Finally, the court of law had to do it. The honourable High Court has prohibited the carrying of schoolbags that weigh more than 10% of the bodyweight of the school-going child.
As a father who watches his child burdened with books and other stationery in an oversized bag while he leaves for school every morning, I would like to thank the court of law from the bottom of my heart.
Carrying more weight than the children can withstand has been a norm in our society for a long time.
However, we have been oblivious to it -- according to press reports, Dhaka Shishu Hospital has been treating children who cannot stand straight as they are all experiencing back pain. Several research studies have also disclosed that the people pick up physical problems if they carry heavy weights during their childhood.
However, proving this point is not my mission today. I’d like to ask a few questions to the teachers, school authorities, and policy-makers regarding educating our children.
My friends and I were in primary school in the early 70s. We used to go to our school on foot, and with only a few books in our hand-stitched cloth-made bags hanging from our shoulders.
Some among us couldn’t even afford those bags, and those students used to carry the books and copies in their hands.
Then I, along with my friends, went to a residential school where we had desks in our classrooms in which we could keep our necessary books. If we needed to study any particular subject we carried them to our halls of residence and prepared our homework.
Many years have passed since; we went for higher studies, had jobs, or went into business. But we were not pressured by our parents and elders to become Einsteins. Every one of us knew, with the guidance of our parents and teachers, that we’d be earning an acceptable, decent income for feeding the members of our family that we’d be forming.
We did. We had jobs. We earned an income. We had families. And we could feed our children and meet almost all their needs, if not all. And of course, we didn’t become Einsteins or Newtons. We did have the sense of competition when it came to the board exam.
However, over time, somehow, society has changed. We started getting so serious about our children’s education that we started pressuring them to learn everything in an era of information overflow.
Over time, somehow the society has changed. We started getting so serious about our children’s education that we started pressuring them to learn everything in an era of information overflow
There was a boom in the number of schools that all looked like pigeonholes without any playground.
Each and every parent started joining the race for making his or her child the first boy or first girl of the class: “My child has to be the best.” After school hours, the children spent the rest of the day roaming around from one coaching centre to another.
At the end of the day, they had not much energy left for any sport or any entertainment. Due to the absence of games and sports, and the rise in electronic gadgets, they started becoming self-centred, isolated islands in their rooms with their doors closed.
Their communication with their parents started declining. The parents were happy with them. As long as they were doing well in their studies and staying home, we were happy.
That trend is continuing today. Now, after all these years, the way our psychology has evolved about education must have had an impact on us and our society. Our children must be earning more than we did; our children must be more knowledgeable than we were at their age; our children must be serving the country better than we did. We don’t know though, we haven’t analysed this after doing any kind of survey.
We agree that many great things have happened in our children’s lives, but has this trend in education helped them to learn in a holistic manner? How much is their stress level due to the pressure to become the best? How are they going to contribute to nation-building? Has anyone become that much-coveted Einstein?
Yes, of course, some of them are scoring very high even on the international stage, but how are they contributing in forming a positive and developed society?
The government may have various kinds of limitations while looking for the answers to these questions.
But what are the educational institutions doing? Primarily, it should be their responsibility to find out the answers. They should question themselves.
Like one of my friends recently asked me: “Are we making better television programs than in the past?
Are we producing better literature than our ancestors? Are we more successful than our parents in keeping our environment more sustainable?”
Maybe. Maybe not. We don’t know.
Ekram Kabir is a fiction writer.