Myanmar and Us
(Series - 2, part - 8)
Teaching in government primary schools miserably fail to promote understanding of the fundamentals of science and mathematics. After an examination or test, students soon forget memorisation of excessive unrelated packages of discrete subject matter.
Examples in Parts 6 and 7 showed how this has implications for the public's perception of Covid-19 and the way politicians understand and handle scientific and mathematical information related to the coronavirus.
Primary school textbooks decapitate the scientific method. There's no learning through practical investigations. In the few brief sterilised attempts at practical work, students have to follow set structured instructions, fill in tables, answer some questions or students' observations, conclude by 'share your ideas with classmates'.
There's no coherence to teach how we gain knowledge by following the scientific method through an extended investigation. Nor are there any chances for students to assemble and structure their own 'controlled experiment', which leads an ability to judge evidence.
That's why, in the primary science textbooks there's an excessive reliance on tables, with no opportunities for students to plot graphs from their own data. People use line graphs, block graphs, bar charts, histograms and pie charts for different purposes. Think of Covid-19 data. Formulaic maths tricks in Part 7 highlighted the dangers of excessive reliance on only one method.
The government tailors the education system to show off meaningless examination pass rates instead of developing a student's knowledge. Parents, teachers, and students share this view. It's not about diversity, enjoyment, curiosity, divergent thought, critical thinking, empathy or respecting a child's opinion.
The way Bangladesh schools present tests and examinations do little to measure abstract and hypothetical thinking, which has value as part of intelligence in modern society. Preparation for examinations leaves technical skills underdeveloped. Technology emerges from the knowledge of science (producing effective vaccines for Covid-19).
It's blatantly obvious the only real value attached by the education department is to content that examinations measure. You don't stop students moving up a class if they fail one subject unless it's a be-all-and-end-all.
Parents and students understand what's deemed important whilst trying their best to avoid the damaging psychological shame and stress of so-called failure, forcefully implanted so early into immature minds.
Repeating a class because of 'failing' is deeply educationally flawed. This stigmatising system institutionalises humiliation, breaks up friendships and hinders developing age-appropriate maturity when in younger classes. It discriminates where school posts are vacant, a child is ill at a crucial time, or local adverse weather conditions hinder attendance.
Utterly pointless, boring and demotivating, sums up studying those subjects you passed but need to repeat for another year. It can make you hate those subjects. Assuming similar linear annual academic development of subject knowledge for every student is wrong.
Inequality increases depending on the wealth of parents who can afford private coaching rather than a child's ability. Poor parents may think a student's failure justifies them to leave for work because government schools are not free (pen, pencil, ruler, exercise paper, enrolment fees, examination fees, uniform, outing costs, etc.).
Successful teaching is very difficult in a classroom environment where many adverse factors affecting learning are out of a teacher's control. Expectations to show excellent examination results for all students in these circumstances, creates a culture of cheating.
During examinations there are still schools - particularly at primary level in rural areas - where teachers walk out of the room, write the answers on the board for students to copy, allow copying from each other, bow to pass pressure from influential parents, and so on.
A 10-year-old, who had experienced both government primary and KG schools, ruefully told me about the forthcoming examinations. "In the primary school the teachers write the answers on the board. In the KG school you have to copy your friends."
Some teachers have already prepared students in advance by going through the examination questions a few days beforehand. In older classes, they may explain which questions they will test them on because students have such a poor recall of the whole textbook.
Other class teachers take private coaching. Certain teachers help to prepare children on the forthcoming questions. No wonder students need to attend private coaching.
One primary school child was keen to join a private coaching session run by his mathematics and Bangla teacher, even though he already attended two private coaching classes. This teacher charged much more than the others for less time. Curiously, I asked him why he wanted to join and further curtail his free time. He said it was not just mathematics and Bangla, his teacher has "got all the answers. Before an examination he will show me the answers. Then I'll pass."
What might happen if the parent didn't enrol the student into this expensive class? There's potential parental wrath for a fail. Also, shame caused by uncaring comments from parents and peers. It forces the child to cajole the poor parent to give hard-earned money to a teacher in business. This is a teacher who has imposed excessive charges knowing full well cheating is his power over the student to extract maximum financial gain. However, that teacher's brain contains a childhood memory from long ago of unmonitored examinations and staff collusion.
A different visiting rural Class 4 primary school student told me he had just passed all his mid-year examinations. I asked him to read from the first two pages of the English For Today Class 4 textbook. He could read nothing. Puzzled, I suggested he choose anything to read to me from any page. He could still read nothing. I asked him how did he pass. He said he had copied the answers off the blackboard during the examination.
The outcome: children come to learn that deception, fraud and falsehood are acceptable values - a means to an end. They may forget particular mathematics or Bangla grammar lessons, but they won't forget the lessons of cheating for the rest of their lives.
Why should it surprise anyone that local leaders appropriate Covid-19 relief when teachers (follow them like your parents) - pressurised by unrealistic expectations - have taught them it's acceptable to cheat?
Can you remember the news on 8th January 2017? The Anti-Corruption Commission asked all deputy commissioners to report to it by 15 February about students who failed the end of class examination but were still promoted to the next level. "We have found allegations that many school authorities promote failed students to next classes by imposing extra charges" (ACC official, Daily Star, 9.1.17). The ACC sent letters to 15 school or college institutions in Dhaka... Does this only happen in Dhaka?
But who's there to copy for answers when looking at Covid-19 data? It is unfamiliar information coming from real life practical developments, not set textbook exercises. You need to assess probabilities. Pity about neglecting to learn the scientific method practically in primary schools and madrasas. There is a saying, you reap what you sow.
If schools hinder not help, what about the family? Part 9 will examine how families and the community influence thinking regarding Covid-19.
To be continued...