Home   |  Issues  |  The Daily Star Home | Thursday, June 25, 2009

Breaking the habit

By Sabhanaz Rashid Diya

There often comes a time in your life when you find yourself filling out a massive form with many pages with hopes of it taking you to the American dream. More often, in this process, your pen stops scribbling when it reaches a neat space under the sub-heading of 'Community Service'. Most often, of course, there are times during this particular period of your life when you realize you're only short of a few parameters of community service in the path towards fulfilling your revered dream.

It is at these times, you wish you spent less time staring at space, drooling over the opposite sex and perhaps, given your royal self a walk inside the community-service club (CSC) at your school.

Finding the Wrong Reasons
Over the past three years, I've come across innumerable high-school teens who've regretted their inactive roles in community building projects. More frequently, I came across people who did community service, but only for the certificate and application-filling possibilities that came with it.

I remember debating with a friend once on whether students who came to us with certain expectations should at all, be allowed to work in aid of the less fortunate. The work calls for immense dedication and with the evident lack of it, whether it was even morale to give them a place amongst people who did it with the right attitude in mind. It was a tough call, since some of the 'wrongdoers' displayed such profusion of passion in their respective projects (although completely forgetting about it the moment they bagged their CS recognitions) that the assigned work was flawlessly completed. There was rarely a decent monitoring system that distinguished hard workers from the so-called hard workers, and it was this discernible deficiency that allowed certain people to bag credits they don't deserve.

Solutions? Really?
So, what can be done to change the 'system' we hold responsible for the blemishing our good deeds? The local infatuation towards a piece of rectangular paper bearing your name in a nicer handwriting than yours seemed like a prized trophy that could attract millions, and the removal of it undoubtedly reduced that number to thousands. We knew the relatively few who signed up were genuine and we could depend on their sincerity, but felt bad about missing out on the others. It was indeed a tough call.

It was then we introduced a different plan altogether. The project would be graded and the members would receive a rating on a scale of 1 to 5 allowing everyone to sign up, but give credit to only those who showed the apt lengths of dedication and effort. Now, being the corrupt lot we are, the system failed to an extent where friends, crushes, hormone-infatuated loved ones and parents got involved. The project leader, largely being just as young, nice and influenced as his/her peers scored points for dear friends and at the end of the day; we were back to square one.

The Right Approach
With extensive 'research', we figured the problem was not in the system, but in our attitudes. Community service was still largely seen as an extra-curricular activity, one that was 'necessary' for those who planned to pursue a foreign education. This was considerably strange in a country where there were enough impoverished folks who could do a lot with a helping hand. Seemingly, the whole idea of the wealth trickling down to the needier was absurd. If only the schools took up community service as part of their respective curriculums, this problem would not have even existed.

We looked up local institutions, and identified only a handful that encouraged students to take up CS as an activity. Most others were sadly disinterested. The benefits of CS, with the whole American dream gimmick removed, were endless. It was not only a well-rounded learning process that taught individual students to be more responsible, thoughtful, diverse and pragmatic, but also instilled a feeling of social responsibility that was predominantly pretermitting. It was because of this that many of our people harboured misleading notions on patriotism. Our local education system was influenced by rigour academics and cultural ontogeny with little room for CS. We weren't nurturing well-rounded students, but an army of one-sided clones.

Therefore, like the model of most schools across the globe, Bangladeshi schools should also include CS as part of their curriculum. IBs ask for 200 hours of community service in order to complete the course. Something similar could also be incorporated in the public and private schools, and therefore, make it a requirement for all students. Only this way, can be provide CS practices for all and in turn, have all rounders running our country in the future.



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