(Save Our Schools)
Aasha Mehreen Amin
Primary schools of the country are in big trouble and nothing could be more disheartening than The Daily Star news report that says that around 70 percent of children who complete primary school cannot read, write or calculate properly. This devastating fact has been revealed by a government survey on primary schools. It means that these kids are just not learning anything and nothing has been done about it.
The reasons attributed to this horrific situation include the sheer lack of teachers (the Directorate of Primary Education has put the teacher-student ratio at 1:55 although the number of students is probably a lot higher than that) as well as not very well-trained teachers, a shortage of classrooms making learning a cramped, claustrophobic affair. Ninety percent of classrooms, moreover, have double shifts which leaves teachers exhausted and ineffective. If one thinks of the poor, underpaid teacher who has to teach a subject to 50 to 70 students within 25 to 30 minutes, it is easy to see just how ridiculous the situation is.
Students of Beelkajuli Pechibari High School in Dhunat upazila of Bogra get their lessons on the porch as the school does not have enough classrooms.
Photo: Hasibur Rahman Bilu
To make things better, the Secondary Primary Education Development Programme has made some important recommendations. At least 90,000 new teachers have to be recruited and 60,000 new classrooms have to be built by 2010, says the Programme. A private research organisation has proposed that the long list of holidays, some of them it says, are quite unnecessary, should be cut down so that children receive more hours of schooling.
These maybe the first steps to solving a huge problem. But along with more teachers, better training, larger classrooms and more school hours there are so many other things that need to considered.
The most important one is to make the classroom a fun place to be in, which is hardly the case in many of our state-run primary schools. Children have to enjoy the process of learning and that requires a lot of effort from the teachers. Being fun, kind and interesting should be a part of a teacher's job description. Syllabuses have to be redesigned to make education more accessible, realistic and relevant. Once the drudgery of conventional learning is removed, kids will want to go to school and be more willing to work hard to learn new things.
Obviously this requires a whole new approach to teaching, one that abhors the use of corporal punishment or verbal abuse and intimidation that serves only to destroy a child's confidence and make sure that she hates school and remembers the trauma for the rest of her life. Teachers must be mentors, confidantes and protectors of the children they are in custody of for those few hours at school. That is how it was in the old days before private education became the greatest business venture and public education was in the doldrums.
Teachers have to be much better paid so they do not have to resort to tutoring to get extra cash. In most schools students are, in fact, encouraged to get extra tutoring and this is a disincentive to teachers to give their full effort to school lessons.
Many children come to school on an empty stomach as their parents are too poor to feed them three square meals. Hunger makes it hard for children to concentrate and absorb information. School feeding programmes such as the one supported by the WFP, have shown that the inclusion of a simple snack of a few nutritious biscuits has done wonders in terms of attendance and enthusiasm about learning. These initiatives to feed children while they are at school are worth continuing and expanding.
It will be a long and arduous journey before we can reform our primary education system and efforts seem to be underway to do this. Schooling at the primary level creates the basic foundation of education, something that will stay with students for the rest of their lives. If the foundation is shaky as seems to be the case today, the entire structure of education will crumble. That, certainly is a disaster we cannot afford to risk.
(R) thedailystar.net 2009