Cadet colleges need to be upgraded

Amir Islam (not his real name), an ex-cadet from Jhenidah Cadet College, says he sometimes hates the atrocities by his seniors when he was a cadet in that college. But he now loves every moment he spent at JCC, no matter how difficult sometimes it was for him. He says his cadet college made him what he is today. He is one of the front-ranking professionals in telecom sector.

However, Islam doesn’t want to send his son to any cadet college. That sounds quite surprising; isn’t it! Someone who is so proud of his educational institution doesn’t want his son to study there! Explaining this, Islam says, “Our colleges were not upgraded in terms of education since their inception in 1958. There are many non-cadet institutions now functioning across Bangladesh that are in many ways better than what cadet colleges these-days teach the cadets”.

There are many ex-cadets who feel the same way as Islam does about the state of cadet colleges in Bangladesh.
Most ex-cadets think their former institutions need remodelling or upgrading. Cadet colleges are special institutions that aim to produce students capable of performing in every profession and also act as skilled army officers. These institutions, fashioned in British public schools, were established by the erstwhile Pakistan government. The first up and running cadet college was built in Punjab in 1954. Cadet colleges were and still are run on the direct supervision of the armed forces.
The idea behind the establishment of cadet colleges was to train the youth and instil in them high moral, sound mental capacity, breadth of vision, physical stamina, power of leadership and the capacity to run the rapidly expanding government administrative machinery. The cadet colleges were completely different from all existing types of secondary and higher secondary educational institutions. These institutions soon became famous for their performance in terms of educational results in public examinations. Such excellence was attributed mainly to rigorous scrutiny in intakes and the good quality of instruction. These schools were also the prime suppliers of officers in the armed forces.

The trend continued after the independence of Bangladesh. And cadet colleges still serve very well as fantastic source for the defence forces in the country. Cadets still excel in public examinations. Students of these colleges have also done very well even outside the armed forces. Ex-cadets have been everywhere: banking, business, government jobs and the media. One arena possibly lack their presence is politics. One can hardly find any ex-cadet as politician. They probably avoid politics because they don’t have any contact with any political activity till Class XII.

However, reports and witnesses say the quality of education as well as other livelihood trainings in cadet colleges has started to decline over the last decade. One of the prime reasons for this is of course budget allocation for these colleges. Bangladesh initially had four colleges, but the number has now increased to 13. Reports say the budget has not been increased as per the requirement. Assessment from various cadet colleges suggests that these institutions suffer from various crises also. For example, the authorities in these colleges sometimes have difficulty to buy sufficient sports gears for the cadets.

The infrastructures of at least four cadet colleges are in a shambles. They have become old and not very worthy of living. At least the four old colleges need refurbishment. Otherwise, potential good students would not be attracted to join these colleges.

Cadets who are currently studying say these colleges have become difficult for the students coming from lower middle class or poor families. Allegation abound that only boys and girls from the affluent class getting the opportunity to study in these institutions. If that’s the case, this is possibly a wrong choice cadet colleges are making. There was a time when guardians of the cadets used to pay for their wards according to their income. There had been many who did not have to pay anything except for the pocket money. Children from the poor families used to study there free of cost. This is how cadet colleges used play their role in minimizing the rich-poor gap. Children coming from the poor families got the chance to go further up only because they could study in these colleges. Many have become renowned defence officers and civil administrators. If these specialized schools are now catering to the needs of the affluent only, then they have certainly moved away from their bigger role they used to play in the society.

The present set of teachers is a cause of concern for quality education. Most of the current cadets opine the only persons who join the cadet colleges are those who don’t find any jobs elsewhere. If such is the situation, education level in these colleges is certainly going down. There’s a need to assess the teaching and language skills of the existing teachers. The authorities need to make sure that teachers become efficient in both textbook teaching as well as extra-curricula teaching. Cadets don’t only look for bookish education there; they also want the out-of-the-box knowledge-based education. Talking about education, a question arises. Are the cadets who are passing out from these colleges fluent in English language? Are they being taught a level of English that can be close to what is taught in English medium schools? If not, then there has to be a phenomenal overhaul in the process of their language education. And it is the teachers who are to bring about the change. If the teachers themselves lack in their language education, cadets would never learn.

Apart from languages, one needs to learn how to use modern technologies and have access to information. A survey in all the existing cadet colleges would show cadets don’t have enough computers to use, not to talk about better knowledge in softwares. There would be many among the cadets who would want to be software engineers. Many things are usually very restricted in cadet colleges. For example, the authorities always scrutinize cadets’ letters. In this backdrop, the government really needs think whether cadets should have any access to internet. If they don’t have any access, they would be missing out a lot of things that the 21st century has to offer. Cadets’ TV time is also very limited. But in the age of information, can you really keep that limitation intact like that in the 1970s or ‘80s? Probably not.

So, there’s a lot to think about how to upgrade these colleges. And the thinking has to be done by the set of experts, not just somebody from the army or the government secretariat. One may also need to visit foreign public schools for running these reforms.

It’s worthwhile to mention Bangladesh’s army chief recently said cadet colleges need remodelling to the tune of the 21st century. He also said there should be cadet colleges in every district. Nothing can be truer than these institutions need reforms. But no, cadet colleges should not be established in every district right at this moment. First, let these existing ones remodel themselves to cope in the new era of technology and information. If we don’t readjust, the very existence of cadet colleges would be at stake.

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