Education is a serious victim of current political conflicts. How to restore congenial atmosphere for education?

A kid along with his parents joins a protest in front of National Press Club in Dhaka on Saturday against burning kids, calling for an end to politics of violence and resolving crisis through discussion.— Ali Hossain Mintu

A kid along with his parents joins a protest in front of National Press Club in Dhaka on Saturday against burning kids, calling for an end to politics of violence and resolving crisis through discussion.— Ali Hossain Mintu

I have been coming to Bangladesh to visit friends ever since 1999, when I joined the British Council in Dhaka. Throughout my five years with the organisation, living in both the capital and in Chittagong, and ever since, for that matter, school students and teachers have suffered the consequences of hartals through inadequate preparation for exams, cancellation of co-curricular activities, like long-awaited matches and cultural events rehearsed again and again, and, most importantly through a loss of hope for their land’s political system. It is a wonder that at my new school, I still find so many committed staff and enthusiastic students, unbowed by the latest bout of hartals which have, yet again, closed our schools.
It is high time that education was made a taboo area for political strife so that our students can grow up with some confidence in the goodwill of their nation’s leaders. It is high time that generations-old rivalries were no longer cherished above the futures of the young. It is high time that schools were declared a no-go zone for those seeking to disrupt the educational aims of this country.
Mark Bartholomew
Head of School
Oxford International School, Dhaka

***
01Yesterday, while I was busy with work, my son, a boy of class six, addressed me over phone in a stirring voice, ‘Baba, when will I be able to go to school? You used to advise that today’s kids are the future of the nation. What care are you seniors taking? Why are the rights of the school going kids ignored?’ Speaking eloquently he took a pause and then in a calmer voice provided a brief description of contemporary hartals and blockades; causes and remedial measures. I became surprised at the analytical capability of a little boy. He found the roots of the problem and also the remedial measures, of course, in his own way. He strongly believes that the conflict will be resolved and he will be able to go to school.
I laughed silently from a long distance and moaned, ‘the resolution of the problem is not so easy. It will take time. The roots of the problem are deep inside our anthropologic inheritances which are being carried through our bloodstream and philosophy. We need to re-profile the whole nation, which is difficult and time-consuming. It comes through national education and self-esteem of individuals. If not, through devastation and bloodshed.’
Out of curiosity I asked my son for the solution that he was thinking of. He replied, ‘we need to revive love; love for the nation. We need to revive, stabilise and intensify it in our hearts, bloodstream and philosophy spread it amongst people. Only love can stop conflicts and solve the problem: love for each other, democracy, nationalism, humanity and of course, for the national constitution. We are lacking love. We used to claim that we possess love for the country, but we do not. That’s why we could not find any solution and the degree of instability is rising day-by-day. The scholars, business leaders, writers, journalists and reputed senior citizens who are worried about the conflicts should utilise this practice of love.’
He took a pause and asked, ‘do you think these nuisances will be stopped?’ I replied, ‘yes, it has already been stopped. There is no problem. The country is moving on the right track. Everything is normal. Don’t worry. The conflict is over. You can go to school.’
He became very violent, ‘what nonsense are you saying? Have you gone mad? Don’t you go through the newspapers or watch TV? They are throwing petrol bombs here and there, burning buses, tracks and taxies – killing drivers, passengers, and passersby every now and then. Is it a normal situation? Is it favourable for going to school?’
I could not reply instantly and remained silent. He continued, ‘burning human beings is a brutal job. In normal social environment it can never persist. Mom suggested me to study at home’. I got the chance to reply, ‘she gave you the right suggestion. Some great men of the nation like Rabindranath and Nazrul studied at home rather than at school. We made the situation favourable for you. It’s a chance. So, don’t worry, my son, take the lucky chance.’
The memory of my son’s remark ‘have you gone mad?’ made me a little depressed. Have I become mad? Have the seniors of the country become mad?
I was tired of work and went to my house in the evening. My family members were not here as they live outside of Dhaka. So my usual duty is preparing dinner, saying my prayer, reading books, making phone calls to family members, watching TV and preparing for sleep. After finishing my routine work, I switched on the TV. Instantaneously, a gust of pathetic echoes shocked me. Wives, children and parents are crying for their husbands, fathers and sons who have been burnt by petrol bombs. Their cries came out of the TV screen and filled the house. I switched channels; cries of the same sort overwhelmed me again. I switched off the TV.
A kind of pain and anger deep inside, overcame me. It seemed that the smell of human flesh-burning was spreading around. I prayed to the Almighty, ‘please, stop the conflicts and make the country peaceful so that children can go to school.
Md Aktar Hossain
Engineer

