The tragic death of a ninth-grade student of the city's Viqarunnisa Noon School & College on Monday appalled and enraged all and sundry.
The tragedy, according to many students and parents of the school, was a case of excesses on the part of the school authority when handling a case of alleged cheating in the annual tests by the 15-year-old girl, who would go on to hang herself in her house after watching her parents being subjected to severe admonishment by the power that be.
The offense of the girl, a student of science group, was that she broke the rules by carrying a cell phone in the exam hall. She was reportedly copying from images of her text book pages which were stored in the cell phone while sitting for the Bangladesh and Global Study exam on Sunday when she was caught and then expelled.
Everything appeared to be guided by the book till that point.
But when she came to school with her parents the next morning with a plea for mercy made to the morning shift-in-charge and then to the principal of the school, it was rejected. Not only that, the request to sit on Monday's examination was also rejected by the principal, who even threatened (if not a veil threat) to give her a TC.
This whole exercise was unbearable for the adolescent girl, who had been under tremendous stress for the last couple of days. She ran off from the principal's room to her home in Shantinagar, which was not far away, shut the door of her beloved room before choosing to take a path of no return.
Did the punishment fit the crime? Was the high-handed approach by the school authority absolutely imperative when the general practice in the very school was to allow the students to sit for the remaining exams irrespective of a pending decision?
Many students and parents believe that the tragedy could have been easily avoided had she been allowed to sit for the next exam. The logic behind it was it could have allowed her to recover from the stress-related anxiety.
But the approach cost a vibrant girl, who was a keen follower of South Korea's famous pop band BST or Bangtan Boys and someone proficient in six languages other than her mother tongue, her life.
This incident also indicates that our teachers are not trained to tackle adolescent offences. They seem to follow the path of strict regimentation when modern education system has absorbed the idea of educating teachers about the stress-related issues of the students.
On the culture of a type of rat race to be at the top prevailing in schools, Dr Mahjabeen Haque, chairperson of the Department of Educational and Counseling Psychology of Dhaka University, said “Children experience cognitive, emotional, social and physical development but it does not happen at the same pace for everyone.
Due to the differences in developmental period, it creates a lot of stress for the children which becomes difficult for them to cope with. This is something that families and educators need to take into consideration but this is something that many don't do.”
When children make mistakes, sometimes they need psychological support to rectify those mistakes, added Mehjabeen, also an associate professor of the department.
She also said that while conducting a pilot project on counseling teachers and students of different renowned schools in Dhaka, they got a good response. However, when the issue of formally starting such a project came up, the top schools, including Viqarunnisa, refused.
Prof Shalahuddin Qusar Biplob, chairman of Psychiatry department of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University, refused to talk about this particular case since he was not fully aware of the details of the incident. But he spoke in general terms regarding the stress-factor of students.
“In our education system, there is no mechanism to identify stress and neutralize it,” he told The Daily Star yesterday.
None of the three major stakeholders -- family, school and administration -- were conscious about a student's stress and its management, he added.
Biplob, also the editor of mental health magazine Moner Khabor, said it was a good sign that discussions on the issues had already started and Dhaka University had recently launched a department in this regard.
Teaching is not just about imparting lessons. Unfortunately, we are focusing on a tunnel vision instead of looking into the boarder picture of education. If we, including teachers and parents, don't change, we run the risk of another tragedy sooner rather than later.