When I was very young, I once told my mother that I wanted to be a police officer when I grew up. When asked why, I replied that it looks cool to appear at the critical moment in every Bangla movie, where the hero and the villains fight, to shout “Ain nijer haate tule neben na” and arrest all the criminals. My mom laughed, and still tells everyone the story.
I grew up reading Dr Muhammed Zafar Iqbal’s sci-fictions, because I used to get bullied when I tried playing with my peers outside. When I was in class 4, I broke a toy robot and somehow discovered the function of a motor. I asked my mom to buy me some cable, and managed to grab some spare batteries from other toys and some plastic sheet. With a little guidance from someone, I managed to create my own makeshift electric hand-fan.
Silly as it may be, it was still a great achievement for me. I showed off my accomplishment. Some of my elders were so amazed that they commented that I’ll surely be a great scientist one day.
Unfortunately, I did not become one. I took science in SSC and got GPA 5. I remember telling my father I aspired to be a doctor, because I could save lives. In college, I changed my mind, I thought of being an engineer so that I could make cool robots and design the types of smart-phones that we have now.
But on the onset of the HSC exam, I suddenly realised that everyone is more concerned about getting grades because that is how you can get into either DU, BUET, or DMC.
Academic pressures were felt.
I was a physics enthusiast. And physics is such a subject that it takes you to another world. Three months before the HSC exam, I had a severe mental breakdown, because I was unable to take the pressure of exam preparations. I was suffering from anxiety and depression. My parents were concerned, but they didn’t give up on me. They suggested I try my luck in Business Studies or English at a private university.
I had to pursue a BA in English. I realised then that I actually liked writing, especially creative things. In my first semester, I took Introduction to English Poetry with Professor Kaiser Haq. On one particular day, we were reading Keats’ Ode to a Nightingale. Sir joked that someone should write a poem about crows. On the next class, I appeared with my Ode to a Crow. My professor was surprised. He read it, corrected a few things, and then asked me to recite it to the whole class.
And that was the beginning. From that day onwards, I try to write at least something every day.
After graduation, I dreamt of going to Finland for my post grad because I thought I could achieve expertise in the field of educational development. I almost started brewing the idea of starting a non-profit digital education platform.
But despite being a student of English, I scored below average in my IELTS due to nervousness, and so had to change my course of action.
But I didn’t give up.
I continued in my own department, in the same subject for masters, with literature as my major. And I did surprisingly well. I also got a job offer because one of my teachers thought I had great potential. My experience in journalism was good, but had to be abandoned because it was hard for me to keep running up and down in the hot clogged city to get stories. But it actually paid off.
My experience eased my work at my new workplace. There I found a new world. Although I was a research executive, I met some amazing people. Artists, designers, singers, IT wizards, photographers, creative writers and film-makers. Their work fascinated me so much that I was almost convinced to switch careers. Unfortunately, some political events made it difficult to continue the said job.
I still had to complete my thesis. But without a job, I was losing motivation every day. Half willingly, I entered a line of work I never imagined I would. That too as an HR officer. I felt depressed thinking that I was about to leave my dreams of having a career as a creative writer. So, the last chance to prove myself was my thesis.
Thankfully, my supervisor, who was also the head of our department, was quite impressed with my work and dedication. With her guidance and very sincere support from my boss, I landed with an A in thesis.
The rest is history.
I won a scholarship and got to represent Bangladesh at an international conference for young journalists. I was one of the two students from our department to be invited to have lunch with the vice chancellor. And my greatest achievement was to see my mother in tears of joy with each success story I tell her.
Meanwhile, I have started to love my boring job.
At first, it seemed like a very uncreative space. Computers and paperwork -- but I realised, even as an HR officer, I have great opportunities to help people who work under me, and use another kind of creativity to contribute to my organisation and consequently to the country.
The fear that I might have to give up my writing career has also diminished. The proof is that I am still writing this piece.
What are schools for, then? Why are you paying the teachers, if they can’t even motivate students to study? Isn’t it a shameful failure of the school?
If you’ve read this far, you might ask what’s the point of this. Well, I don’t intend to analyse my life’s failures and triumphs here. Rather, I had to write this because of my nephew.
My nephew had to stay in Chittagong almost all by himself, because dulabhai is busy with his hectic job. He, very recently, came to Dhaka for moral support.
His parents kept complaining that he’s been skipping classes, and remains busy doing pointless things (photography, fencing, and magic tricks). As his mama, I am someone he always looks up to, and hearing his parents’ worries, I hypocritically wanted him to get a good result.
So I tried motivating him by telling him that I’ll give him my guitar as his birthday present if he manages to study with dedication and passes SSC with flying colours. When I broke the news at the dining table, everyone almost barked at me, saying I was about to distract him further away from his studies -- and that is when I shared my thoughts.