***
Since January 5 of this year, Bangladesh has been going through a period of serious uncertainty with no indication of it subsiding. The education sector is a major victim of this political unrest. From top to bottom, classes and exams are being disrupted and in many cases educational institutions are being closed all together. Students at all levels are bearing the brunt of irregular classes. Even, public examinations are being affected – several examinations have already been deferred, leading to anxiety and confusion among the present examinees.
Besides all of this, irregular class schedules are affecting the day to day lives of students at all levels. Although the Dhaka University authorities recently made a decision to schedule classes and examinations at certain times, in many departments this cannot be fully implemented. The same scenario applies to all levels of education – mentally affecting the students negatively.
The education system of our country is breaking down due to the hartal and blockades being declared by the BNP led alliance. Deadly violence is occurring almost everywhere in the country. The full force of negative impacts will only be seen after more time passes. The future of Bangladesh lies in the hands of our younger generation, who we aspire, will lead our country to greater things in different fields. But if they are prevented from receiving proper education as well as cultural accomplishments through academic and co-curricular activities, they cannot advance and fulfil their potential.
At present, it is more important to solve this political unrest and find the necessary solution. To me, it seems peace and solution is not possible without dialogue. For this, the major parties cannot remain adamant to all their conditions. Therefore, both parties must get out of their hostility for the sake peace and protecting this country. Thus, they should urgently sit for dialogue. If they fail to take proper initiatives in solving the current crisis, then the country will continue to suffer from uncertainties, which will in turn continue to hamper education for all.
Motasim Billah
Student of Mass Communication and Journalism
University of Dhaka, Dhaka

***
I wonder if there is any nation in the world that uses its industry, economic prospects and education system as a weapon to keep a movements going like Bangladesh. I believe it is impossible. When a country’s political conflicts become destructive, utter ruination of its education system becomes inevitable. When there is no security of human lives in a country, education of that country also plunges into uncertainty.
Why should people say that our current education system is on the brink of collapse due to political instability and conflict? During different ages and regimes of this land, education system bore the brunt of whims of politics and was actually on the brink of
collapse. I believe leaking of question papers in different examinations including university admission tests is much more threatening than the delay of any examination for two months. Did corruption in the education system stop when there was political stability?
On the basis of what has been discussed, it is clear that the political conflicts have undermined our education. Political crisis needs to be resolved through discussions. Without solving the political crisis, any attempt at exorcising the spectre of education will be a far-fetched idea. It is our request to all the political parties of Bangladesh to indulge in politics without using the teachers, students and educational institutions as a political weapon.
Let us pray to Allah to lift the country from the existing political crisis so that Bangladesh can emerge as a developed country with a truly educated class.
Radif Rabbani
Student, Department of Law
University of Dhaka, Dhaka

***
The pass rate in public examinations is increasing day by day. However, the pass rate in public university admission tests has been on the decline, dramatically. Where is the problem? Are the university authorities the main culprits? Obliviously not! Our education system is the victim of mad politics. Every ruling part wants to show their contribution in the education sector by increasing the pass rate in public examinations.
They influence teachers to be injudicious while examining the answer sheets. The government is well aware of all the problems associated with question paper leaking. However, they are not taking the necessary steps. I believe government officials are incompetent and incapable of performing their assigned duties. The education minister wants to block Facebook in order to prevent leakage of question papers. That is a ridiculous idea. The problem is, we are teaching students how to cheat but not how to learn. The day before a public examination, one of my roommates was leaking the question paper to his niece. I asked him why he was doing that. He said, ‘everyone is getting the question paper beforehand. If I want to be honest and not leak the question paper to my niece, I will be depriving him.’ Later, I thought he was right. While the government helps to leak the questions themselves, they are trying to ban Facebook to stop question paper leakage? It is a misconception that getting an A+ means you are educated. If you get an A+ by cheating it does not mean you are educated. Being educated has to do with learning not cheating. I hope the government will stop taking advantage of our children selfishly and will work towards educating them in reality.
Md Sumon Mia
Management Information Systems
University of Dhaka, Dhaka

