Schools must teach more than academic syllabus | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, January 11, 2021 / LAST MODIFIED: 02:20 PM, January 11, 2021

Schools must teach more than academic syllabus

A schoolgirl’s rape and murder highlights the inadequacies of conventional education

The recent rape and consequent death of a school-going, 17-year-old girl fills one with rage and helplessness.

Initially there were conflicting reports in the media and it was uncertain if she was raped by one or multiple boys—her alleged boyfriend, Iftekhar Fardin Dihan (who has confessed to the crime) and three of his friends who were later released by police. The head of the forensic department at Dhaka Medical College has confirmed that the student was raped and died of haemorrhagic shock and excessive bleeding due to injuries to the private parts. The accused, according to reports, has passed his A levels recently. 

What does this tell us about the education that such boys from relatively privileged backgrounds receive? Is there something missing in it that has caused this young man to commit such a horrible crime? The education system, in my opinion, is a failure. What is the point of educating our sons in the sciences, mathematics, social studies, languages, and arts if they cannot develop a conscience and if they cannot develop a sense of empathy?

My thoughts are inspired by the following words of Abdu'l-Baha, son of Baha'u'llah (founder of the Baha'i Faith): "Training in morals and good conduct is far more important than book learning. A child that is cleanly, agreeable, of good character, well-behaved—even though he be ignorant—is preferable to a child that is rude, unwashed, ill-natured, and yet becoming deeply versed in all the sciences and arts. The reason for this is that the child who conducts himself well, even though he be ignorant, is of benefit to others, while an ill-natured, ill-behaved child is corrupted and harmful to others, even though he be learned. If, however, the child be trained to be both learned and good, the result is light upon light" (Selections from the Writings of Abdu'l-Baha, pg. 135).

Some may argue that schools are supposed to teach academic subjects while morals are supposed to be taught at home. Well, of course. However, let us take the following points into consideration: i) Children spend about one-third of their time at school. ii) Some children are raised by maids/nannies because both their parents are career-driven or need to work for being able to bring food to the table. iii) Some children come from broken families and may be raised by a single working parent who may not have the time or the energy for the proper upbringing of a child.

Doesn't it make sense then, to have moral education classes at school, even if it is for a small part of each day? I am not referring to religious studies here. Secular moral education is for all, irrespective of which religion one belongs to. And such moral education classes should include carefully planned lessons on how to develop empathy, which is what rapists are devoid of. While discussing the subject with my partner, I was asked: How do you teach a child to be empathetic? I did not and do not have a solid answer to that. But maybe the educator could share stories with them, ask them to do artwork, teach them songs, do a little skit with them, play a cooperative game with them, get involved in a community service project together—all on the subject of empathy?

The course materials of such classes should be developed and taught by highly trained educators (not the religious clergy) and this should not be seen as just another job that pays, but rather, as a job that helps to build upright characters, a job that helps teach humans to be just that—humans and a job that helps instil compassion, kindness, honesty, trustworthiness, love, tolerance, justice and other such noble characteristics.

I am not implying that moral education classes will completely obliterate the existence of rapists. Another simultaneous plan of action would be to introduce special courses at every school, in every hamlet, village, town, and city across the nation that will teach children the difference between "the right touch" and "the wrong touch", how to say no to the latter, the concept of consent, etc.

Rapists will thrive and will continue to rape even if convicted rapists are hanged. After all, don't we have new cases of murder every day, despite the capital punishment for murderers? Capital punishment will never be a permanent solution even if it may provide justice to some victims. Legal loopholes and influence, moreover, may allow rapists to go scot free. The rapist mentality will remain in the minds of potential rapists unless children are nurtured to be like strong, upright trees, and not crooked ones.


Noora Shamsi Bahar is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of English & Modern Languages at North South University.

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