Towards a VAT on hypocrisy – or, the commodification of everything

This country does not lack defenders of education – there is an entire throng of academics, intellectuals, journalists, scientists, writers, poets, politicians and everything in between falling over each other in their rush to the cheesiest one liner – stuff that can make one yearn for that old tried and tested and always handy “Education is the backbone of the Nation! *applause!*” – or to the condemnation of anyone or anything standing in the way of this backbone-y holy grail saving us all from the apocalypse. And yet … and yet, something does not smell quite right.

What I am taking issue with here is not the often extravagant claims made about the redemptive powers of education – although there is much to be said, there is also no denying the kernel of truth in all of them. My issue here is with how most of the defenders of the classroom only seem to be talking about education as a catch-all, but are really only concerned with a certain type of education, delivered to certain people by certain institutions for a certain price. The existence of any other kind of education is then treated alternatively as an insignificant and ugly insect, or as the monster in your closet – something to either ignore completely, or hide from by pulling a blanket over your head.

Consider that evilest of evil things – the “English Medium School“. They are, after all, cesspools of decadence. Obviously, they only exist to aid in conspicuous consumption, and breed generations of pricks with funny accents who literally don’t know their place – they are completely disconnected from mainstream Bangladeshi society. It is clear to all, I’m sure, that the only solution is to roll your eyes, whine on talk shows and tax them for some pocket money for good measure.

That a deep and wide schism has been created across generations of Bangladeshis because of the language in which they were taught and the syllabi used in their schools is something that should make any citizen who gives a shit worry. A lot. And yet, nobody in charge seems to want to do anything about it, except for talks of standardization and quality control that can only go so far. What about the thousands of Bangladeshis who literally cannot communicate with each other and cannot begin to understand the other’s world (because live in the same world they do not)? What about the frightening sums of money being made out of these evil schools, the coaching centers and the standardized tests? What about the complete alienation of entire swathes of the population from mainstream society? Exaggerated as they are, the accusations against English Medium Schools are not all entirely fictional. But how many among the critics have suggested concentrated, coordinated large scale efforts at reintegrating all these citizens back in to the mainstream? How many of them prefer to spend their time doing and saying everything they can to make sure such a reintegration couldn’t possibly ever happen?

The Private University is perhaps, not as evil a thing as the English Medium School, but it is certainly Satanic. Satanic corporations that pretend to teach students who are rich, entitled, ignorant, amoral, elitist, “Westernized”, soft, selfish and apolitical bastard children of Satan who are actually simply “buying” their degrees (why they bother to attend classes for 3 to 4 years or more, when they have already “bought” their degrees, I will never know; must add “irrational” to the list of adjectives). So by all means, treat them like customers of giant companies, and tax them.

Where are the defenders of education now? Where are those who love to cry about the commodification of education so much? Where is the outrage at a government not only attempting to do something perfectly designed to make higher education even MORE of a commodity, but is doing so because they want to make some quick bucks out of a situation that would not exist at all if our public university system was not hopelessly inadequate, corrupt and thoroughly politicized, and is sucking family upon Bangladeshi family dry? Where is the ridicule at a finance ministry seeking to impose a Value Added Tax – by definition a tax on consumption –  on profits (made, may I remind you, by entities still legally defined as non-profits). How does any of this make sense? Why are people surprised that so many of the faculty at these institutions support the protesters? Why do they not understand why some of us even joined them?

No doubt, all of this might seem to many to be a whole lot of fuss over a few bucks here and there. But this isn’t really about the VAT. Even if the government can actually ensure that students do not have to pay a single extra dime because of this (which, of course, will never happen – that’s just not the way it works folks), there is still the audacity, callousness and hopeless myopia of a government that has decided to tax education. This is about a society that treats so many of its members as not of their own. This is about finally taking private university students seriously. I do not know if I can even call this a ‘movement’ yet, and I don’t know how long our students can continue. But I hope they do. I have no doubt that many of the sideline supporters will eventually start to get annoyed at all the fuss and all the traffic. No doubt most of them will think that the students should go home after the government made that (completely BS) announcement. But they shouldn’t. And if you are truly a defender of education, then you know where you should be standing too.

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