We all know that the British Council has played an important role for half a century in our educational life. It was located and is still located in the central area of Dhaka University Campus. But things have changed . It has been a meeting place, a cultural hub and activity centre for the younger generation. The British journals there were our windows to the outside world. Membership was free for the students and so was the entry.
But in the changed circumstances of market economy and global terror there is membership fee and restricted entry but that has not minimised British councilís role in our educational arena .
Recently I landed in a British Council Educational show at Hotel Sheraton. It was well attended by the educational elite including the Vice-Chancellor of Dhaka University, Mr Fayez.
By recent global events many could suggest that Bangladesh students should avoid Britain and students should not drain the hard earned money of their parents. No, I do not agree with that with my long acquaintance with Britain. Britain is a pluralistic democracy. You can find a radical like Mayor Ken of London to outright racists. But I assure you British academicians unlike us keep out of politics.
In our chequered history, the British represented both good and evil as Dr Monmohan Singh the Prime Minister of India and himself an academician observed in his historic speech at the Oxford University.
The British brought modern science and technology to our country. We have a strong British Bangalee community in Britain and they generate more jobs than any other branch of British economy in the economic sector. We are proud in our country, we have a brown British envoy who is a perfect gentleman and understands the pulse of our people even more than any of us. Today, in British Parliament, we see brown faces and possibly one day we may see a brown face in the British foreign office. Unfortunately, the British envoy was a victim of terrorist attack. Should we not feel all ashamed of it? So, I understand why the British are so conscious about their security problems.
I was talking with the lady , the vice chief of international section of the Bradford University at the show. Bradford University specialises in Peace and Conflict management studies. The city has a high proportion of Asian population and in the past has witnessed race riots even. But this is not a special phenomenon for Britain. The conflicts are there even in developing countries.
Beside Bradford University, there were the stall of Leeds University, Commonwealth Law College, David Game College, Ealing Hammersmith and West London College, Leeds Metropolitan University, Liverpool John Moors University, London Metropolitan University, University of Manchester, and Nottingham Trent University.
There was a stall of the East London University. I think this University is basically a British-Bangladeshi University situated in a Bangladeshi populated area. I think I talked about it with Dr Jilani at the Asian Study Centre at Toynbee Hall last year. Britain is not a racial hell. There are lots of British Bangalees like Shahed Sadullah, the editor of the News who often according to Marguib Morshed comes out in the BBC. (unfortunately, I do not see BBC often and missed them). Today Britain is a member of the European Union with a new post colonial identity. But its relation with the old empire which brought and created and new ideas , new harmonies and new conflicts can not be ignored.
When Raja Ram Mohan Roy and Sir Syed Ahmed asked our people to learn English, they might have thought ahead of their time, but they made no mistake. The Pundits and mullahs who opposed them were running against time.
I hope the present crisis of confidence in the East- West relation would be solved peacefully. But to manage it we need to overcome frustration and poverty. Education and enlightenment are the best weapons against it. We can hope the British Universities will continue to play their historic role in our educational and cultural life. Vice Chancellor Mr Fayez clearly assured that. But I would ask him why he does not try to improve his own university to British standard. I know he would ask me to put the question to the education minister and then to ourselves.
A country's education system is not determined by the curriculum but the standard of life of the people. When millions go hungry the foreign education alone will not raise living standard.
God bless market economy in education where laws of demand and supply is basically determined by quality.
The British Council Education Show helped us to find a better understanding of that country.