Switching Schools | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, February 11, 2021 / LAST MODIFIED: 08:14 PM, February 12, 2021


Switching Schools

In a classroom, everyone has their own niche; designated seats, exclusive cliques, marked best friends, teacher’s loyal army of pets and possessive class ranks. And then there’s the newcomer who everyone eyes as an invasive species, a threat to the status quo. They are here to start anew. But everything meant to pull them through is labelled as taken. How would they survive, let alone thrive?

There is a frenzy of feelings that goes behind picking the next school. The vast majority of which is the parents' job to deal with. But you can only tell so much from an outsider's point of view. Moving from one school to another is comparable to uprooting one's life and sowing the remains in untrodden ground that is yet to prove its fertility.

While switching schools is necessary for many reasons, it does come with its bittersweet moments and deathless challenges. Moving schools means loss of old friendships, and strife in upkeeping the ones that survive the split followed by the cruel adaptation to a new life.

There are a myriad reasons that lead parents to change schools. Better quality of education, financial restraints, house relocation, school reputation, choice of curriculum, accommodation for special needs and so on.

For Nadim*, 12, now a fifth grader with special needs, changing schools was an experience mostly out of his control. He transferred from a top English medium school in Dhaka to a less-renowned school of the same curriculum, since academics was not his forte and the old school was being a financial burden. However, it was not until he began studying in his new school that he started to show signs of being on the spectrum.

"My parents did not look for a specialised school as we noticed his symptoms much later, when he was in second grade and had to repeat that year," Nabila*, his older sister, adds.

Sisters Azwa Al Islam, 16, and Awana Al Islam, 14, have spent most of their lives moving across different schools like ships passing through ports. Azwa has changed schools five times, while Awana has gone through the same experience thrice, each time for different reasons. "My first school had to shut down temporarily due to unavoidable circumstances. Even after it reopened, my parents deemed it was no longer safe for me to attend there. They tried to transfer my sister and I to our current schools, but at that time there were no seats available in our respective classes. So, for the time being, we had to transfer to a smaller school before finally settling into the school we are in now," explains Azwa.  

The struggles essentially begin with social life. It is natural to feel like a fish out of water. It is a time in life where newcomers are especially pressurised to make new friends all the while feeling intimidated, nervous or shy. Then there is the added trouble of recalling names and matching faces to said names. And, sometimes they all just look the same. You don't want to call someone by the name of a person they hate. Or worse, ask them where they are.

Unfortunately, changing schools for Nadim has been unpleasant for the most part. According to Nabila, although his former school was unaware of his situation, the teachers were more caring unlike the ones in his current school, where he receives no accommodation for his needs.

"They don't care that Nadim needs special care for learning, even after we showed reports supporting the fact," Nabila vents, "I think he's even bullied by both his teachers and classmates for not being a good student. But he has too much pride or is very shy to tell us about it. On top of that, he's also antisocial."

As seen in Nadim's case, as you transfer from one school to another, you witness changes in student culture and camaraderie. You receive an unjustifiable amount of attention and unnecessary judgement. Azwa recalls the time when a few students made fun of her poor Bangla at one of her schools.

Finding your way on the campus is nothing compared to dodging unsolicited advice from your new classmates. They will tell you who to be friends with and who to watch out for, with no substantial explanation. And you ask yourself how trustworthy is this kind soul who may or may not have hidden motives.

However, not everyone's experience is the same. Awana says, "Making friends in my second school was easy. It was in my third school where I realised how introverted I am. I hung out with two or three girls. And now, at present, I have friends who feel like family to me."

Oftentimes, switching schools means losing a year which adds to the growing anxiety. And if you are lucky, you skip a class. But this comes at a cost. Getting on the same page as your peers is no piece of cake, especially if you have made the bold decision of changing the curriculum.

Marshad Mostafa, 17, who has shifted from British curriculum under Cambridge to the national curriculum, found Mathematics being "very different" compared to what he had learned and Bangla being taught "at a much more advanced stage". However, according to him, acing the new curriculum comes with "a lot of practice, patience and time".

It is especially harder when you have moved to Bangladesh from a different country altogether. Marshad transferred from a school in the Middle East when he was in seventh grade. He says that he has had bouts of sickness before adjusting to the country's weather.

It is mind-boggling how differently various British curricula work. Azwa says, "Switching from Edexcel to Cambridge in Grade 8 was most likely one of the worst decisions I've made." She adds that the books and question papers were entirely different and that she struggled with Bangla owing to a completely foreign syllabus. Nevertheless, like Marshad, she persevered with copious amounts of practice. On the other hand, Awana, who also made the same switch, says, "I did not see any difference. Maybe it's because I switched earlier, when I was in Grade 5."

Changing schools is no easy feat in itself. Most students are thrown into this battle headfirst, with no prior knowledge or advice to lean back on. If you're someone who is biting your nails at the thought of changing schools, don't fret.

It's easy to disappear in a crowd by going with the flow of your new school, but it's far more important to stay true to yourself. Eventually, you'll find people with similar interests as yours, and your new school will feel less foreign. Speaking of your new school, try not to compare it to your old one, because chances are you'll pay more attention to its faults than its merits.

If you're reading this and are about to switch schools, best of luck!

*Names have been changed to protect privacy.

Hiya loves food that you hate by norm – broccoli, pineapple pizza and Bounty bars. Find her at hiyaislam.11@gmail.com

Adhora Ahmed tries to make her two cats befriend each other, but in vain. Tell her to give up at adhora.ahmed@gmail.com

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