My heart sinks every time I go with my son to his school in the morning. His school is two six-storey buildings that house a few apartments in a 20-foot neighbourhood lane. These buildings were built as dwellings for the families who bought them. When I leave my boy at the entrance, I see a huge backpack-full of books and copies that make him a hunchback. He limps as he enters the gate.
In the morning, a legion of cars assemble in front of the small entrance, creating a havoc for other commuters. It’s worse when the school breaks off. The narrow lane is clogged with cars and rickshaws at a standstill. The same lane has another school in a short distance.
When my son comes out, I ask him: “You’re sweating; what were you doing?”
“I was playing, papa,” he replies.
“What were you playing?” I ask.
“Well, we were only running around on the roof,” he says.
This is the reality in most schools, especially English-medium ones, in the cities of Dhaka and Chittagong. Apartments have been turned into schools, bedrooms into classrooms, dining rooms into teachers’ lounges and rooftops into playgrounds. Some of them, of course, do have some space, such as courtyards, inside their campuses for the students to play some indoor-type games and sports. They can, at best, play basketball, badminton, futsal, etc.
A handful of schools have normal playgrounds where the students can play a whole range of games and sports. The government-run schools and colleges have all the facilities for the students to grow up in a proper atmosphere. The city planners had long ago earmarked some places in every neighbourhood for educational institutions. The places they selected were all for government and-Bangla medium schools.
We failed to foresee that the population in our cities, especially of Dhaka, would multiply in a geometric progression. We also couldn’t foresee that the need for educational institutions would also increase incalculably. There was still time to plan for the upcoming institutional when these English-medium schools were evolving in Bangladesh. We could have easily planned for and kept some spaces for future educational institutions.
I’ve been to a few cities where schools have been planned and built on the basis of neighbourhood development. In those cities, students of one neighbourhood don’t feel the need for going to any school in another neighbourhood. As far as standards and quality are concerned, all schools are equally good, and the students all go to their schools on foot.
On the other hand, schools in our cities vary in quality, which is why parents want their children to study in better ones. And that’s why we see them travelling from Jatrabari to Uttara, Gulshan to Uttara, from Bashundhara to Dhanmondi, and so on. This creates immense pressure on our city traffic. When these schools want to hold any events, such as annual sports or a cultural event, they hire a big field or an auditorium outside their premises. This too is a once-a-year phenomenon.
But the effect of these schools being in small spaces is enormous. First, we’re depriving our children from growing up in a proper environment. Secondly, their psychological growth is being hampered. Due to this deprivation of games and sports, our children are turning out to be a PC and cellphone-bound bunch.
The lack of this facility in schools is having an impact on their behaviour. They spend most of their time in their schools and they pick up almost all aspects of their behaviour there.
We still have time to make a turnaround. The number of these private schools will increase. Now that Dhaka and Chittagong have become saturated, they are likely to grow in other divisional and district towns. For those cities and towns, we have ample scope to plan and develop them. We can at least turn the schools that will be built in the future into proper places for growing up.
We still have time to turn them into proper schools, rather than pigeonholes.