40 years old but 100 years young
By Foisal Chowdhury
New Age, Dhaka, December 11, 2011

I HAVE just celebrated in Khulna my 18th anniversary of graduating as a teacher from my teachersí training college in Manchester, England.

I was among the top five students that year and teaching job offers were literally being pushed under my door as a result. For five years I worked at one of the best private schools in London, enjoying all the benefits and living a carefree and grand life, but all along I felt there was something missing deep down.

Twelve years ago, I returned to Bangladesh on vacation, visited my old school and, as if the Almighty Allah had opened the clouds and spoken to me directly, I felt I was being called back.

I knew the material rewards of working in Bangladesh were miniscule in comparison to those I had enjoyed in the UK, but the voice inside was very persistent. Many nights I tossed and turned in bed, just thinking through the pros and cons.

Eventually, I spoke to my wife, who is also a teacher, and we agreed to return Ďhomeí on a three-year test run and weíve been here ever since and living quite happily, with one exception.

When in 2010 Sir Frank Peters campaigned to have corporal punishment abolished in schools and succeeded, he could never have imagined the enormous joy we felt. At last someone had come along, seen corporal punishment for the physical and mental destructive evil that it really is and bravely protested alone.

Throughout our careers, my wife and I have never beaten a pupil, not only because itís not necessary, but also it degrades us as human beings and lowers our dignity and self esteem.

I wrote to Sir Frank at the time, offered our encouragement, support and appreciation. He wrote back a very kind and appreciative letter, which weíve kept. He included a beautiful poem he had written; laminated, and suggested I hang it in my classroom. Not so much for the children to read, but for my fellow teachers, to remind them who their ultimate boss is.

The poem (which is both in English and in Bangla) reads:

The head of this school is Allah
Who knows every Heart, Soul and Mind.
Whenever you open your mouth to speak;
Ensure your words are: Pure, Considerate, Loving and Kind.

NO corporal punishment

I did as Sir Frank had requested and I would love to report it had a miraculous effect upon my fellow teachers, but that would be a lie.

Despite the ban, corporal punishment at my school is a many-times-a-day regular occurrence. I can hear the teardrops of innocent little children as they hit the ground and feel their pain in my heart. Iíve spoken countless times to my headmaster and colleagues. Although they agree in principle, they exercise differently in practice.

Coming from the UK, I know each and every child has the full support of the law. They are treated and respected as individuals under the law and if a child were to receive corporal punishment, they could walk straight from the classroom into the nearest police station, lodge a complaint that would be investigated and the doer punished. No baksheesh to pay the cops and no amount of baksheesh would hinder or stop the police investigation.

Bangladesh is 40-year old but 100-year young. The rights of children is merely a political catchphrase that sounds good and uttered profusely by politicians, but without any sincerity whatsoever.

Whenever I hear or see a child weep in my school, I also weep for the great loss of dignity of the profession and abhor the ignorance of the perpetrators.

Before the anti-corporal punishment law was passed, it was hard to tell the good from the bad and separate the evil from non-evil teachers among us, but now by their unlawful actions they stand out shamelessly and itís not a pleasant sight. It is time the government took action against those teachers whose minds are already deeply trenched in the mud and are trying to drag the rest of us down to their level. Itís time for all teachers who think like me to speak up and clean up the school system before it worsens.

Foisal Chowdhury

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