What are schools for, then? Why are you paying the teachers, if they can’t even motivate students to study? Isn’t it a shameful failure of the school and their teachers that the students don’t want to attend their classes?
And being grown ups, why do you expect so much from a teenager and put all the blame on him?
Everyone fell silent.
I see all these mothers sitting on mats in front of schools and gossiping whole day: From whose child got scholarship offers to which coaching centre is more prestigious.
I personally think those mats are the root of all evil in this urban setting. These bhabis, who seem to have nothing to do but gossip with each other, are so desperate to show off that they are better mothers, that they ultimately ruin their children’s dreams in the name of studying -- for them it’s not about education but about whose child is getting the best grade among all the bhabis.
Do you seriously want your children to have golden GPA 5 because you want to see the humiliated face of the other bhabis?
I am not writing this to say how things should be instead. I am writing because I have been a sufferer, and it hurts to see that the same system is still in effect, stepping on children’s dreams.
Ask any parent in Bangladesh what they want their children to be? The answer would be either a doctor or an engineer. Ask them if they know what their children want to be, and they would mumble something shamelessly vague.
I personally think we are the real criminals who have corrupted every single sphere of our society.
Our education system is a system that only evaluates the memorisation skills of children and calls it education.
It’s pretty simple actually. You memorise everything in the book, if possible even the page numbers and illustrations.
And you copy them down on paper from your memory. Voila! You are a talented student.
Congratulations. Please have some laddu and roshogolla. You are our pride.
What is very unfortunate is that curiosity for learning and other traits such as having good manners and honesty are hardly even acknowledged, let alone being given priority.
I don’t think we have any provision in our education system that allows to give importance on evaluating these qualities of a student.
Learning is a quality, not a skill.
The curiosity for learning things other than studying is a good quality, but we straightly declare them as distractions from studies.
What’s so toxic about this system?
I think children who give priority to learning come out as gentle and kind people, whereas children who are taught to give priority on achieving grades by hook or crook, turn out to be money-hankering, status obsessed, selfish individuals.
And their own parents become the first victims.
Learners learn and that learning allows them to respect others. But those who study for grades are the ones who judge others who are unlike them.
Take a close look at the society. Scientists think studying humanities is useless. Humanities students think science students have no emotion. Feminists think religion is oppressive and patriarchal.
Conservatives think feminism is all about promiscuous sex and arrogance. We are all so divided by our egotistic judgmental attitudes that we fail to notice that we’re missing a vital point.
Wake up. You live in a society, and what are societies for? To be together and help each other live a better life? Or take lives and fight over pointless wealth and dirty money?
Even animals do not kill their own kind. And we remain too proud to call ourselves the smartest species in the “universe.”
The current trend of inspiring youth is to say: “Do what you love, and follow your dreams.”
I would not disagree. It’s always good to follow your dreams. But there are certain instances where it is wrongly interpreted. Just because you couldn’t pursue your dream subject doesn’t mean you have to give up on your life.
Many of us have known or heard about teenagers committing suicide just because they didn’t get GPA 5 -- and that’s the amount of pressure we put on children.
I have personally known a person, who was a brilliant student and was pretty confident that he’d easily get into IBA. He failed and now he roams the streets as a notorious bokhate chele.
The point is not everyone can materialise the dreams they dream about.
And for them there are scopes. Dream again. But a bit differently and learn to love what you do -- if life could go as we planned, I’m pretty sure it would’ve been a hell of a lot boring.
Having explored quite a diverse range of professions and being with a lot of people believing in different ideologies taught me a very important thing.
It does not matter if you are a businessman, a writer, a physicist, an imam, or a women’s rights activist: Every profession, or ideology is good -- as long as you are a good person.
There is beauty to be discovered in all lines of professions. And I can assure you, if you ever find love in what you do, it will soon become a work of art, and a source of happiness and satisfaction for you.
It does not matter if you are a businessman, a writer, a physicist, an imam, or a women’s rights activist: Every profession is good
There are just a few things I feel like jotting down.
Learning is never useless. Whatever you learn, it enriches you and makes you a better person.
And sooner or later, at some point, it will be of use. So if your child wants to be an artist, give him paint and brushes.
If she wants to break toys to see what’s inside, help her see it. If they like guitars, give them an album of Pink Floyd.
I am not undervaluing the need for academic qualifications. Do tell your children to study. But there are are certain approaches. Be creative about it. And if they start to listen to you without being annoyed, consider yourself a successful parent.
Never discourage exploring and learning things that do not seem to matter to you. Teach them to respect others. Teach them to be kind to everyone.
And finally make them realise that being a good person is more important than earning money. And it starts with you.
If you are a teacher, a parent, a guardian, or just someone who children admire, know that you are their role-model. They are learning from your every move.
So instead of telling them what to do, show them how it should be done.
Muhammad Mustafa Monowar is a student of literature in BRAC University and a blogger. Follow him at www.wallofwinterblues.wordpress.com.