Title: Reflections on the Nature of Teaching Academic Philosophy in Bangladesh Abstract

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Title: Reflections on the Nature of Teaching Academic Philosophy in Bangladesh


Academic philosophy in Bangladesh continues to carry a substantial contribution through creating qualified graduates, researchers and leaders of different development sectors and social areas in the country. This work aims to provide a comprehensive and accurate picture of its teaching and learning at the University level. It also involves in trying to identify the challenges facing the discipline in bringing about inclusive excellence in the classroom. In view of the aims and objectives stated above, this will focus on the nature of teaching philosophy at the university level in Bangladesh and what role Bangladesh philosophy plays in the curricula. Also this will focus on how do Bangladeshi instructors teach philosophy? What have been the results of teaching philosophy at the academic institutions? Furthermore, some preliminary data from our World Bank funded research project will be presented investigating how philosophy at the university level is conceived, practiced and by those involved in its teaching and learning.

1. The Current Status of Philosophy as an Academic Discipline in Bangladesh

From ancient time till to date, except for a few exceptions, importance on philosophy has been given by intellectually and socially advanced societies all over the world. But societies in developing countries such as Bangladesh barely reflect on philosophy in the same manner. Under the current/dominant political economy, this situation has become rather much wearisome. In Bangladesh, people in educational- policy-making-position give much emphasis on commercial education. Peoples' perceptions are formed accordingly e.g., guardians /parents here want their kids to study those subjects (such as medicine, or engineering or BBA, MBA and the like) that have so called market value. The key reason behind that is the fact that it is economic growth that receives the top priority in the society in question. Since philosophy (as an academic discipline) is not generally considered in Bangladesh as a discipline of so called market value, nearly all students who study philosophy unenthusiastically, i.e., students come to study philosophy just have a graduation degree from university. This is the status of philosophy as an academic discipline in Bangladesh.

2. Nature of Teaching Philosophy at University Level in Bangladesh

Philosophy is a degree giving discipline at the university level in Bangladesh. Programs include 4-year Honours, 1 year Masters, MPhil and PhD degree/ courses. While 7-public university offer all programs up to postgraduate level, over one hundred Colleges offer programs up to masters level (i.e., except for MPhil and PhD programs). Philosophy is not studied at private university, as a degree program; it is merely studied as a General Education (GED) course (by and large under the rubric 'Introduction to Philosophy') at undergraduate level.

At public university, curriculum / syllabus is setup for 4 years by the specified academic committee. The committee comprises philosophy teachers and experts from the host institution and other public universities in Bangladesh).The mode of study up to Masters level is full time. MPhil and PhD level programs are offered in both modes i.e., full time and part time. The language of instruction is mixed: English and Bengali. A few students prefer to write dissertation in English. Students/ researchers have hardly any access to new books published on issues in philosophy in the other part of the world. There is a scarcity of translated books. Also books published in Bengali are not sufficient in terms of students/researchers requirement and demand.


3. Some Core Themes

There are several themes which are linked to the nature of teaching philosophy at university level in Bangladesh. Among the core themes are: understanding philosophy and understanding morality.

Understanding Philosophy:

It involves study of theoretical approaches developed in various sub-field of philosophy. It helps students replacing uncritical thinking with the method of reflective thoughts.

Understanding morality :

It prepares students with the required skills to distinguish human behavior to be right or wrong, good or bad and so forth. Also it helps students to be an active professional with a good grounding in the fundamentals of ethics and of doing ethics for themselves( Attfield, 2012). Furthermore it facilitates the development of their imagination, autonomy, resourcefulness, ethical responsibility, which are essential for learning to philosophize, and are an essence of a culture of sustainable society.

4. What Role Bangladeshi Philosophy Plays in the Curriculum?

Before we talk about what role Bangladeshi philosophy plays in the curriculum, it is worth mentioning the current status of Bangladeshi philosophy in the curricula. It is a fact that before the partition of India, Indian philosophy was dominant in the curriculum. After the partition of India (1947), Muslim philosophy, Eastern philosophy (such as, Chinese and Japanese philosophy), and Western philosophy were included in curriculum. After the emergence of Bangladesh (1971), Western philosophy became dominant in the curriculum of philosophy in Bangladesh.

