Learner’s permit

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By Raphy Islam

A few months back, I was asked to tutor a kid on the English subjects of class six from the Bengali medium. I am still trying my very best to complete my undergraduate degree and I passed my school only five years back. I figured that it will not be a problem. Surprisingly, I was wrong.

First of all, I have to say this was my first attempt to formally give someone tuition. I was told by my friends and peers that I have a knack for explaining subjects easily.

Therefore, I began tutoring the student, who was well behaved and polite but extremely agitated for some reason. I could see her concentration ebb away as soon as 20-30 minutes of studying was complete. In a week’s time, I realised that she is learning nothing. For instance, starting from the first day till a month she was still writing, ‘He go school’.

I thought the concept of grammar itself was a bit new for students of that age. The problem with preposition can be understood. At first I tried to teach her why s/es are added to a verb. She understood and memorised it. She would blurt out whenever I asked her but would not apply it. She knew what a third person was, also what the singular number was, but that was the extent of it.

I thought about teaching her some appropriate prepositions as she was so good at memorising. And then she stopped doing that. After another month I almost started to think I am not getting through to her. I began to doubt my teaching abilities.

Then one fine day, after losing a bit of patience I asked, ‘What did you actually do at home? Why have you not studied?’ She replied that she went to school and after returning home she studied a little. Then her math and science teacher came, afterwards she had to study her holy texts, tutored by a huzur. Finally, she went to a Bangla teacher. Then late in the evening she managed to glance at the homework I had given her. ‘I don’t really like English’, she added, after some hesitation.

I was dumbfounded by her schedule. The fact that she was not fond of the subject I was teaching, became irrelevant. ‘Besides your school, you have four additional teachers taking extra care of you,’ I murmured. Eventually, focusing on the second part of her statement I told her the practicality in our country to learn and use English, all the generic and some personal thoughts as well.

As an adult, I knew I had to address this and tell her family the situation is extremely abnormal. With confidence, I went to her mother. The mother told me that she understood. I thought it went pretty well. I was wrong, again.

The next month they said they would try other things as she was not really learning anything from me. After all it’s about her future. I was astonished at first, mostly because technically I lost my first job within two months, and I focused on the money matter. But later I thought and made sense of it.

Once I was teaching my student a paragraph on book fair. I was telling her, write from your imagination, and do not blindly learn by heart, or else you will forget them. I asked, ‘Have you ever been to one?’ ‘No, going to fairs and melas are seen as bad things in our family,’ she replied. She said it rather exuberantly.

Hence, my astonishment of being laid off did not last more than an hour. In hindsight, the parents did take my advice, by getting rid of a teacher: me.

I remember my school days very vividly. Of course, there were teachers who just came around and passed time in classes, but there were gems too. They used to be covered in chalk. Despite being tired, there used to be a glow as they believed that at least some students were being benefitted by their efforts.

With my little knowledge, I thought maybe I will get that glow in my eyes one day. It does not seem that to be likely anymore.

A lot of people in the country blame the education system, the teachers, the administration, for our education turning out to be the way it has. From the problem in text books to the public exams which is surrounded by controversy. All of them are eligible for our most sincere attention but that does not relieve us from doing the best for our children. This includes not to bombard them with books, teachers and enormous pressure.

Can parents escape the responsibility? They are genuinely worried about their children’s education. But at what cost should that come to light? By robbing the kids out of their fun time, chaining them to books and teachers and coaching classes?

We categorically have started to overlook the need for reflection about these matters. We need to become a little more careful and considerate.

The realisation is validated when I see that there is a growing number of parents who have made it a habit to hand over their kids to the tutors and other teachers. With the money paid to the private tutors, some of these parents do not want to be associated in any way with their children’s education other than the results.

When will we stop valuing a worthwhile education with the acceptability of a ‘degree’?