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Children have lost the right to fail

  • Published at 10:44 am December 7th, 2018
Our children need our care
Our children need our care BIGSTOCK

What we have collectively failed to teach our kids

I was 19, and sitting with my mother outside Notre Dame College, the exam hall for my HSC exam in 2005. The exam was on higher mathematics. I had not slept for two straight days, and I was in the middle of a nervous breakdown.

I was good at maths in the two years of college, and I felt fairly confident that my maths exams would be a breeze compared to the rest. I ended up preparing for chemistry, physics, and other subjects right until the very end. 

However, when the HSC exams started, it dawned on me that I had not opened my higher mathematics books in over two months. When I finally got around to it, everything in the books seemed alien to me. Nerves kicked in, and burdened with extreme fear and guilt, I spiralled into severe depression two days before the exam. 

I had been studying at Viqarunnisa since class one. My mother being a teacher in the same college meant that my sister and I always carried the expectation of excelling in our studies. 

Sitting outside the exam hall before the exam and trembling, the first thing I asked my mother was: “How will you show your face to the school if I fail this exam, mom?” 

I inundated her with questions like “what will people say to you?” and “will they let you keep your job, given that you would have a daughter who failed her HSC exam?”

As a teenager, all my thoughts were focused on the humiliation, tarnished reputation, and overall disgrace my failure would cause my family.

My mother was silent for a few seconds and then said: “Did I ever tell you what happened to that cousin of yours?” She was referring to someone who was over 20 years older than I was, and was quite successful. 

She went on to say: “Do you know he had to sit for his HSC exams a second time because he failed the first time? You have known him all your life, yet you have never heard this story. Why do you think that is? Because now, when we look at his life, it really doesn’t matter. Accidents happen, they are a part of life. I just want you to focus on today and do your best. We will cross that bridge when we get there.” 

That two-minute conversation with her taught me something that 12 years of school and college could not. My life will not end if I fail an exam. Comforted by the truth of that conversation, I managed to remain calm during those three hours of exam and ultimately, did well on my test.

In this rat race of life, where teachers turn into bullies, parents breed racehorses, and the education system does not believe in second chances, it does not surprise me that Aritry felt she had no other option left. No one killed Aritry, but again, we all did. 

We do it every day. When we call neighbours to ask about their kid’s results in board exams. When we teach kids not to cheat, but expect nothing short of a GPA-5 from them. We turn artists into engineers and parade them around as our trophies. 

We have introduced harassments and humiliations in daily dosage at schools in the guise of “bachcha manush kora.” I wish someone had a conversation with Aritry and told her that no parent, teacher, or friend could determine her worth on the basis of transcripts, a TC, or failed exams. 

Aritry might embody the example of a physical death, but we are responsible for destroying the souls and spirits of countless children. We regularly distort the meaning of life to our kids, and these lies are often too heavy to carry on those small shoulders.

We have collectively failed to teach our kids that it is their simple basic right as human beings to fail, and then pick themselves up and carry on.

While we introspect after this tragedy, it is important to remind ourselves that children are neither the properties of their parents, nor their teachers. They cannot be demeaned, bullied, and disrespected whenever we please.

Tasmia O Saad is a co-founder of Diverse Communications. She works as a political and security consultant on Bangladesh.

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