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     Volume 6 Issue 5 | February 9, 2007 |

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Cover Story

The Blame Game

Nader Rahman

“If the schools paid attention to their students, extra teachers would not be necessary. But the truth is all they look for is profit, they forget that we (the parents) trust them with our children's futures.” says Runa Mostafa (not her real name) as her child enters one of Dhaka's most prestigious Bangla Medium schools. She is not the only one who thinks so, beside her umpteen mothers join the chorus. Mostafa points wistfully at the school that houses her children and says “Bangla medium schools are the worst, the teachers don't care about their students and classes are so full that kids who sit in the back are out of touch with what is being taught.”

Most English medium schools have an average of 30-35 students per class but they are much less cramped than classrooms in Bangla Medium schools

For the most part parents agree with Runa Mostafa's stance, they claim that it is only because children are not taught properly in school, that they are forced to send their children to innumerable private teachers. Another common complaint is the fact that teachers in school often start up private coaching centres. Mostafa says, “Teachers don't directly ask the children to study with them privately. They hint at it, and the children also see that students who study with their school teachers privately get more marks.” Even before she could finish another mother piped up and refuted Mostafa's claims. She says, “The teachers are scoundrels! They openly ask students to come to them for private coaching, and lure them with good grades in class.” Who really is to be believed and where does one lay the blame. Some say the schools and their administrations, while others claim schoolteachers are the real culprits.

Rowena Hossain Principal of Viqarunnisa Noon School and College has a different side to the story. She says, “Students themselves are too coaching-based, if they pay attention in class they should be able to manage. There is a massive 'coaching culture'”. They are so focussed on coaching that they lose their attention in class.” While her argument does have its merits, parents can still point to the over crowded classrooms. They claim that paying attention in class is easier said than done. Hossain says, “We have roughly 70 students per class, the reason for this is that it is not financially viable to have less students per class. The class rooms we have are large and must be filled, or else we will suffer losses.” She adds, “In other Bangla Medium schools they have between 130 and 140 students per class, yet parents complain here.”

Rowena Hossain, Principal, Viqarunnisa Noon School and College.

She says the parents desire for smaller classes is not based on the reality of the situation. Hossain recounted a story where recently she told the parents of a girl that the class was full and there was nowhere that they could fit their child into the classroom. To that the parents said, “Then let her sit outside the door, she will manage from there”. The parents complain about class sizes, yet there is a certain level of double standards. She emphatically says, “It is not possible to reduce the class size now”. She takes parents' complaints very seriously but adds, “They are willing to spend Tk 10,000 a month for private tutors outside school, yet when we raise our fees marginally they complain bitterly. Recently after eight years we increased our fees by Tk 100 to Tk 400 per month, and the parents almost rioted.” This is a matter that needs to be looked into. For many parents it is a quick fix to blame the schools, yet when standards need to be maintained or even improved, nominal increases in school fees are met with fierce resistance. Yet these same parents happily shell out thousands to private tutors.

In fact, Rowena Hossain turns the tables on the parents. She says, “Schools have fixed times and syllabuses. The problem starts when the parents demand for the syllabus even before classes start. They do so because then with the syllabuses they can enrol their children into private coaching centres. This way their children start and finish their syllabuses early.” There seems to be a mad rush for syllabuses to be finished early, and this is a major reason for hours of after-schoolwork. This is when the blame is put directly on the parents' shoulders. They seem to push their children too hard, and in the process eat up all their leisure time with hours and hours of private coaching. There is no denying the fact that the teacher-student ratio does not matter while students who are extra bright can absorb the lesson very easily, for many back-seaters it is impossible to get the extra attention they need to cope. Extra tutoring seems the only answer.

Class size in most Bangla Medium schools could be anywhere from 70 to 140 students per classroom.

Many schoolteachers also blame the parents. They say that even the coaching centres have 20 to 30 students per class. Parents' complaints that schools are over crowded are not backed up with the fact that the coaching centres that they send their children to are just as crowded as the schools. One well-known teacher of economics has 40 students per batch, and even teaches through the help of a microphone. Hossain states, “At the coaching centres it's all short-cut help. There is no real teaching there, all the help is note based, it's an easy fix, that's why they go there.”

But she also has other issues with the coaching culture. She says, “The National Curriculum Textbook Board (NCTB) should take on a lot of the blame. Their system is based on memorisation. It's book based and lacks originality, in turn students lose their creativity.” While this reason had been mentioned before, in the standoff between parents and schools, it is hardly ever brought up. Truth be told the current Bangla Medium system is riddled with flaws, it would be a sweeping statement to say that it needs to be overhauled, but that's exactly what needs to be done. The answers to the type of questions asked have to be memorised, students are not required to think analytically. This is the by-product of a teaching structure entrenched in shoving information down students throats. The whole issue comes full circle when students attend numerous after school coaching centres. There they are handed the easy way out with notes to memorise, in the process they are left with little or no free time at all. So where does one really point the finger? The schools are merely teaching a syllabus that encourages extra and unnecessary work, while parents add fuel to the fire by forcing their children to finish those very same flawed syllabuses early.

