THE Daily Star printed on March 29 called it outrageous. The primary and mass education minister termed it heinous and barbaric. Perhaps it is worse than how it has been described.
I am referring to the attack by some political thugs on the headmaster, two female teachers and 60 class II and class III students of the Khuniagach Government Primary School in Lalmonirhat on March 28, for not observing hartal on that day. The culprits were carrying sticks, iron rods, sharp weapons and cricket bats — they had also vandalised school properties.
The activists could have requested the headmaster to close the school and send the students home, but then why should they or did they beat the teachers and the students so indiscriminately? Have they no respect for teachers, no mercy for the innocent kids and no consideration for the properties of the school? Since education seems to be of no importance to them, they cannot be regarded as human beings.
It had always been a tradition in the past not to call hartals during the SSC and HSC examinations. This tradition had been violated recently. More than 1.4 million students appearing at the SSC examinations suffered from both mental and physical agonies as their scheduled examinations had been shifted at the last minute; due to hartal.
Over one million HSC examinees are undergoing an anxious period; apprehending that they too may be victims of hartal during their own exams which are to be held this month. They and their guardians have appealed to the 18-party alliance not to call any more hartals in the near future.
The education minister was passionate in his appeal. He requested the political parties not to hold any event which “may harm the students’ education and hinder their academic careers.” He added, “They (students) are our future. If they are not allowed to attend classes and examinations freely, how could we expect a sound future from them?”
A senior leader of the opposition, on the other hand, told The Daily Star that they “would intensify their agitation in April and would not consider any public examination [this] month.” He suggested that the concerned authorities should instead adjust the exam schedules with their programmes.
What a statement from a public leader!
The students are unable to attend classes. Their examinations schedules are being disrupted. There is already a session jam at public universities and the current hartal status will aggravate the session jam even further; setting the students’ careers towards more uncertainty.
Experience has shown that students taking O and A-level courses are required to sit for their examinations at odd hours, often very late at night, during hartals. It is reported that the concerned authorities are contemplating to withdraw all O and A-level examination centres from Bangladesh because of the disruptions due to such nationwide strikes. Imagine the plight of the students if they are required to go to neighbouring countries to sit for O and A-level exams!
Our political leaders do not hesitate to declare the younger generation as our future. So then, is this how we should treat our future generation? What will our future look like if they grow up without education? Is there any substitute for education in this modern world? How can our leaders spoil the careers of our children? Do they not think about the future of their own children?
I remember my father’s concern when, as school students, we had started a non-stop strike starting from February 22, 1952, soon after the martyrdom of some of our language activists in Dhaka. Although he actively supported the language movement, he did not support a continuous abstention from classes. He argued that he had spoiled his own educational career by joining the non-cooperation movement of Mahatma Gandhi when he was studying at Dhaka College. My father is no more, but his warnings against strikes at educational institutions still ring in my ears.
The present hartals are worse than those of the 1950s or 1960s. Having a prolonged hartal was unheard of at the time and no hartal was called during public examinations. Hartals have taken a new and dangerous turn today — standing synonymous to terrorism. We witness explosions of cocktails and hand grenades, arsons, torching of vehicles and vandalism like that of the Khuniagach Government Primary School.
Is it not time to wake up? We cannot afford to silently observe the destruction of our education system. Let good sense prevail among our political leaders. Let us bring some discipline and sanctity to politics and spare education from such strikes. If we fail to do so, the future will be doomed and our children will never forgive us or our present political leaders for our failures.
The writer is a former Chief Engineer of Bangladesh Atomic Energy Commission.