Back To School Blues

When I was a kid I used to daydream about being a superhero like every other kid. Except my superhero fantasies were a bit different than others. Instead of taking out super-villains and bank robbers I fancied myself as a dark vigilante who would crash through classroom windows and beat up abusive teachers. From kinder-garden to 5th grade my school life was brilliant. I went to a small but elite local school, with 20-30 students in each group, about four groups in each class. The rooms were well lit, brightly coloured and decorated with all sorts of arts and crafts made by the students. The whole school had a jolly good homey feel to it. The teachers were all female and they actually bothered to get to know their students personally. Then after 5th grade my parents decided it was time for me to go to a “real” school. I sat for the admission test for 6th grade. The new school grounds and the buildings were massive compared to my humble little school. As soon as I entered the place my skin crawled. The environment was dark and gloomy, most of the teachers looked like religious fundamentalists. It put me off even more when I realized the students were supposed to wear crude uniforms which were ugly blue pants, white shirts, and “tupis” (religious hats). I wasn’t happy with the new changes, but I decided I could deal with them. However what I couldn’t deal with was the violence against the students. When children are faced with threats like “go pray or get beaten up by a bamboo stick” on their first day of school, it kind of puts a damper on their willingness to learn.

I know what readers might be pondering at this point “What else did you expect from a Madrassa?” That’s the sad part. The school I went to wasn’t a Madrassa. It’s a very prominent school right in the middle of Dhaka City. The kind that makes headlines in the newspapers every year during SSC results for its outstanding achievements. The school I’m talking about was also in the news a couple of times for brutal treatment of the students and but no one seems to care about that. I remember the Bangla teacher of a 6th grade class discussing politics. I vividly remember the expression of sadistic joy on the faces of Alkhalla clad bearded hooligans (I refuse to acknowledge them as teachers) while they literally beat the students within an inch of their lives. The non-Muslim students received the worst of it. For them just being beaten up wasn’t enough, they had to endure lectures on how all non-Muslims eventually end up in hell.

The brutality doesn’t end with the teachers. In most of these schools prefects abuse their powers. The kids who are friends with the prefect borrow that power to abuse other kids. Most teachers turn a blind eye to bullying of this sort. I personally witnessed an incident where the prefect planted dirty magazines inside a kid’s backpack during recess informed a particularly vicious teacher that kids are carrying porn. After recess the teacher found porn in that kid’s backpack and he was badly beaten up in front of the whole class without having a chance to defend himself. It didn’t end there, the teacher sent a note to the kids parents, telling them to “discipline” their son. These incidents are just the tip of the iceberg. Kids get beaten up for showing up late, for talking loudly in between classes, for not wearing the proper uniform, for not handing in assignments in time, and sometimes if the teacher is in a bad enough mood they beat up kids just for the heck of it. I remember an English teacher saying “Beating up bodmaish children is very therapeutic. It’s the only part of being a teacher I enjoy”. The terrifying part is he wasn’t kidding, he actually meant it.

At this point you might wonder how come the kids never complain to their parents about all this. They do. The parents listen, and they tell the kids to get over it. The way parents see it, it’s a small price to pay for going to a good school. Some even defend violence against children by saying things like “it builds character” or “You should be lucky that you go to such a great school, Omuk Bhai paid a huge sack of money to get his kid enrolled in your school”. These views might be partially fuelled by the fact that it is actually very hard to get into a good school. Especially when one compares the small amount of seats that open up every year and the outrageously large amount of kids who apply for those seats. Maybe it’s because parents in our country have unrealistic expectations from their kids or maybe they just believe that the kids are making stuff up to avoid going to school. Either way it is the children who have to go through the severe trauma that leaves them scarred for life.

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