While the government allotted system has let down Bangla Medium schools, there are just as many complaints with private English Medium schools. Parents complain of over crowding in classes of 35, little do they know how much better off their children are from Bangla Medium schools.

Students have become overly notes oriented focusing more on memorisation rather than actually learning.

On the topic of extra classes Syed Fakhruddin Ahmed Chairperson of Mastermind School says, “This is rooted into our culture, we rely more on getting information rather than analysing.” This logic has often been thrown back to parents and students that complain about overburdening. He says, “Parents can be good counsellors, but they don't analyse why their children need extra teachers. Instead the first thing they do is blame the schools.” His point is noted, but also leads to other questions. Do all parents really complain about their children's' routines? A vast number of parents are not satisfied till their children have taken on extra teachers, they merely assume that more teachers will help their children academically. Ahmed says, “Western education brings out the creative part of the students mind. That is what we need. Instead we are stuck with a 'celebrity teacher culture', where a few famous teachers claim they can help any student get an A. The result is, guardians as well as students rush to them for extra classes. But at the end of the day, if the process of learning was geared to creative output, then this would not be the case.”

Syed Fakhruddin Ahmed, Chairperson, Mastermind.
Coaching centres seem to provide the 'back up' that most students and their parents rely on.

He boldly states, “70% of parents rely on private tutoring without knowing what they are doing, and as a result the people who suffer are their children.” But even statements like that have been refuted, a well known private teacher, who wishes to remain anonymous, says, “While the parents are to blame in some cases, from my point of view, it looks like most of the students themselves push their parents to let them join private classes. Even some very bright students come to my classes because they simply lack confidence. They do not need extra classes and extra pressure.” That is another aspect that needs to be looked into, the coaching culture cannot entirely be blamed on parents and schools. What of the very bright students killing themselves attending extra classes, how or why are they pushed to the brink?

About the criticism regarding class sizes and attention given by teachers Fakhruddin Ahmed says, “I have talked to parents and offered them an alternative to their problem. They spend roughly Tk 6000 a month on extra teachers, if they were willing to give me a portion of that extra money monthly in fees, then I could provide them with classes of 20 people, with a far more in-depth learning experience. This way they save money, as well as get a 'complete' education under one roof. It gives their children free time after school and in general benefits every one. Yet they refused it. What am I to say to that? I offer them they best of both worlds, yet they refuse.”

Schools provide the environment for socialising. But are they catering fully o the students' academic needs?

This is symptomatic of the problem. It has reached such a stage, where parents and students alike do not feel safe without private classes. Yet even when they receive those classes, they complain of burnout. One simple suggestion, which could have put an end to children's misery and suffering tossed out without a second thought. Why was that the case? Why was it not viable?

Parents still come up with the same arguments. They claim that teachers from school lure students so that they will study privately with them after class. To that Fakhruddin Ahmed says, “It is completely ethically incorrect for a school teacher to teach his/her students privately!” He goes on to say, “I have even gone so far as printing questionnaires asking students if they study with school teachers after hours. They always come back with the same answers, no. What am I to do?” There really seems to be no easy way out of the problem, if at this point one even perceives there to be a problem. It seems as if parents and students both are all for private tutoring for some level of mental satisfaction, or even due to the difficult systems through which they are taught. Schools meanwhile merely accept the status quo, consistently blaming the systems, parents and students.

Muzahidhul Kabir a senior economics teacher says, “If students are regular and attentive, then no extra coaching is necessary. What happens is that they rely on coaching, that's why school is treated like a social club. They come to school to meet their friends and enjoy their time. That means less attention is paid in class, and that happens because they can always rely on their trusted coaching.” Another teacher S.M. Karman says, “Aside from school, students treat coaching centres as a place to socialise. Just look at how they pick their teachers, it's usually where they can have the most fun.” This leaves one wondering what the students really complain about.

Truth be told there is no real right or wrong in this educational conundrum. Broadly for Bangla medium schools, the system can be blamed. It is far trickier for English medium schools. There are ways out of the cycle, but everyone associated with it seems set in their ways. The students still cry over their shocking schedules, and parents complain about schools not doing job. But is anyone really to blame? Or collectively are we all to blame for being components in the instrument of their torture?



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