Are our teachers doing more harm than good?
What is an education for?
Is there an objective answer to that? Ideally, it is so we can be morally responsible, self-aware, and conscious citizens who can collectively drive a society to progress.
Non-ideally, or realistically -- if I might say so -- education is just another capitalistic notion. A scale to measure our worth, so the finest cog in the engine can be found and fitted to keep the engine alive and churning out more capital.
But in this process, the cogs are pressurized and galvanized and melded to such a point that sometimes, they lose the very essence of their beings. Then they are discarded, and left behind, replaced by someone finer, a better fit.
Those “engineers,” who are in charge of keeping this great machine alive, grow more and more ruthless. They will stop at nothing, shred all humanity, and reach a position from where they can only look down and sneer at any tiny little mistake these little engine parts make in their rat race to survive.
A fantastical analogy maybe, but when you look at the latest incident where a ninth-grader was forced to take her own life, because of the consequences of a tiny mistake -- yes, tiny, in the grand scheme of what her life could have been -- she made, maybe the analogy will carry more weight.
What kind of an educational institution has teachers who do not know how to show the least bit of decency in their behaviour towards another human being?
What kind of a school allows for this behaviour, repeatedly overlooking the glaring deficiency in teachers and over-emphasizing the tiniest inadequacies in students?
What kind of an institution only cares to have the largest number of “GPA-5s” attributed to their names, so their brand value can help their coaching businesses thrive?
Why, one of the most famous primary and secondary educational institutions in the country of course. I would know very well. I have spent seven years of my life in there, after all.
In a recent article by Dhaka Tribune that followed in the wake of Aritry’s suicide -- one of my own descendants, or juniors, so to speak -- it was mentioned that “misbehaviour by teachers and staff of the school is quite ‘normal.’”
As an ex-Viqi, I can attest to this fact.
There were teachers, who would be downright brutal, and there were teachers who would make snide remarks -- and then there was this one who forced me to pay the tuition for her private coaching services twice, through lies and misdirection.
I was not her only victim.
Our guardians would not be spared. I remember the months my father spent with me, tutoring and accompanying me to tutors, preparing me so I could sit for the sixth-grade admission test. That was just for the sixth-grade.
Most parents go through a similar process, trying their best in both financial and mental capacities to help secure their children that coveted GPA-5 in the two board examinations.
Even if you go now on a regular school examination day, you will find the pavements outside packed with worried parents waiting, waiting, waiting for their daughters to bring back some good news.
And these same parents would be humiliated and rebuked, if, by any chance, their daughter had failed in an exam or, as was in Aritry’s case, had done something that did not follow the rulebooks.
The myth of teachers amounting to saints might have been deconstructed already, but no one needs to be a saint. Just be polite. Just do not insult. Just do not act in a way that will drive people to their deaths, maybe?
An education system that overlooks, no, endorses this kind of behaviour, is fundamentally broken. A system where some star marks on your transcript to help you get a seat in your favoured university, a well-paying job, recognition from next-door aunties, are the only things that matter in the end, is flawed and repulsive and does not deserve to exist.
Of course, not everything was bad in my school. There are some who would say they had their best times (I might not be one of them, but I am just one among hundreds), and there were some truly inspirational mentors who wanted nothing but the best for us.
This does not overlook the negligence with which schools, colleges, and universities in our country treat the mental health of the students. There are those morally white, so-called intellectuals who will always say “suicide is never an option.” But as someone suffering from long-term mental health issues, I would say the choice might not always seem ours to make. It might be an escape, the only tiny light of comfort that exists at the end of a long, dark day.
Nobody has the right to make a judgment call on who gets to call the shots in taking one’s own life. But maybe this is where institutions, and the collective consciousness of all of us, can help.
Maybe our mentors can help construct an environment where our talents are nurtured, our mistakes explained, our futures brightened. Maybe a school can help create the next generation of morally responsible, self-aware, and conscious citizens. Ideally, that is what it should be.
Realistically, well, that is up to the society, I guess.
Shamsil Kamal is a sub-editor at the Dhaka Tribune.