved some of its persistent problems such as abject poverty and child and maternal mortality, and is addressing many more that appear every now and then. There is no reason why it should not be able to deal with the ones listed above. All we need are a strong political will, a commitment from all the actors who define the broad spectrum of power, a well-defined agenda of action and a no-nonsense approach to its implementation. The election year should not be a bar to our resolution to make 2018 a truly fruitful year, a year people will remember for its all-round achievements in every sector.
Our hope for 2018 lies in the dynamism that the country’s growing economy has created, and the perception the people have about themselves. A growing economy needs creative minds and innovative people, while our people believe they are capable of great things. This is a combination that has done wonders in other countries—most notably in South Korea. We believe we can also do the same, and turn the election year into a year of celebration of people’s vitality, dynamism, innovativeness and their will to conquer all odds.
Happy new year to every reader of Bangla Insder!