Teaching is a profession that requires patience, skill and an enthusiasm for education. Teachers aim to inspire. Rokeya Begum, 27, an assistant teacher at Tambulkhana Government Primary School in Faridpur Sadar upazila is as dedicated as any, and through her example Rokeya's students take home an additional, extracurricular lesson: with perseverance, just about anything can be achieved. Rokeya is a successful teacher who is blind.
“Our Rokeya teacher is very good,” says class-I student Sohana Akter. “She uses a lot of songs, clay models and hand movements to help us learn. Her classes are really interesting.”
“It isn't possible to find any difference in quality between her classes and those of our other teachers,” says Nadia Akter, a student of class-IV. “She's a good teacher.”
One of six siblings, five sisters and a brother, Rokeya lost her eyesight at the age of three. It's a disability that runs in the family. Two of her sisters are also blind.
“We consulted a doctor in Dhaka when I was eight years old and my sisters Shekha and Ashia were 10 and six,” recalls Rokeya. “The doctor said our blindness was caused by our parents being cousins and that we would never see again.”
With the help of MA Samad, general secretary of Faridpur Muslim Mission, the three sisters were admitted to the Baptist Church Integrated School in Dhaka's Mirpur 10. There they learnt to read Braille.
Later, Rokeya studied at Mirpur Ideal School and College, completing her Higher School Certificate in 2010. She was admitted to Eden College where, with the help of an appointed scribe, she participated in her exams. Although unable to complete her Bachelor of Arts degree, she joined Tambulkhana School as an assistant teacher in 2012.
“To be honest,” says Shuly Das, also an assistant teacher at the school, “when we first met her we were worried. But from the first day of classes she proved that as a teacher she is meritorious.”
“I often help her,” says another assistant teacher Ruma Bormon. “She calls me if she needs to write something down, though actually she can do almost everything without assistance. We are really happy to have Rokeya as our colleague.”
“A good teacher and a good person,” reflects the school's head teacher Kakoli Saha. “She is very punctual and has an indomitable spirit!”
For Rokeya too, settling into teaching life required some adjustment. “At first I was nervous with my colleagues,” she remembers. “I didn't know anyone. But thanks to their support I am now doing well and enjoying my job.”
In her family Rokeya is not alone in coping well with blindness. Her elder sister Shekha Begum, now 29, is a Master of Arts student in the social science department of Eden College and her younger sister Ashia Akter, now 25, is completing the second year of her Bachelor of Arts programme at Dhaka University's history department. Unlike Rokeya, both are married.
“The only problem I have at work,” reflects Rokeya, “is that the Braille books I need for teaching are very expensive for me and difficult to obtain, since I need to go to Dhaka to get them.”
It's yet another lesson. Rokeya is more-than-ready for teaching. Simple initiatives to increase the availability of Braille texts at affordable prices would make the teaching profession truly ready for her.