Political strategies

Improving education requires the right kind of policy strategies

Meaningful education reform cannot take place without political support. File photo: star

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Meaningful education reform cannot take place without political support. File photo: star

Elections held in the United States the first week of November this year had state and local officials, including two governors, mayors and school board members, running. The gubernatorial election in the state of Virginia has captured national attention as polls have shown a close race between Democrats and Republicans. Another distinction of Virginia’s race was that school education became a major election issue.

In the context of the education response to the Covid-19 pandemic and the growing importance of the “culture war” regarding the identity, values ​​and education of the next generation, the policy of the education has become a point of contention across the world. Bangladesh is no exception.

Education advocates and scholars would like to see education feature higher on a nation’s political agenda, so that education-related issues receive the necessary public and political attention. The friends of education can get more than they bargain for, when education issues are caught up in the larger political controversies of society.

In Virginia, Republican gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin ran an ad featuring a mother complaining that her son had to read Nobel Prize winner Toni’s novel “Beloved” in high school English class. Morrison. The novel depicts the horrors of slavery and the black experience in the United States. Youngkin made it a matter of parental choice and control over their children’s education. Democratic candidate Terry McAuliffe argued that parents’ preferences can be diverse, which must be taken into account, but that decisions should be made by the elected school board. Republican propaganda succeeded in portraying McAuliffe as anti-kin to conservative voters in Virginia, and he lost the election by a narrow margin.

Other education issues that fueled controversy in Virginia and elsewhere were the CRT, DEI, SEL parental speech, and pandemic safeguards. CRT stands for Critical Race Theory, a concept that suggests that racism in society should be a subject of study in academia. DEI refers to diversity, equity and inclusion, which should guide the content and management of education. Its importance has come to the fore in response to the impact of Covid-19 on education, but it is difficult to agree on what exactly can be done about it. Pandemic protective measures in schools, including wearing masks and vaccinations, have become highly politicized — Republicans, especially supporters of former President Donald Trump, view any state-mandated requirement as an attack on the rights of parents and citizens.

Political watchers suggest the Republican’s victory could be a clue to what could happen in the 2022 midterm elections, when the balance of power in Congress is up for grabs and when 36 states hold gubernatorial elections. A Republican victory could even pave the way for Trump to be challenged and return to the presidency in 2024.

In Bangladesh, tensions arose from time to time over the choice of textbook content and the political compromises made that ran counter to the fundamental principles of the state enshrined in the constitution. Denominational madrasa education, both with public and private financial support in what are known as Qawmi madrasas, developed as a parallel system. The rapid growth of madrasas occurred after the fateful change of political regime in 1975 which halted the democratic evolution of the country. According to some estimates, a third of students in formal education are in madrasas, which do not prepare their students to become productive workers and active citizens of a rapidly changing modern society.

Much has been written about political and political priorities in education and how politics have misled us. The importance of reclaiming the core values ​​of secularism, democracy, socialism and nationalism and what these concepts mean for education was highlighted in a number of columns in this daily earlier this year.

In neighboring India, the ruling BJP government followed a staunchly Hindu nationalist agenda as national policy, departing from the secular principles of independent India. His thinking in education is described as a “saffronization of education” that glorifies Hindu contributions to Indian history and aims to uplift the next generation as patriots steeped in Hindutva values.

There has been a pushback against the ultra-nationalist political and educational agenda in India. India’s new national education policy announced in 2020 is based on a human capital logic derived from the neoliberal approach, with the aim of making India a globally competitive economic superpower. He adopts a position that tries to navigate between ideological positions and divergent objectives. The NEP reveals something of the complex political reality of any country, including India, where the ideological priority of saffronization may conflict with global economic ambitions.

I worked with two of my colleagues on a book about the persistent problems of quality and equity in education in South Asia. We concluded that the political dynamics of educational decision-making ultimately determine whether the right priorities will be chosen and whether the decisions made will be implemented. Sir Fazle Hasan Abed, who wrote the foreword to the book, said: “Politics clearly matters…When institutions, different stakeholders such as teachers and parents, professional bodies and committed leaders align – which is a political process – the chances of successful reform are greater.”

Meaningful education reform cannot happen without political support, but it is a double-edged sword. As indicated above, it can be a force of diversion or even of destruction. Education actors, including teachers, parents and young people themselves, are powerful in numbers and can be advocates and champions for education. They can be a formidable force when united by a common vision and when they mobilize their own energy and idealism to realize that vision. Making them a force for positive change is a laudable and difficult challenge, which also calls for a political strategy.

Dr. Manzoor Ahmed is Emeritus Professor at the University of Brac.