We have a shiny sheen of socio-economic indicators, compared to those of most other South Asian countries—Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen never ceases to mention this. We may also rejoice in staging international events including arranging big cultural rendezvous. But beneath all that glint and in stark contrast to it, three bizarre incidents took place recently revealing an underlay of dross.
We realise that not all small things are beautiful; some can be ugly, too. Contrary to the spirit of the New Year, a doting parent overreacted to his daughter, a student of Class VI, having slightly underperformed at her annual examination. Instead of introspecting he vented out his spleens on her school teacher. Not content with merely giving him a bit of his mind, he beat the teacher up! The father went hysterical only because his daughter came second, and not first, at the exam! This created a furore among the teachers at the Harikandi Government Primary School under Zakiganj Upazila in Sylhet where it all happened.
That academic performance of a ward at the primary level falling by a wee bit can be made an issue of in such a brash manner, is not just a reflection of a weird mindset of an individual, but also of a social trend towards forcing an academic result by foul means.
We often hear of the adverse long-term effect on pupils carrying a huge load of curricula, and to pressurise them to be high achievers - unfailingly - can be stunting in the long run. But to seek top grades for them through coercion is to teach the ward the first lesson in unearned success.
Then we see an incident of role reversal with a questioning parent turning out to be the victim and the teacher/s the perpetrator. This happened on the premises of a pre-cadet school in Cox's Bazar Sadar Thana. According to newspaper reports, a guardian named Ayat Ullah went to the school and asked the headmaster as to why his son, Shahrier Nafis, didn't get A-plus at the promotion test from Class I to Class II. He also wanted to know why the admission and class fees were raised without prior notification. At one stage, an altercation between the parent and the school headmaster ensued. Thereupon the headteacher called upon his colleague at the adjacent high school to come to his aid. But as both of them pushed Ayat Ullah he was thrown off-balance, falling down on the ground. Then, allegedly, the teachers tied him up, hand-and-foot. And, as the newspaper photo showed him lying prostrate, he was reportedly manhandled and even kicked.
Ayat Ullah filed a case against seven persons including the two headteachers along with other teachers in the local thana. Administrative actions were reportedly being taken with the parent having received medical attention sent home. Just see, how out of a petty cause, the intemperate attitudes of socially well-placed people could end up being so riotous!
Finally, you have the story of a desperate appetite for money coming into play from an unexpected quarter in an equally unlikely manner. A news emanating from Comilla informed of an unrelenting blaring from a mike by none other than a headmaster of a school where an admission test for Class VII was going on. The announcement for the parents contained the following oft-repeated message: “Tomorrow at 11 am the results of the admission test will be declared. Do keep Tk 3,000-3,500 handy when you come to the school tomorrow for the admission of your child. And, to the teachers, the instruction is that you have to retain the question papers with you after the examination and a strict vigil so that when students leave the school, they leave without the question papers.”
The headteacher was apparently so possessed by the likely dramatic effect (on the public) of his loud announcements to a targeted audience that he waxed completely insensitive to the disturbance he caused to the examinees by the high decibel sounds he made to din the message home. Well, he was operating on a very low level of personal and professional dignity, so he could have been scarcely bothered about how the admission seekers fared at the test so long as the “fees” came pouring in!
The many critics of the headteacher's not-so-amusing methods couldn't have missed out on his sub-plot not to let go of the question papers to the students lest their parents had a basis to question the decision of the school authority to deny admission to any candidate who otherwise would have merited it!
This not to detract from a positive Bangladesh expanding as something of a quiet revolution but to strengthen, sustain and build up on it by steadfast adherence to a set of values based on the simple principle of social obligations to each other, the fountain-head of social bonding and collective well-being.
Shah Husain Imam is adjunct faculty at the East West University, a commentator on current affairs, and former Associate Editor, The Daily Star.