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     Volume 6 Issue 32 | August 17, 2007 |

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News Notes

Ban on Private Tuitions
The education system in Bangladesh has entered a very strange phase where one is still trying to figure out between the 'right' medium of studying, the 'right' history of the country and also the 'right' coaching centre through which students will automatically shine with 'first class' marks.
It all started decades back when weaker students would seek extra help from their schoolteachers so as to understand a concept better. Unfortunately the need for extra help seems to have increased exponentially; private tuition has become a business that has flourished during the later years, to an extent that many teachers began to prefer private tuitions and would even skip classes at school to accommodate the extra students coming from all over. Today, private tuitions and coaching centres are so popular that most students following the British curriculum in Bangladesh, drop out of school in the 9th grade and attend these coaching centres. Not only do they miss out on the pleasure of going to school, most of their lives become monotonous, moving back and forth between one coaching centre to another.
The government is now considering imposing a ban on private coaching or tutoring by school and college teachers. This decision is aimed at fostering a sound teaching atmosphere in educational institutions and access of equally affordable education for all students. It seems that through this decision, the authority is hopeful about coming up with a solution to the many problems lurking around. Most participants during the meetings held last week agreed that teachers' involvement with private tutoring or coaching centres is greatly harming the quality of education and financially disadvantaged students lose out in the process, according to education ministry sources.
However the major problem that many of the teachers, especially in government schools and colleges, face is financial. Many such teachers complain that the salary that they get from these schools is simply not enough to survive in the country. And because these teachers have been trained to teach, they fall back on private tuitions, which play a huge role in running a household.
On the other hand, getting a degree (with distinction marks, first class first, all A's and so on) is the basic requirement in Bangladesh to (in the following order) get married, to get a job with a good salary and to enjoy a proper social standing in many sections of the society even if one doesn't have a job. With a teacher or an institution promising to change a child's life, backed up by colourful, visual promotional ads, one cannot really blame the parents for going for this option.

Taslima's Ordeals Continue
Taslima Nasreen may not have a lot of fans in Bangladesh but when she went to live in India she did not expect such an extreme reaction to her book Shodh ('Revenge') from a mainly moderate Muslim community of Hyderabad.
According to press reports, at a press conference of the Telegu-translated book launch a group of MIM (Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen) activists stormed the dais and started raising slogans against Nasreen. They rained blows on those who tried to shield her.
Of course the debate regarding Taslima's attacks can be seen from two sides. One does not have to agree with her comments, but there is such a thing as freedom of expression and the Muslim world would make lesser enemies if they fought her words with words instead of chairs and according to ndtv.com, "whatever they could lay their hands on". But one must also wonder whilst Mel Gibson was asked to apologise when he made a racist comment against the Jews when he was drunk, anyone writing or drawing cartoons to offend Islam while being completely sober is defended with 'freedom of expression'. Secular? Hardly!
Having said that, Hyderabad's two most widely read Urdu newspapers printed rather alarming headlines on their August 10 issue. The Siasat printed this:
'Gustakh-e-Rasul (one who insults the prophet) Authoress Taslima Nasrin Attacked with Bouquets of Flowers - An Observance of What the Shari'at Commands or Merely a Political Ruse?'. The Munsif came out with these three headings - 'An Attempt to Attack the Gustakh-e-Rasul and "Notorious in Time" Taslima Nasrin', 'The Bangladeshi Authoress Didn't Get Even a Scratch' and 'People say: The confused author should have been taught a severe lesson.'

We Must Act Now
There is no doubt now that we have been lackadaisical in sending relief at the quickest possible time. Newspapers everyday tell us the stories of helpless victims of flood waiting for relief, often being turned away after waiting for hours. Then there are the terrible headlines of how hundreds are being admitted into ICCDR'B with diarrhoea and other diseases. According to a news report about a week ago, at least 323 people have died because of the floods since July 30. Out of them 292 drowned, 20 died of snakebites and seven from respiratory tract infections. At least 35,000 people contracted diarrhoea and several have died. There is no reason to believe that these numbers have not already increased by the time this publication goes to print.
The caretaker government has assured us that they are on top of this humungous task, that there is no reason to panic. At the same time the chief advisor has appealed to the people to come forward to come to the aid of the helpless flood victims. The ban on using banners by political parties while giving relief certainly put a damper on the enthusiasm of political party leaders who cash in on the media publicity such relief efforts usually come along with. Finally however, both AL and BNP have begun their relief operations full swing although BNP Secretary General Mannan Bhuiyan's comment that they (the BNP) have the organisational skills to carry out relief efforts efficiently was rather crass. He seems to have forgotten that only a very short while ago newspapers were filled with stories about how former BNP MPs have stashed away relief goods including food, clothes and even corrugated tins in their homes. At the same time help, from any place whether it is from political parties, the government, NGO community, the private sector or from individuals' every bit of it is needed.
The number of deaths and severely ill people in this year's floods is unacceptable and reflects the gross negligence of a nation that experiences this natural phenomenon every single year. We knew they were coming. We knew that people would be stranded for days and without food, that their tube-wells would be inundated, that they would not have clean drinking water, that there would be epidemics of diarrhoea, that children would drown. The question is why didn't we act faster?
At this point it may seem redundant for such self-recrimination when so many lives have already been lost. But it may jolt us from our stupor and make us act right now and help in any way possible. For those on the brink of death, every second counts.

Taxing the Parents

The government's decision to slap a 4.5 per cent Value Added Tax on English Medium Students is disappointing. It is the parents, a majority of whom come from the middle class, who are bearing the brunt of the VAT. It is indeed the failure of the traditional board education that has been a major reason for a sheer growth in English Medium education. Leakage of question papers of public exams and incidents of corruption in public schools and colleges have left the parents with no other option but sending their children to private schools. And as the British High Commissioner has said in the last Daily Star Award giving programme, Bangladeshi students are doing remarkably well in O and A Levels, which proves that Bangladeshis, if given enough opportunity, can do well in every walk of life. Bangladeshi English Medium students' results have remained remarkable: In Maths our children have been scoring highest marks in the world in the last couple of years; and in both English Language and Literature Bangladeshi students have scored outstanding marks. Imposition of VAT on this sector will shoo potential middle and lower middle class students away from quality English Medium education. This tax should be immediately withdrawn; the sooner the government does it the better.
Another point must be stressed here. Our entire education system must go through a major overhaul. Lack of government monitoring has turned public schools and colleges into a bastion of corruption and nepotism. Most of the teachers in these schools are ill-paid, and, worst still, some are not paid at all. If we want to establish a prosperous developed country we need an all-out effort to give our children a better education. A strong presence of the government is needed here, but, at the same time, it must encourage private entrepreneurs in this sector.

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