***
From the birth of Bangladesh in 1971, political conflict always has been intertwined with the history Bangladesh. Even now, political turmoil is consuming our country which has been terrific in recent times. The present political conflict gave rise with the opposition party demanding elections under a ‘caretaker government’. Meanwhile, the ruling AL party held the parliamentary election in January 2014, even though most opposition parties refused to participate in it.
After a year, the subsequent origin of the current conflict was based on the decision by the AL government to barricade the opposition party leader, Khaleda Zia, in her Gulshan office and the police’s refusal to allow BNP to hold public meetings in Dhaka. Thus, the conflict is continuing as the opposition alliance has called for non-stop blockades and hartals. The consequences of this political instability are multi-dimensional – such as, economic, political, social, educational, etc.
Noticeably, the education system has been badly affected by the current political unrest. It is often said that education is the backbone of a nation. The more developed countries usually consist of a more educated population. Unfortunately, at present, it seems education has been set as the main target of the political turmoil. The quality of our education system is often questioned by scholars and intellectuals alike. Moreover, the present political conflict has worsened the already miserable situation. Generally, political conflicts have two kinds of impact on the education system – short and long term impacts.
In the short term, we see the schools, colleges, universities and other educational institutions being closed. In recent times, the Secondary School Certificate examinations have been postponed over and over again, starting at the beginning of February. Besides, regular classes and examinations have been seriously hampered. Unfortunately, at times, students have been made victims of cocktails, petrol bombs and picketing. Our political leaders are also using school children for political gains and purposes such as making them stand in human chains, etc. Thus, the entire education system has fallen apart for the sake of this political conflict.
Students and guardians are deeply concerned with their educational future. This crisis, also, is having a negative impact on the psyche of the students. They are afraid of impending hartals and blockades, etc and this is creating a negative image of politics in their minds. Clearly, this is a deprivation of one of the basic rights of all citizens of this country, as per our constitution. Furthermore, the government is paying a huge amount of money as payment to teachers, staffs, officers, etc of the educational institutions, while they are passing their time idly. This amount cannot be measured in economic terms.
On the other hand, in the long run, we see the government is failing to take any long term educational plan. The future of millions of students is becoming precarious. The academic years are being elongated as they are facing semester or year losses, for the sake of politics. In many cases, students are finishing their graduation and post graduation after they have already passed the age requirement for government positions. The governing sectors may also face a shortage of brilliant minds due to this. This will have an adverse impact on other sectors as well.
Therefore, it is high time for this political conflict resolved without any hesitation or delay. The political parties should withdraw hartals, blockades, etc immediately with these issues in mind. As the current crisis was created over the question of a legitimate parliamentary election, all the parties should sit for dialogue and come to a peaceful solution. They should ensure a free, fair and credible election with the participation of all parties. It is essential to ensure a working democracy where the democratic institutions are free and strong. Besides, fair and independent judiciary and participatory parliament are prerequisites for an active democracy – which can ensure a congenial atmosphere for education to thrive. The present situation cannot be overcome overnight. Without these issues being resolved, our future will be riddled with even more problems. Thus, this problem should be resolved immediately – peacefully. Otherwise, it will be too late – because of which we will all have to pay a huge price. We hope the political parties will take proper responsibilities in restoring peace in Bangladesh and help create a suitable atmosphere for education to blossom.
Naim Ebna Rahman
Development Studies
University of Dhaka, Dhaka

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