Syed Tashfin Chowdhury
Narayanganj, the densely populated district located near the outskirts of Dhaka, has only a handful of schools that can claim to be providing quality education.
The town has its share of private schools, amongst which only a few are English medium. Mount Royal Academy (MRA) is one such school, which has earned a reputation for being a standard educational institution that uses modern teaching methods. Lately, however, the school has had to face uncalled for obstacles in the form of intimidation and public slander.
According to Narayanganj residents and the school authorities, the institution fell prey to a conspiracy devised by local miscreants. "We have been successful in providing the best education to our students ever since the school's inception in 1996 and were always appreciated. But lately, some of our competitors have been spreading baseless rumours about the school, the teachers, the Director and even about me," says Mostofa Iqbal, Chairman, Mount Royal Academy.
MRA follows the Canadian teaching system and Canadian teachers have trained most of the faculty members.
Iqbal points out that MRA is one of the 59 national English medium schools affiliated with the British Council and the school has had a satisfactory list of O' Level results since its first batch of students who took the exams in 2004.
But some local hoodlums in connivance with some of the local schools have been trying to shut down the school since June, allege the school authorities, parents and students.
"Our chairman, Mostofa Iqbal and Sayeda Akhtar, Director General of this school have been receiving threats over the phone since June. The caller was invariably abusive and warned Iqbal and Akhtar that the unthinkable may happen to them, if they do not comply with his demands," says a faculty member of the school.
But as the criminals did not get the response that they were anticipating, they resorted to an even more aggressive approach.
"We started to hear stories about the school which most of us did not really believe," said a student of the school.
Rumours included that the school had not been registered, had excessive tuition fees and that the authority did not regularly pay salaries to their teachers. The chairman was accused of taking money from parents for further construction of the school. These stories were flashed in various local newspapers.
School authorities, however, denied all the allegations.
"Our school has a valid trade license and the registration system for schools was yet to be introduced when we had initiated it," says Iqbal, in defence.
He also points out that the teachers are regularly paid along with special provisions like provident funds, savings programme and family security plans.
"Also there is very little chance of corruption, as the management had appointed a fees collection officer along with a disbursement officer, who look after the overall monetary details," he adds.
Most of the students and guardians have not taken these rumours seriously.
"We knew very well that these were just baseless rumours being spread through some corrupt journalists by a certain group of influential people in this town," says a guardian of the school who wishes to remain anonymous.
But the news stories did raise questions among government authorities. One such person was Md. Amir Hossain, Assistant district commissioner (Education and Development), of Narayanganj, who arranged to meet up with Iqbal on June 30th.
"The official letter from the ADC arrived at my office on June 30th in the morning," says Iqbal.
Meanwhile, an unknown caller, calling himself a staff member of the school, called most of the guardians and announced that there would be a meeting at the school on that very day around the same time that the ADC was to arrive at the school premises.
"Plainly, the criminals wanted to cause some undesirable incident while the ADC's visit which was to tarnish the school's reputation for good," speculates Iqbal while describing the incident.
But Iqbal had already notified the concerned police authorities and they were at the scene in plain civilian clothes.
"There was massive chaos here that day. A crowd of guardians wanted to get into the school but I did not let them in, as the school management had never even announced a meeting on that day," says the guard of the school.
But a few of these so-called guardians got violent and physically assaulted the guard.
Police in civilian clothes came to the guard's help and soon took control of the situation.
Soon after this incident, the ADC arrived at the school premises accompanied by Mizanur Rahman Bachchu, Secretary, Mount Royal Academy Parents Forum and some journalists.
"Rahman never had any of his children studying at our institution but somehow, he was still the Secretary of our parents forum and was the only person to point out the false allegations about our school and its authority to the ADC during the meeting," says Iqbal. The allegations echoed those printed by the local newspapers.
"If we are really guilty of illegal activities, then the concerned authorities have the right to take us to court for these and this notion was implied to the ADC during the meeting that day," says Iqbal.
The meeting continued peacefully in the presence of police and was soon dissolved as none of the allegations could be substantiated.
When contacted, Hossain said that he is no longer involved with the MRA situation.
"The District Education administration are trying to investigate into the matter," says Hossain.
A few days later, the District Commissioner of Narayanganj arranged for another meeting in the presence of school authority members and members from the school's parents' forum at his office.
But neither Rahman nor other members from the parents' forum showed up at this meeting.
"The conspirators had hit rock-bottom and possibly, they no longer have any other means through which they can close down this institution," says Iqbal.
Some guardians allege that Rahman was working for an influential individual who owns another school in the town.
"A case has already been filed in the civil court against the school authority by the parents forum earlier. We are still continuing our investigation into the matter and nothing can be said till its end," said a senior official, under condition of anonymity.
(R) thedailystar.net 2005