Making Ekushey meaningful to the young
Nazma Yeasmeen Haque
In Bangladesh, the education scene in general has undergone a sea change for more than a decade in terms of a multiplicity of factors. One most potent sign of it has been moulding education as a tool for technical or professional training for entering job markets that demand specific skills. Here the keyword 'skill' has been much narrowed down to a set pattern of mental functioning in keeping with the requirements of a fast moving technological world.
A student in such circumstances will look for ways to maximise his skills in the very modern sense of the educational jargon before he prepares himself for learning subjects for life that will tell him about his identity, human race, civilization, man's struggle in achieving a certain goal, ethical norms that were and are still desirable in human society, the pains undertaken in pursuit of preserving one's existence, etc., for the learning of which not mere technical know-how but higher levels of skill will be necessary. These a youngster can learn by studying subjects that can be subsumed under liberal arts. A broad base of his educational pyramid can thus be laid to pave the way for further education. With a disproportionate incursion of technical and/or professional education, liberal arts has had a backseat for a considerable period of time.
Young students, their parents and guardians think that studying, for instance, a subject like history is largely wasting time. This writer has firsthand experience of encountering parents way back in the early '90s as to why we teach history in class VIII when we should have offered some other useful subjects instead. The message was received in a state of shock, revealing to us the magnitude of socio-cultural changes that had already engulfed our thought. Since no sane person would give in to such an irrational demand, the struggle still goes on. Therefore, if a young student would not know or care to know about an historical event of one's own country like Ekushey, the onus is on us, the teachers, school authorities, families and peer groups to do some soul-searching and go back to re-discovering the ultimate aim of education as enunciated by great minds over the ages.
Talking about the role of schools, one should note that the philosophy of education and attitude as held by the authorities is of utmost importance. If some authorities would not believe in the meaning and purposes underlying such monumental events of a national scale, they will naturally be reluctant to disseminate such facts to students in their stewardship. Indeed, the wrong messages might be given to the taught as has been the case centering on our war of liberation. That history is still willfully distorted even by many who themselves were eyewitnesses to this macabre turn of history eventually leading to the achievement of our political goal.
The same can be said about teachers. They must have, first of all, an interest in imbuing the children with a true sense of patriotism and have knowledge enough to impart as much as is needed for making them understand the history, events and consequences of 21 February 1952. Children should be led to grasp the import of this occasion by encouraging them to read books, newspapers and, most of all, by asking questions on the given subject. Getting feedback from the youngsters must be such that further lessons on both national and international events of historical significance can be built on those according to the age-groups of the youngsters. Thus their ability to analyze as well as synthesize will be brought into play, to be honed as they mature. Igniting curiosity in the young minds should be the motto behind teaching school subjects, which is why we need teachers of sterling qualities who themselves will enjoy imparting knowledge and experience to the youngsters as a stimulation rather than a drudgery. Such teachers will certainly know why we teach Ekushey and how to teach it with all its authenticity dating back to 1948 and maybe some earlier years. For the very young learners, a storytelling method might be applied; for all learners, plays both in Bangla and English can be staged in schools. Certain misconceptions about Ekushey are to be dispelled from the minds of the young learners at school.
They must know with certainty that the struggle and sacrifice of our students and members of the public was to establish Bangla, our mother tongue, as one of the state languages and there was nothing against the use of English and as a matter of fact neither was there anything against Urdu as a language. It was rather against imposing Urdu on Bengalees of the then East Pakistan and planning to make it the only state language which was the crux of the conflict. Young students must also be made to realize that Ekushey is not an occasion for festivity unlike that of welcoming our very own new year or the first day of spring or winter. Rather it is a time for reckoning with our identity -- an act that has brought recognition not only to Bangla but also to all mother languages all over the world, making 21 February International Mother Language Day as declared by UNESCO.
It is felt that if lessons gleaned from Ekushey are taught in their correct perspective to the youngsters, they must be able to internalize them, retain them and marvel at the spectacular achievement of their own people. The highest regard that our young students can give to our language martyrs is by taking a vow to learn Bangla the correct way, including spellings of words as determined by the Bangla Academy. As teachers, we would not only be telling them the background, sequence of events and significance of Ekushey in its historical perspective but also be relating to them stories about the living legends of Ekushey. In this regard, we would require our youngsters to spot Bhasha Sainik Abdul Matin Road in the city.
Dr. Nazma Yeasmeen Haque is an educationist.
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