What would your dream school look like?
When a large group of primary school students was asked this question at a national conference yesterday, they answered spontaneously.
Some said their dream school would be neat and clean with big playgrounds, while others wanted teachers to give them lessons with love and care.
Most of them wished to have more time for play as their school hours are lengthy. They fancied big libraries at schools, multimedia classrooms, adequate sitting arrangement and classes on music, dance and painting.
Primary and Mass Education Ministry organised the daylong conference on "Quality Primary Education" at a city hotel with the participation of more than 250 students, teachers, guardians and education officials from all 64 districts.
At the inaugural session, the speakers identified lengthy school hours, congested sitting arrangement, and lack of teachers and library facilities as the major obstacles to children's learning.
They stressed the need for reducing teacher-student ratio and school hours, arranging extra-curricular activities and ensuring adequate infrastructural facilities at schools.
More teachers on subjects like English and Mathematics have to be appointed at schools and stipends should be provided to students from poor families in cities, said the speakers.
At the plenary session on "Our Dream School and Quality Education We Get", the students unequivocally demanded reduction of school hours.
"Our school hours start at 9:00am and continue till 4:15pm with a tiffin break of just 30 minutes. We don't get any time to play. We cannot concentrate on our studies at home because we get exhausted by the time we reach home," said Nishat Jannat, a class-V student of Panchagarh-2 Government Primary School.
She said school hours should be from 9:00am to 1:00pm.
Manshia Roy Omy, a student of a school in Sylhet, said, "Our dream school would be neat and tidy. And it would have such an environment where we wouldn't feel afraid to ask our teachers to explain something if we don't understand it."
Ridita, a class-V student of Khalishaduli Government Primary School in Chandpur, said some unruly boys often taunt them at school as it doesn't have any boundary wall.
Every primary school should have boundary walls, she added.
Marjan Tasnim, another class-V student of Adarsha Shishu Government Primary School, said the sitting arrangement at her school is congested as three students have to sit on each bench.
"There should be cultural clubs at schools so that we can learn to sing, dance and recite poetry," she said.
Diba Debnath, a student of Palpara Government Primary School in Pirojpur, said, "We don't have any multimedia classroom in our school. If we get the facility, we would be able to easily learn difficult lessons on science.”
Some students complained that their teachers don't take classes properly. They just give some lessons and leave classrooms.
Torifa Nazmina, headteacher at Meherpur's Garadope Government Primary School, said the students of class-I and II shouldn't be taught in the traditional system.
Rasheda K Choudhury, executive director of Campaign for Popular Education, said the issues that the students raised were essential for ensuring quality education.
She called upon the students to practise what they learn at schools.
Abu Alam Mohammad Shahid Khan, former secretary at primary education ministry, said teachers should not only give students lessons at classrooms, but also should inspire them to dream big and help them materialise those.
Akram-Al-Hossain, additional secretary at the ministry, said the government would expand its stipend coverage to 1.30 crore students from 78 lakh from next month.
Sabbir Bin Shams, executive director at the Centre for Research and Information, suggested increasing the number of teachers and giving them managerial responsibilities.
Speaking at the inaugural session, Primary Education Minister Mostafizur Rahman said this sector saw several changes, especially in enrolment and gender parity, but more needs to be done.
"It would be possible to ensure quality education if everyone works proactively," he said.
Motahar Hossain, chairman of the parliamentary standing committee on primary and mass education ministry, Humayun Khalid, secretary of the ministry, and Mohammad Alamgir, director general of the Directorate of Primary Education, among others, spoke.