But this scenario did not sustain for a long time. For philosophy teachers of different reputed public universities are found to change their area of interest in philosophy. While The Department of Philosophy at Jahangirnagar University, a reputed public university in Bangladesh, focus on applied ethics and logic together with recent trends in Western philosophy, other reputed public universities of the country such as, Dhaka University and Rajshahi University of Bangladesh are still confined to classical Western philosophy and Eastern philosophy. The British and the German have their own trend of philosophy, which are notably known as the 'British Empiricism' and the 'German Idealism' respectively. But there is no unique trend of philosophy, like in Britain and Germany, in Bangladesh. One of the reasons for this is that Bangladesh has reached to its current state of socio-political level through a stormy change of political regime. Before 1947 Bangladesh was under the control of India. She was under the control of Pakistan from 1947- 1970. After the emergence of Bangladesh in 1971 as an independent country, she has started her journey with new hope. Although there are progress in some sectors, Bangladesh has been suffering from serious political instability and sharp political polarization since her birth. Hence a unique trend of Bangladesh philosophy, based on her own culture and traditions, is yet to develop.

Some philosophy teachers are, however, sought to develop their interest in designing and developing a module of Bangladesh Philosophy at their own institutions. As no distinctive philosophical trend has developed so far, they try to make a list of research-work done or articles published by Bangladeshi writers/intellectuals on issues relating to the customary, cultural, intellectual, and spiritual trends of Bangladesh, and consider them as readings in Bangladesh philosophy. To be more specific, academic publications that fairly uphold the folk and mystic tradition of Bangladesh are considered by them as Bangladesh philosophy. Folk and mystic traditions involve Baulism, Vashanaism, Sufism and works of academic philosophers like G. C. Dev, Dewan Mohammad Azraf, Sayedur Rahman who dedicated their life to understand and analyze Bangladesh philosophy. A number of public Universities have already decided to introduce a new program of philosophy at Masters level under the rubric 'MA in Bangladesh Philosophy'. Jahangirnagar University is one of the universities where MA in Bangladesh Philosophy program is going to begin very shortly. Thus it can be said that Bangladesh philosophy, as a branch of the subfield of history of philosophy, will soon be able to attract learners and researchers in the area of philosophy at university level in Bangladesh.

5. Benefit of Studying Bangladesh Philosophy

Folk and mystic tradition of Bangladesh philosophy, by and large, focus both on Spiritualism and Humanism. It suggests to attaining spirituality via humanity. Thus instructors who are interested in Bangladesh Philosophy maintain the view that study of Bangladesh Philosophy obviously helps learners enhancing their knowledge and understanding of their identity and culture and thereby preparing them to (1) keep our society from falling apart, (2) ameliorate human suffering, and (3) promote human flourishing in Bangladesh.

6. How do Bangladeshi Instructors Teach Philosophy?

Face to face method is most widely used method of teaching philosophy in Bangladesh. As it is a one way traffic method, not interactive, students listen to the instructors for the whole period of class and leave the classroom without raising, asking, or answering any questions ( raised by instructors or learners).

Why follow face to face method ?

Instructors use face to face method not only because they are at ease with that method, but also because they are not trained to use other advanced and interactive methods. For example, blended method of teaching involves the use of both the face to face method plus Information and Communication Technology (ICT) method. Since instructors are not competent users of ICT, they cannot but use face to face method. Neither University authority nor the instructors typically take initiative to overcome this problem. Lack of good will and scarcity of resources are culpable for this. It is the common picture at every public University. Thus it can be said that among the key reasons for using face to face method as the method of teaching at (public) University in Bangladesh are:

(i) Unavailability of teachers with required level of computer literacy;

(ii) Lack of required level of knowledge about Information and Communication Technology (ICT); (iii) Insufficiency of ICT equipments and class rooms suitable for multidimensional and digital presentation.

However, some public universities have managed to improve this situation. ICT equipments and suitable and smart class room facilities are found to be available at Jahnagirnagar University and also at Chittagong University thanks to the GoB and the World Bank ( joint) funded research project1. Use of computer, scanner, printer, photocopier, multimedia, and internet has been increasing day by day in the classrooms of the Department of Philosophy in both the abovementioned public universities Some instructors are found to screen movies, short films and the like as effective tools to achieving their goal of interactive teaching. Other instructors (I am one of them) are found to use interactive method of teaching through conducting reading group/ focused group discussion-session.

As we mentioned earlier, this is not the common scenario in the department of philosophy of different public Universities. . As it was possible to secure funding for a sub project of the department of Philosophy at Jahangirnagar University in Bangladesh , the sub-project manager (SPM) was fortunate enough to complete renovation work in 4 class rooms and developed those rooms as smart-classrooms and supplied instructors with necessary IT equipments in the rooms to help them, making their lectures more interactive. The progress in the pedagogical style of the department of philosophy at Jahnagirnagar University is obvious. Students seem to be more enthusiastic and receptive in classes and the ration of their turning up in the class has increased remarkably.

