<%-- Page Title--%> Weekend Musings <%-- End Page Title--%>

<%-- Volume Number --%> Vol 1 Num 122 <%-- End Volume Number --%>

September 12, 2003

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Reversing the Brain Drain,just for a


Mahfuz Anam

I read something very interesting in last Friday's issue of the International Herald Tribune(September 5,2003) and I thought I should share it with my readers. It is a story of a Ghanaian family who migrated to the United States in the 80s, for the same reasons that so many Bangladeshi families have done so and are doing so even today- to be a part, however marginally, of the 'American Dream" and to provide the best education and future opportunity for their children. They now have two daughters, Najima and Nawaba Bawa.

About three years ago, when Najima and Nawaba were 13 and 11 years respectively, the Bawas decided to send them back home, to a boarding school-Akosombo International School, about 80 kilometres outside Accra, the capital of Ghana. At the outset the two daughters couldn't understand why and felt very angry about the decision. But today, three years later, there is a whole new understanding of that move. What prompted the decision of the Ghanaian parents is what perhaps worries many American parents too, the lifestyle of adolescent American kids.

It all started with falling grades, increasing by unruly behaviour at home and lack of discipline in the overall life style where hanging out with friends and emulating what they did had become more important than anything else including studies. The children of many migrant families were unable to cope with American teenage lifestyle and were falling into a cultural milieu that was harming their growth. The parents' dream of a successful future for their children was being destroyed by the very opportunities being provided to the teenagers. American teens have a degree of freedom, choice and independence that the Bawas felt that their daughters could temporarily, do without. So the decision was to "skip the American Adolescence", send them home for a few years and to bring back the kids to the US for higher studies when they were more mature to handle the multiple opportunities and freedoms that American life offered.

When they arrived at the Ghanaian school the children realised that many African parents were doing the same thing. There are no reliable statistics as to how many African children are a part of this temporary reverse migration but it is now a widely practiced phenomenon among many migrant families from Ghana, Nigeria, Senegal, Kenya, South Africa according to the IHT story.
Questions of culture, tradition, family values and of course the rising ethnic and national pride, lie behind this trend. Three years down the line Najima and Nawaba, now 16 and 14 say that their boarding school experience is giving them a 'new view' of their identity. They have become acquainted with large extended families and are becoming fluent in local languages, customs and tradition. There is far greater awareness of their cultural heritage and greater acceptance of their ethnic and racial background. While they were proud of being Americans, they now felt more at ease with their heritage. The parents feel that they are giving their children a wider choice to choose from than a purely American upbringing would have provided.

About the absence for a few years from US life for these African kids, Professor of African Studies of Howard University,USA, Sulayman Nyang said, "During those tender years when so many African-American children are lost, it is seen as a beneficial absence".

Albouri Ndiaye, 24, a senior at the Michigan State University, recalling his 4 years back home when he was 8, says, "Things you pick up don't seem so important at that time. It is the little things like respect for elders, hospitality and a sense of community. I feel so happy now to have received those values. It gives me a bigger sense of myself."

I reproduce the above from the IHT piece because we know of many migrant Bangladeshi families in the US who are not very happy with the way their children are growing up there. While they are appreciative of many things American, it is the cultural alienation of their adolescent children that worry them most. The influence of mass media, especially violence on television and the general erosion of family discipline and values worry Asian parents. Many South Asian parents are increasingly turning to religion to counter what they consider to be damaging values of the Western, especially American adolescent lifestyle.

I just wonder if Bangladeshi parents in the US would consider doing as so many African-American parents are doing-sending their kids to a more culturally familiar environment for those crucial formative teen years. But for that to happen we must set up good boarding schools back home, with internationally acceptable educational standards so that the students can easily rejoin college education back in the US at the appropriate

I think India and Malaysia have done excellent jobs of setting up good quality boarding schools for young learners. Their higher education also is becoming globally competitive. Sri Lanka was once known for its good quality boarding schools till the civil war destroyed much of it. There are one or two good boarding schools in Nepal too, I understand.

In our case I think we have some excellent examples in Viqarunnesa, Scholastica,Sunbeams, BIT, South Breeze, Aga Khan School, Manarat and some other similar schools. There are few outside Dhaka too. (Please forgive me for my incomplete listing).The International School of Dhaka is a local initiative which has shown unusual vision and taste. None of them are boarding schools though. Can we think about it? I would propose a putting of heads together of some of our most successful educational entrepreneurs, and there are quite a few now.

If we can set up a good quality boarding school then may be Bangladeshi-American parents can send their kids back for a few years as the African-American parents are doing. Can we imagine the cultural and intellectual impact on the children of such an experience? Such exposure will no doubt instil a desire among many young people to return to Bangladesh or be intimately involved with its future. Can we see what a great human resource can thus become available to us for the future development of Bangladesh? In the past few years we have had some excellent examples of quality private Universities being set up. So why can't we set up good boarding schools where children from Bangladeshis living abroad can also send their children?

With questions of culture and language becoming increasingly important to migrant Bangladeshi families, setting up such schools could be of vital importance for reversing the brain drain that has caused us so much damage.



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