As a student, I was always afraid of zero. We never knew when and how it appeared before us. I was scared of it when it appeared as a single digit and sat conspicuously on my answer scripts in math! Mind you, it never came alone. Even though the zero comprised a single digit, the number of times I got caned by my math teacher always comprised more than one digit. While being caned, I used to envy the top boy in the class who consistently secured100 out of 100. One more zero and the digit '1' at the left, that makes 100, brought so much admiration and adoration for him from the teachers, the students and the guardians!
Being poor in math, I am always challenged almost by everyone, from shopkeepers to tax collectors, on every calculation I make. The latest challenge came from my grandson Shiham who does advanced math in his class. He came to me and said, 'You taught me wrong math, Nana.'
'What did I teach?' I asked him.
'Didn't you say 0+0+0=0?' he asked.
'Yes, I did', I admitted.
'You are wrong, Nana. The sum is no longer zero. In fact, it can be 100, 1000, 100,000 or more', He said.
'No, you are wrong', I said emphatically.
'I am not. You are'. He said with equal emphasis and added, 'This is what Dr Yunus said. He is a Nobel Laureate. You are not. Definitely he knows more than you do.'
I could not argue any more. I know zero is a powerful number. I recall our math teacher at school once said, 'Write any number, no matter how big it is, and multiply it by zero. The result is always zero.' This proves the power of zero but is Dr Yunus' theory of three zeros absolutely right?
Grameen Bank founder and Nobel Laureate Dr Muhammad Yunus put forward a new theory on May 28, 2015 while inaugurating the Social Business Day, coinciding with his birthday, at the Bangabandhu International Conference Centre in Dhaka. Amidst applause by more than 1,600 guests, including 250 delegates from 32 countries, he is reported to have said, '0+0+0 can be 100, 1000, 100,000 and one million.'
Nobody dared to tell Dr Yunus that '0+0+0= any number other than zero' violated all we had learned at school. He, however, defined his zeros as i) zero poverty, ii) zero unemployment, and iii) zero carbon emission and added that the world must adopt a policy of three zeros to attain a sustainable development. To achieve his goals, he said we needed four things: a) the energy and creativity of the youth, b) the power of technology, c) social business, and d) good governance.
Dr Yunus is a great dreamer but how realistic are his goals? Let me take zero emission of carbon dioxide first. What does he really mean by zero emission? Is zero carbon emission feasible? The Kyoto Protocol on climate change, adopted in 1997, aims at reduction of global emission of greenhouse gases by 5.2 per cent below the 1990 level. In 2015, we are nowhere near our target. To reduce it to zero level, we have to totally stop burning of all kinds of fossil and bio fuels. We also need to stop all kinds of farming. Is it feasible in the foreseeable future or ever? Similarly, zero poverty and zero unemployment sound unrealistic and too ambitious though reduction of poverty and that of unemployment are our Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Poverty and unemployment exist even in the most developed countries too. We cannot reduce them to zero level. Social business is a good idea but will our business tycoons accept it when profitability and greed happen to be their main motivation? Dr Yunus needs a magic wand to convert all business into social business.
Luckily, another Nobel Laureate Kailash Satyarthi from neighbouring India is now visiting Bangladesh. He is here to attend a conference organised by the Campaign for Popular Education. Speaking to the press soon after his arrival in Dhaka on May 29, he asserted that quality education could bring change to everything from cutting poverty to eliminating fundamentalism. Stating that about 58 million children worldwide are being denied education while another 250 million quality education, he said it would be a shame if even a single child was unable to attain quality education. He said, 'I strongly feel that denial of education is also violence against children. Every child is born with this divine right to learn. So they cannot afford to continue with illiteracy.' The emphasis on education appears to be totally missing from the formula of Dr Yunus. How can he expect to achieve the three zeros or employ the creativity of the youth, power of technology and ensure good governance without quality education?
It is now universally accepted that no development programme can be successful in any country without quality education. I would, therefore, humbly remind Dr Yunus that to achieve his three favourite zeros or goals, he needs a powerful tool and it is another zero: zero illiteracy. Quality education should be our top priority and our annual budget must make the highest allocation in this sector.r
Abdul Matin is a retired nuclear engineer