Parents, teachers, and society -- we all share a responsibility towards children
Our education system has always revolved around the notion that being a “good student” and a “successful person” means getting the best grades, the best results, studying in the best institutions, getting the best jobs, high salaries, marrying into a well-to-do family.
The demands are never-ending.
We have these notions because our mindsets are wired to chase these things, to push our children into the rat race of acquiring these successes. And at the end of the day, it is our mindset, as a society, that has led us to this point today, where a young girl of class IX feels helpless enough to give up living because she made a mistake.
Is it fair to judge a child by one mistake? Why did Aritry feel that her mistake would define her in such a bad way that it was not worth living anymore? Sadly, we do judge each other by each move we make, by just one move even. Aritry is now a cheater to some, a victim to others.
But no, the girl’s identity cannot be based on what her last few decisions in life were. She is a representative of the suffering every child has to go through in our system, in our society.
How many parents tell their children it is alright if they don’t get into the best schools and colleges?
We have assigned so much value, as a society, to the factors that are actually destroying the souls of our children. When a child performs badly in exams, and has to skip a year, we label them a failure and give up hope on them. When someone fails their maths exam, we judge them as having a low IQ. When a child is good at drawing or singing, but is failing other subjects, we consider them the black sheep of the family.
Who is to blame for our mindset? Who is to blame for Aritry’s death? Is it the teachers’ fault alone? Would Aritry have felt the same amount of guilt or helplessness if her parents had told her that it was alright even if she got a TC, if they’d told her that a TC wasn’t the end of her life, of her future?
In the rat race that we have for a system, is it fair to expect every parent across different socio-economic backgrounds to be bold enough, secure enough, to tell their children to not chase good grades, to tell them that being them is enough, that they didn’t need to be the “best”?
We’re all to blame for not standing against this system ruining our happiness, bit by bit, year after year, batch after batch. Yes, some of us survived. But our time has passed, and ten years later the pressure on children is ten higher.
For every teacher who misbehaved, there were teachers who were idols to us, at least that’s how I remember my school life. Today, hundreds of fellow classmates, seniors, juniors of Viqarunnisa have spoken out that they are not surprised after hearing of the harshness of our teachers. Many have shared their own past bad experiences; memories of being hurt or insulted by teachers, of their parents being insulted.
If a teacher has a reputation of behaving badly, they deserve to be accountable and they need to change or give up teaching if they can’t. We shouldn’t give teachers the power or scope to abuse, but we should let them have the power to discipline our children.
There shouldn’t be any confusion between the meaning of discipline and abuse -- but the hard times of the present now require us to draw a clear line between the two. There is a very fine line between scolding and misbehaving also, and it is dangerous to mix the two.
In a society where identity crisis is fast becoming an issue of concern, it might be dangerous to play with the traditional notions of the respect a teacher should get from his or her students.
We’ve opened up the floor to question the authority of teachers, and it would have been a right step if it had remained constructive. Aritry’s case should have resulted in teachers everywhere realizing that they need to handle today’s children with more sensitivity because these kids go through tremendous stress and pressure that they shouldn’t have to go through at their age.
The next time a young girl or boy is caught trying to cheat, the teacher should ask why they thought they had to resort to dishonest ways. Teachers should consider whether the child is facing any distress at home, or whether something is on the child’s mind clouding their judgement.
They could discuss the consequences of actions with the child, and could make sure the child understands that what they did was wrong. That is the extent of how differently the teachers could handle a case where a child is caught cheating.
They shouldn’t have to lower standards of the rules maintained by an institution for years. Since the beginning, Viqarunnisa has always been known for its strict discipline, and discipline cannot be case-by-case enforcement. The same rules should apply to all, otherwise, we are just relaxing the rules that have helped to keep generation after generation of children honest and disciplined.
The teachers could have and should have been kinder in handing down the verdict to Aritry and her parents. But her parents had the responsibility to assure their daughter that they would love her no matter what, and that her mistake would not define her position in their life, or in their heart.
Please don’t go and arrest them on this ground -- the assurance they weren’t able to give their daughter wasn’t entirely their fault, it is the society’s fault for defining social status based on how our children are doing.
Rubaiya Murshed is a lecturer for the Department of Economics at the University of Dhaka.