The Financial Express

Bailing out rural school students  

Shihab Sarkar   | Published: February 17, 2020 22:09:03

Bailing out rural school students   

The news item, published in a Dhaka daily, was startling --- if not shocking. It concerned an upazila-level school in northern Dinajpur district. It was late winter. Many school authorities during the season take their students out to picnics. The spots normally remain in short to medium distance from schools. Few students and teachers willingly miss the opportunity for a day out on a picnic trip.

In the case of the school mentioned above, the school authorities fixed Tk 400 per head for the picnic. But for a good number of students coming from poor peasant families, the amount proved too high. Although most of the students somehow managed to arrange Tk 400, eighteen couldn't. They failed to join the fun-filled event owing mainly to financial hardship. Its impact on their tender mind could be realised by any sensible person.

Unfortunately, the school authorities failed to realise the students' mental condition. What's more, the following day as the dejected students were listening to the tale of the picnic from their classmates, they were struck by a bolt from the blue. The headmaster of the school summoned the 18 students to his room, and without asking them for any explanation about their failure to attend the picnic, handed them transfer certificates, the much dreaded TCs.

After their attempts to change the headmaster's mind failed, the devastated parents entreated the local UNO to intervene. The administrative chief of the upazila (sub-district) initially expressed her inability to do anything as she had not received any formal complaints in this regard. The school was back to its curricular activities in full swing under the disciplinary regime of the headmaster.

However, upon receiving complaints from six aggrieved students a couple of days later, the UNO formed a three-member probe committee on the TC incident.

The above occurrence is not an isolated case in the country's vast rural area. Myriad types of irregularities and injustices inflicted on students continue to plague village schools. The prominent among them are compulsory attendance of classes after school hours in exchange of fees before f inal examinations, coaching classes presumably based on guidebooks, going to nearby towns and standing for hours on two roadsides in the scorching sun to greet VIPs etc. The grim fact is these schools do not have any dearth of non-academic exercises which should be carried out compulsorily.

When it comes to academic activities, the whole gamut of receiving education at a village school is accompanied by dozens of formalities. Most of them involve fees to be submitted by students on flimsy grounds. A common practice is the inclusion of unexplained charges during the submission of fees for school final examination. Apart from the SSC (Secondary School Certificate) exams, the JSC (Junior School Certificate) exam candidates are also not spared the additional fees while filling in their examination forms.

Although, the menace of bloated exam fees mainly plagues rural schools, the institutions in the cities and towns are also not free of them. But there is a tricky aspect. The standard of education at village schools remains perennially poor compared to the schools in the cities. Yet the students at the former are compelled to pay the same inflated fees of school final exams as that paid by the urban students. The bitter reality is they receive poor education at school.

A newspaper report recently published an in-depth report on the teaching quality at rural high schools. It says proper teaching in general is hampered at most of the rural schools due to acute dearth of English and math teachers. It has long been a great shortcoming in the village schools. Its impact is felt in the results of the SSC examination. In this public examination, a large number of students fare miserably in the English and math subjects leading to poor GPA grading. The students who cannot cross the hurdle of the SSC exam are seen to have failed in the two subjects.

It is the failure of the students, as well as teachers, to score the minimum marks in English and math that leads to disastrous results of many institutions. It allegedly ends up in many schools emerge with zero pass percentage in the vital public examination. This calamitous performance of the rural high schools in the SSC exams has lately become a general picture in the rural area.

Alongside the percentage of zero-pass, the schools with humble results stand nowhere near their counterparts in the urban areas. That the city and town-based schools score better in the SSC and other exams like JSC compared to the rural ones is a quandary. It's because schools in both the areas enjoy almost the same financial benefits, with the MPO (monthly payment order) benefit of teachers now covering nearly all schools of the country. It's also true that in spite of their being government schools enjoying scores of facilities, they pale beside a lot of non-government schools.

A section of academics at this point focus on the factor of skilled teachers imparting lessons in English and math. They single out a handful of non-government rural schools which have been proverbially famous for their English and math teachers. But when it comes to the general scenario, most of the village-based high schools are plagued by a chronic dearth of teachers dealing with English and math.

The state of the teaching of other subjects, the general Bangla in particular, is no better. Of late, the higher-class students in rural schools are reportedly handicapped by shortages of expert ICT (Information and Communications Technology) teachers. Against this dismal backdrop of rural school education, despite being backed by continued government incentives, erratic conduct of a section of teachers cannot be taken lightly. A school simply cannot force some students to leave the institution because they couldn't join its annual picnic. These acts will only add to their already sullied image.



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