The traditional technique of teaching philosophy at (public) university level in Bangladesh i.e., the face to face method, is not interactive, and hence not inclusive, but rather merely a teacher-centered technique. Theory that upholds this method is known as Instructivism2 in the academia. Here teachers explain why and how students learn about the topic. Learners remain at the receiving end. On the other hand, the newly introduced method (i.e., running reading group and focused group discussion-session ) in the department of philosophy at Jahanginagar University resonates the method of Constructivism3. For reading group or focused group discussions allow learners to communicate with each other, and share their thoughts , feelings and knowledge and experience to come up with a new thoughts that help understanding and advancing the existing sate of knowledge. In this technique, teacher becomes facilitator and students are encouraged to interact, exchange views, and construct meaning and knowledge that is based on their necessities, but with teacher's intervention.

As mentioned in the previous paragraphs, the method widely used in 'teaching philosophy' in Bangladesh is the face to face method; and as a technique of instructivism, it does not consider social and culture context of learners. Same is also true about constructivism because although learners, under this method, are encouraged to exchange views based on their necessities with instructor's intervention , this method does not take into consideration social and culture context of learners. Nevertheless it is very important for an instructor to make her/his teaching method to be effective. The method that upholds this determination is known as Connectivism4 . This method of teaching, students themselves encourage each other to be involved in networks, internet use, and make use of their sense making, patterning ( knowledge recognition), and way-finding and realizing the emergent knowledge (ontology- learning to be) through an integration of informal learning with their formal education. The proponents of the method of connectivism maintain that through manifesting the social and cultural context of learners in the teaching strategies, this method has the potential to help instructors to assist their students’ to turn into independent from dependent learners.

It now seems that the instructivism and constructivism are currently practiced as the teaching methods of philosophy in Bangladesh. However, we need to be attentive to bridge instructivist and constructivist teaching approaches for learners not yet prepared for taking responsibility for their own scholarship.5 However, the spirit of connectivism is entirely missing in the dominant method and the newly practiced method of teaching philosophy in Bangladesh. At private universities in Bangladesh, this method is seen to be partly practiced. Partly in the sense that students are involved in networks via internet, but they are not observed to be involved in networks, internet use, and in sense making, patterning, or way-finding and realizing the emergent knowledge.

A survey carried out on the students of the Department of Philosophy at Chittagong University shows that they prefer connectivism, as an effective blending method of teaching.

Figure 1: Survey Data Graph




Std. Dev















Figure 2: Summary- Survey Data

Learners do support blending method of teaching then tradition methods. Connectivism, through manifesting the social and cultural context of learners in the teaching strategies, seems to have the potential to help teachers aid their students’ development from dependent to independent learners.

7. What have been the results of teaching philosophy at the academic institutions in Bangladesh?

The key result of teaching philosophy at the academic institutions in Bangladesh is the production of graduates with philosophical training. The training enhances learners problem-solving capacities, their capabilities to comprehend and articulate ideas, and convincing powers. For Robert Audi :

The problem-solving, analytical, judgmental, and synthesizing capacities philosophy develops are unrestricted in their scope and unlimited in their usefulness. This makes philosophy especially good preparation for positions of leadership, responsibility, or management. A major or minor in philosophy can easily be integrated with requirements for nearly any entry-level job; but philosophical training, particularly in its development of many transferable skills, is especially significant for its long-term benefits in career advancement.6

The appraisal of the citation is apparent in the performance of philosophy graduates in Bangladesh. With the philosophical training, graduates are found to make contribution to both academic and civic sectors. Among the major academic outcomes are gradates' increased critical thinking ability, problem solving ability, educational aspiration, and self-confidence. Besides, major civic outcomes include graduates' high level of civic engagement7, their fortified commitment to equal opportunity and fairness, and their development as an ethically informed citizen. After completion of their graduation in Philosophy, some prefer to go abroad for higher studies. They usually come back home and make contributions to different academic or non academic institutions or organizations with higher level of proficiency and confidence. A few graduates are found to be successful in finding suitable job abroad, and thereby making contribution to the academic world at global level.

