Colonialism, Education, and Rural Buddhist Communities in Bangladesh

By Barua, Bijoy | International Education, Fall 2007 | Go to article overview

Colonialism, Education, and Rural Buddhist Communities in Bangladesh


Barua, Bijoy, International Education


Cultural homogenization through the establishment of a centralized and standardized curriculum in education has become the dominant model in Bangladesh today, a model of education that is deeply rooted in the colonial legacy of materialism, acquisitiveness, and social exclusion (B. Barua, 2004; Gustavsson, 1990). Such a model is predicated on the notion that Bangladesh"is culturally homogenous, with one language, one dominant religion, and no ethnic conflict" (Hussain, 2000, p. 52). Predictably and unfortunately, the prospects for decolonization in a"post-colonial/independence context" still appear to be bleak since the state continues to rely on a centrally controlled and standardized educational system that is committed to cultural homogenization and social exclusion-a process that is being encouraged by foreign aid and international assistance (B. Barua, 2004; B.P. Barua, 2001; Mohsin, 2001).

A process of decolonization, in its commitment to harmonious cultural pluralism, relies on people's knowledge, action, and participation through dialogue, critical reflection, contemplation, and creative application, as opposed to imposition and domestication (Freire, 1997; Rahman, 1994). In a praxis of decolonization, "learning is always an act of self-search and discovery" (Rahman, p. 222) and a process of rediscovery of self and community previously mutilated by colonial imposition and distortion. In the process of discovery, the Buddhist learning approach encourages learners to address colonial deformations through the cultivation of the inner self and contemplative practice to liberate minds from mental defilement and delusion (Sivaraksa, 1990). The Buddhist learning approach is eco-centric rather than anthropocentric and engenders cultural pluralism and biodiversity. It benefits communities and the natural environment (Sponsel & NatadechaSponsel, 1997). The Buddha's model of education is not orily"confined to the philosophical and psychological aspects of the religion but extends to the field of social service and the cultivation of self-discipline" (Dhammananda, 1996, p. 94). In fact, Buddhist education emerged as a"movement of renouncers"(Wijayartna, 1990, p. 1) with "decolonizing" (by questioning materialism and attachment) implications for the people of ancient India. It emerged as emancipatory education against political injustice, oppression, and social discrimination (Aloysius, 1998).1 In the Buddhist model of education, justice is not only limited to human beings, it goes beyond human rights to embrace the rights of all living creatures, nature, and the environment. The principles of freedom, liberation, and self-reliance in society are integral to this model. In Buddhist education, the emphasis is on seeing, knowing, critical understanding, contemplation of mind (citta sikkha) and not on indoctrination or control and destruction of nature (Rahula, 1974a; Sivaraksa, 2005). Buddha never asked people to believe anything on blind faith alone and without questioning (Saddhatissa, 1971); rather, Buddhist contemplative learning practice developed through consciousness, awareness (noma), and life experience (Barua & Wilson, 2005). He used the words come and see (ehi-passika in Pali), i.e., contemplative learning and deep practical experience were to be dialectically engaged in reflective practice to develop educated persons whom he described as, "one who knows the higher values of life, who sacrifices lower values for higher values, who sacrifices material goods for love"(Bhasin, 1994, p. 8).

This paper will excavate pre-independence (British/Pakistan) and post-independence colonial education interventions into Buddhist culture and education with the view to expose the nature and shape of colonial domination and related Buddhist efforts at cultural and educational decolonization. This will be accomplished by (a) considering a brief description of Buddhist communities in Bangladesh and the development of a critical historical and contemporary description of how pre-independence (British and Pakistani) and post-independence Bangladeshi nationalist colonial education processes have attempted to displace cultural diversity and contemplative learning practice; (b) a related discussion on the contradictions of colonial education for economic growth and Buddhist values and economy; and (c) an elaboration of Buddhist cultural resistance, resilience, and attempts at decolonization through non-violent action. …

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