By Raisa Rafique
THE year 2009 started off with an ominous atmosphere of tension and anxiety for the Bangla medium students of the country. As per the education board's decision, from this year on the SSC and all secondary level exams were to be held following a brand new education procedure-the structural aka Srijonshil examination system.
It all began with a project worth 510 crore takas in 1999. The Secondary Education Sector Improvement Project (SESIP), funded 70 percent by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and 30 percent by the then government, started its golden voyage with clear-set goals: initiation of one-way education system, application of school-based assessment (SBA), handing over text-book publication tasks to non-government sectors, and, in continuation of these three, the ultimate reformation of the secondary exam system.
Sadly, as is with many worthwhile projects in Bangladesh, the SESIP failed in its very first attempt the proposed one-way education system and its hasty launching scheme in 2006 met with countrywide unanimous protests and finally postponed. The textbook goal also remained unresolved for a long time. The only apparent 'development' the project did undergo was a funding of another 794 crore taka and a new abbreviation of a name, SESDP.
The final straw of this much-hyped project was the aforementioned structure-based exam system, which, once again, faced mass criticism and was postponed. Later it was renamed as the Srijonshil education system and, this time along with textbooks with necessary changes, was decided to be applied experimentally in only two subjects for this year's SSC exams and on a larger basis afterwards.
Since 1999, there has been much talk on the issue due to its serious nature. Tea-table debates to parliamentary arguments, this project has seen it all. However, the most important question that needs to be answered is how much it affects our students, as it is for 'their' betterment that the government claims they're going through all this trouble.
The motive of this initiative is, no doubt, beneficial. Even the much-despised one-way education scheme, in its origin, had the revolutionary goal of upgrading the level of Bangla medium and Madrasah system to that of the English medium's, thereby unifying the whole of Bangladesh's education standard to achieve international acknowledgment.
The Srijonshil system on the other hand, as its name implies, was formulated to encourage creative learning instead of the much-practised memorising tendency of the Bangla-medium students. Under this system students will be tested on levels of knowledge, understanding, application and higher efficiency, each having separate segments (Ka, Kha, Ga, Gha) and marks range of 1,2,3,4 respectively. A brand new system, never-heard-of-before method and confusion even among the teachers, it's no wonder why, when asked to talk, the students expressed mixed feelings.
Israt Ara, a class ten student of Viqarunnisa Noon School, said, “It's a good thing in a way now that there's no need to memorise subjects like Bangla and Social studies, which is a GREAT relief. I mean students who understand the subject matter and have gone through the book at least once can easily ace the exams because questions are set in that way. However I still think it would've been better if they started these experimental methods from younger levels instead of shoving them on us who are only a year away from our first public exam.”
The same opinion was echoed by Brotee Das Datta of class seven, “Yes, the first introduction to this system was rather scary. Teachers themselves didn't understand it well and we felt really lost. But gradually things simmered down and at the end of the day I think it's a good way of finding out who really has brains and who simply memorises stuff, which is why the average students are mostly against it, I think. But they'll get used to it.”
Speaking of which, the Bangla medium students do include the average young people countrywide, especially the remote rural areas. If trained teachers do not successfully explain the whole system to them there's really no point of it all.
As it was impossible to train about 2.5 lakh teachers in only six months (due to the hurried launching schemes), the government decided on short 2-day trainings for six teachers from each of the 18,500 secondary schools all over the country. But in the face of the vast sphere of challenge the situation presents us with, doesn't a mere 2-day training seem laughably inadequate?
As a result teachers, who are themselves confused, are confusing the students even more and therefore giving rise to another new (in fact, old) problem: coaching centre boom. A very important aim of the new system was expanding the students' horizon of knowledge so that dependency on guidebooks and coaching centres would decrease. But ironically the exact opposite has happened, with panicked students rushing for God-knows-what number of coaching of the same subject to coaching centres with vibrantly coloured sign-boards that declare: “Ekhane 'Srijonshil' Coaching Korano Hoy”.
Hosne Ara, a concerned guardian, complains, “The teachers are themselves confused about the way a question should be answered in the new system. If one of them approves of an answer a student has written, another teacher of the same subject disapproves and crosses it out. Therefore, students don't know what to write and they panic. Coaching centres take advantage of this very situation.”
The Obhibhabok Shomonnoy committee- Bangladesh pointed out in their April 2009 press conference that most teachers are personally against the system but don't dare oppose it in public for the sake of their careers and institutions. Very few of those who support it try to help the students sincerely. The rest, however, only aim for commercial gains.
The committee also complained that this system gives the students excuses of slacking off. Iftekhar Iftee, a concerned individual, commented, “I support the system 100 percent but also think that insincere students will get more chances of slacking off now that extensive memorising is not needed.” while Tasnim Khan, an ex-English medium student countered, “But that's the way studying should be! It's about 'understanding' the subject. I don't understand the Bangla medium system of memorising like an idiot. When I went to take the government medical entrance exam the coaching instructor asked me to memorise a whole chart of chemical boiling points/melting points. I mean why does a medical student need that?”
However, Riyasat Galib, an SSC candidate this year from Govt. Laboratory School, said the most important thing of all, “The system is good, ok. The SBA system of doing group-works and assignments like the English-medium students is also good, right. But what do I care? I'm taking the very first public exam of my life and I am terrified out of my wits. There is no guideline, no question format, no previous year sample questions to get any idea from, no nothing! Teachers copy off questions from higher-level books or commercial guides is that called being 'creative'? I say train the teachers first, then come talk to us about this Srijonshil nonsense….”
Yes, I think we can conclude with that. However much there may be the talk of equalising all standards and cutting down the A+ stream, it'll always be the students who suffer from any decision the government takes without long-term planning and sincere insight.
The Srijonshil system has the potential to eventually become a success with time. However, mismanagement and lack of skilled teachers pose threats of ruining the brilliant scheme, shoving all efforts down the drain in the process.