8. Challenges

One of the challenges in teaching philosophy in an inclusive manner is to ensure peaceful co-existence between student wing of the ruling party and supporter of other student organizations. Violent conflicts between inter party students wings (e.g., violence between Bangladesh Chatra League, the student wings of present ruling party 'Bangladesh Awami League' and Jatiatabadi Chatra Dal, the student wing of the opposition party 'Bangladesh Nationalist party) are order of the day in all public universities in Bangladesh. Leaders and active supporters of the Jatiatabadi Chatra Dal cannot attend classes regularly for security reason. They do not attend their classes to avoid deadly attack on them by the leaders and supporters of Bangladesh Chatra League. It so happens that leaders and activists of other opposition parties' student wings, such as the leftist student wing, in particular, Islamic student wing ( i.e., Islamic Chhatra Shibier), the student wing of the Zamaat-e- Islam ( an Islamist political organization in Bangladesh), who are ready to partake in the struggle for establishing the Islamic way of life, are also scared of attending their classes. To be very frank, if a student is suspected to be a supporter of Islamic Chhatra Shibier, it is not possible to continue his/her study anymore. University campus area will be an alarming zone for that learner. For there is a risk of taking her/his life by the leaders/ activists of the students' wing of the ruling party. In absence of the leaders and activists of the student wing of the opposition parties, leaders and activists of the ruling party engage in intra-wing violence. The sub-group of the ruling party student wing that faces defeat lose cannot stay in university campus for the same reason i.e., life security. At times political deadlocks , usually created by opposition parties, hamper students to attend the classes. This is a gross problem with teaching philosophy in an inclusive manner.

States where there is no 'gross' challenges like Bangladesh, making a classroom inclusive in those States is morally possible, if not straightforward. Problems relating to the inclusivity of the classroom in the developed world include, the tension between diversity and educational excellence, diverse cohorts of learners, changing social policies and laws, demographic shift on campus, and so forth8. Of course, these are problems, but they are of 'refined' nature. But, as we mentioned earlier, some problems that we face in the philosophy classroom of Bangladesh are 'gross' in nature.
Given all this, ensuring inclusive excellence in the classroom of philosophy is a big challenge for Bangladesh. For here the challenges or problems with teaching philosophy is twofold: 'refined' and 'gross'. So the prospect of our efforts to make our philosophy class inclusive in Bangladesh is largely related to our ability to addressing the twofold challenges. Now the question arises that how might we address these challenges? One may well say that the only solution to the 'gross' problem is dependent on our ability to resolve violence and fatal conflicts between youth ( student) wings of the ruling party and opposition parties together with the ( mother) political parties. But the major problem here in our country is that political parties have become extremely polarized. Hence the chance of addressing this problem through negotiation is very slim. Nevertheless in order to create fair education environments that support our students irrespective of their cultural identity (ethnicity), political and religious appellation, there is no alternative to it. So we should never give up the attempt to do so. The 'refined' problems with pedagogy can be addressed through meeting and sharing ideas and techniques with other philosophers participate in the workshop of AAPT on teaching and learning that takes place every two years.

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Venkatesh, Viswanath; Brown, Sue; and Bala, Hillol. 2013. "Bridging the Qualitative–Quantitative Divide: Guidelines for Conducting Mixed Methods Research in Information Systems," MIS Quarterly, (37: 1) pp.21-54. Accessed August 2, 2016, http://aisel.aisnet.org/misq/vol37/iss1/3/uide.htm

1 Sub-project Title: Enhancing Research Capacity and Opportunity for the Postgraduate Researchers (MPhil /PhD) of the Department of Philosophy at Jahangirnagar University. It’s an Academic Innovation Fund (Window 2) of the World Bank under the canopy of Higher Education Quality Enhancement Project (HEQEP), which is run by University Grants Commission (UGC) of Bangladesh)). Duration: July 2014 - June 2017. Grant amount: 1,10,00,000 BDT( In US$: 137500).

2 Instructivism is based on that belief that teaching is more teacher and institutionally centered, where teachers or power holders create conditions for success.

3 Constructivism is based on the belief that learners are the makers of meaning and knowledge.

4 Connectivism is based on the belief that the primary sources of teaching lie in the relationships and networks of learners.

5Venkatesh, Viswanath; Brown, Sue; and Bala, Hillol. 2013. "Bridging the Qualitative–Quantitative Divide: Guidelines for Conducting Mixed Methods Research in Information Systems," MIS Quarterly, (37: 1) pp.21-54. Accassed August, 2, 2016, http://aisel.aisnet.org/misq/vol37/iss1/3/

6 Prepared by the American Philosophical Association's Committee on the Status and Future of the Profession (Jaegwon Kim, Chair, 1976–1981; Robert Sleigh, Chair, 1981–1986), and Committee on Career Opportunities (Robert Audi, Chair, 1980–1985).The Principal Author is Robert Audi.

7 Other sectors, where philosophy graduates make contribution to, are: corporate sectors, environmental organizations, Non-Government Organizations (NGO), Garment sector, and Mobile phone operating companies, etc.

8Dr. Frank A. Tuiit, Race and Higher Education: Rethinking Pedagogy in Diverse College Classrooms (HER Reprint Series), Accessed August, 20 2016 , ttps://www.cte.cornell.edu/documents/events/2014_AnnCon_Presentations/Tuitt%20Race%20and%20Pedagogy%20in%20Higher%20Education.pdf

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