The pandemic has halted all physical activities of educational institutions. Despite teachers holding online classes and examinations, the headmaster of Dinajpur's Idgah Girls' High School is going to the homes of his five thousand students to check on their well-being and ensure no girl is married off at a young age.
Fazlul Karim (54) has been trying to eradicate child-marriage and expand the rate of women's education, in his area, for almost 10 years now.
He also received an award from the Norwegian Ambassador, herself, for his initiatives in expanding women's education and stopping child-marriage, in 2018.
Karim told The Business Standard (TBS), "Around 10 years ago, two of my students were married off by their families at a young age. I knew about child-marriage but did not pay much attention to it at the time. After some time I got to know that one of the girls was widowed and the other was divorced."
"This information awoke an immense feeling of guilt in me and I started to work to stop child-marriage from then," he added.
During his house visits, he talks to students' guardians about the risks and disadvantages of child-marriage. He also tries to convince them about the importance of educating their girls.
An underage student Ashamoni told TBS, "In 2018, my family fixed my marriage. I told Fazlul Karim sir when I went to school. He immediately went to our home and talked to my father. He stopped the marriage and convinced my parents to let me continue my studies."
"Now I want to complete my studies and join a respected profession to be successful in life," she added.
Lokman Hakim, joint secretary of the Dinajpur Teachers' Association, called Fazlul Karim their pride. He said, "What he started 10 years ago is our inspiration now. When the other teachers take rest after their hectic day at school, Fazlul sir spends that time to expand women's education and fight child-marriage by going door-to-door."
He is not only working on girls' institutional education, Fazlul Karim thinks sports are a vital part of children's mental development. He has formed a women's football team, which almost every time wins the district level tournament.
"Most of the girls of our Idgah Girls' High School are from lower class families. They are always fighting with financial struggles and other family problems. I keep going to their houses to check on them so that those problems cannot be a reason for students to drop out from their education," the headmaster said.
Fazlul Karim further said, "I used to work for a pharmaceutical company before becoming a teacher; I left that job and joined Indrapur High School of Parbatipur upazila in 1994. Then I moved to my current workplace in 2006."
"I feel there is no greater work than being an educator. Because teaching is not just a profession, it's a lifelong commitment," said Fazlul Karim.
He dreams of a day when teachers of every school will take their profession this seriously and take care of their students as their own. He believes, only then will his journey succeed.
Helping the students coming from financially poor families, educating them and ensuring a better life for them is Fazlul Karim's main motivation now.
Karim is a father to two daughters, one of them is 18 years old and an undergraduate student and the other is in class five. He said, "I want my daughters to choose their own professions and passions. But my eldest one has told me that she also wants to become a teacher."
"Just getting a teaching job does not make one a teacher. A real teacher is the person who lives in their students' hearts forever," he added.
He believes a teacher can give back so much to society.
On the topic of the contemporary coaching center culture, Fazlul Karim told TBS, "I do not like this practice. If a teacher teaches their class sincerely and the students are concentrated while in attendance, there should not be any need for these coaching centers. These coaching centers are merely businesses, we have to stop this; the government should take steps to do that."
Musaddek Hussain, temporary teacher of Sardeshwari Girls' High School, said, "Fazlul sir has proved that a teacher's duty does not finish after teaching in the class. I live nearby Fazlul sir, I have never seen him wasting any time in places like markets or tea-stalls. I have seen him at his students' houses in his free time."
The Headmaster of Sardeshwari Girls' High School, Ratan Kumar, said, "We are now trying to follow Fazlul sir. We are also paying attention to the child-marriages in our areas and trying to expand women's education."
"I believe one day when enough people start to do this from their own places we will get a society free from child-marriage. Women and men will lead our country together that day," he added.