On 23rd July, 2017, my wife told me at evening tea that one of our bhabis (sister-in-law) had called her in the afternoon and cried inconsolably over the phone because their youngest daughter passed H. S.C. from a college in Chittagong with only 4.66 GPA, and thus missing out on the dream target GPA 5.
On the following morning when I turned over the pages of several newspapers I saw there were more reasons for tears, as fewer students passed this year than last year, and in Comilla Board disaster took place as fewer than 50 students passed out of every 100.
The Facebook was literally littered with sobs and more sobs, as parents, guardians, and candidates themselves were uploading statuses expressing their woes and very few of weal. But one status by an elderly lady attracted my attention as she confessed that she had flunked in the H. S. C. in the first attempt, but she had overcome that initial failure and never losing her self-confidence passed the examination in the following year and passed one hurdle after another in life and is established as a successful lawyer today. In this status I found the gist of the saying ‘failure is the pillar of success’.
In this column I’m not going to comment on the new examination method that has been identified as one of the reasons for the falling pass rate, which was due to the teachers responsible for examining scripts for not being properly trained. Neither am I going to comment on the matter of English which has been a stumbling block for all kinds of examiners in our country for so long. To talk about the learning of English is both easy and difficult. Easy because the English syllabus at the Intermediate level, as I presume, is so well customised that students with a little bit of intelligence can select a very definite set of questions, on which they prepare well and pass well. But difficult because the teaching method of English has radically changed from Grammar-Translation method to communicative method, which many English teachers will agree with me, hasn’t fitted well with the Bangladesh society. The communicative method maybe firstly successful where English is either the mother tongue, as in England, or the link language, as in India; and, secondly, in developed societies, where logistic support of electronic gadgets like the multi-media support, coupled with uninterrupted power supply, and good road communications can feed the smart requirement for a communicative English class to take place. The major problem of the communicative method arises from a degree of complacence where it’s been taken for granted that students can speak and write English sentences without any proper knowledge of grammar. But this is an illusion. Generations of students who grew up with the traditional Grammar-Translation method have shown greater command of English than today’s generations learning English through the communicative method. Communicative method may flourish better where the cultural atmosphere is attuned to learning English, say, for example in the English medium schools. But it’ll fail and it has failed as a teaching method where the cultural atmosphere is of uniquely Bengali countryside. Though the GT method has been rejected because of its lack of importance to verbal aspect of language learning, after we’ve gone through unsuccessfully in the communicative method, I think, it’s now time that we evolved something for our students that would combine Communicative method with GT method.
However, the third fact that when in a public examination nearly forty per cent students remain unsuccessful, that is 3 lakhs out of 11 lakhs, that in the long run becomes a liability for the nation isn’t a topic of my discussion either. What I’m going to emphasise rather is what the lady’s status mentioned above had said by way of encouraging the students who haven’t done a good result or had failed.
The fact to realise for majority of the students on the less successful side is that it’s not the end of the world. Life is such a mystery that at every phase we encounter more positives than negatives, though paradoxically we never seem to notice the positives on the offer. The positives remain hidden to an uninitiated soul. Today, the subject on motivation has got widespread recognition in both academic and professional arenas. The bottom line of all these motivational courses is to teach you never to lose hope, never to give up, and to fight the odds until your last breath.
At the younger age examinations seem to take on a scary face, and many sleepless nights and nervous diarrhoea accompany a distressed student, and, opposite to expectations, the more prepared a student is the more nervous he is found to be.
One newspaper has reported that too much dependency on memorisation has caused the debacle as this year’s question sets elided the strategy of making the students have an easy go on the MCQ part. So not being able to find the ready answers on the MCQ test, they guessed, and they guessed wrongly, and they failed.
Another factor that adds to the poorer performance at the H. S. C. than at the S. S. C. is the students’ shifting from school to college. Coming out of the traditionally disciplinary life at the school, when the guardianship is also imposed restrictively at home, boys and girls suddenly step into the freer region of the college campus, and that’s when they fall into the trap of forgetting self-responsibility in the name of greater freedom. And of the three-phases of education—school-college and university, I think the worst condition prevails at the college phase. Education at the Intermediate phase suffers because of lack of good and skilled teachers, shortage of teachers, a felt lack of the right atmosphere, poorer management, and above all, the community of students whose age-range exists at that point when they have come out of the retrained guardianship but are yet to learn to take care of themselves. At this point, a juvenile student might allow himself to be influenced by bad companions, and he might feel the studies anaemic to him.
On the other hand, at the university phase, a student knows better how to cope with an untoward situation. By this time he also becomes aware about his goal/s in life and pursues them accordingly. Most of the universities, however, don’t offer an ideal atmosphere for higher education, but the scope is there for self-improvement and also the opportunity to be taught by a good set of teachers.
Another reason for the less impressive performance at the Intermediate level is the enormous gap between students-teachers ratio. I know of many government colleges where a teacher has to take a class consisting of two hundred students on the average. At Chittagong College, from where I passed the H. S. C. exam, the Bengali and English classes were held at the Galleries accommodating 150 students.
And the love factor is there. Love blooms at this age most furiously that might convert the precious hours for studies by a student into amorous hours of ruminating listlessly, soaking his pillow with tears, over his Psyche, who probably doesn’t know anything about this lovesick fellow.
The writer is the Vice-Chancellor of Jatiya Kabi Kazi Nazrul Islam University,