Titly used to dream of being a fashion designer.
As she has stepped into the tender age of 14, this is arguably the best time for her to dream ambitiously. Yet, her dream has all but disappeared into a gruelling grind of daily life. What's so stressful about a 14-year-old's life, you ask?
Let us take a look at her daily routine. She wakes up to the blue light of dawn, is dragged to the dining table by her guardian, and endures a breakfast without tasting it. Studying in the morning is best, admonishes her father. She reaches school still half asleep, carrying a near mountain load of books that will be her companion throughout the day. School should be a sanctuary of protection, friendship and learning. But to her, it is merely another stop in her endless day.
Class starts at 12:00 noon, but she has to reach school by 10:30am and attend a coaching session arranged by the school teachers. After this, her actual classes start. School ends at 4:30pm, and by the time she reaches home, daylight is long gone. At home, instead of indulging in books, cartoon or any other hobby, she has to study under a home tutor, after which she has to once again go back to her school texts.
"Teachers themselves encourage us to go to coaching. At class, I don't understand all of the texts; so, Madam (her home tutor) has to help me in the evening," Titly says.
Titly's guardian and elder sister Arifa Khan, who is an entrepreneur, expresses her hopelessness at the situation. "What are we to do? The school is very adamant that she must attend their coaching. I am not satisfied with them, so I have employed a home tutor. Titly is in class-VIII, so she is under a lot of pressure to perform well at the JSC (Junior School Certificate) exam. She hardly gets any time to herself all through the week," she said.
Shakkhor, another student of class-VI, has to face similar situations. From 9:00 in the morning to 6:00 in the evening, he has to run from school to coaching. After coming home, he has to study till 11:00pm to keep up with the rest of his peers. There is not even time to think about leisure pursuits.
No time to spend in hobbies, no time to play outdoors, not even time to spend with her family. This has become the life of an average school-going child in the country.
The situation escalated to such a point where children do not even get the leisure to dream of a better future. Instead, they are running like an automaton dawn to dusk for the sake of finishing their school year with an acceptable (to their guardians, teachers and peers) result.
The fundamental flaw that first comes to mind in this situation is the redundancy of studying in school as well as at coaching centres. If students have to rely on coaching centres and additional tuition to get by in their studies, what, exactly, are the school teachers doing? Are they not maintaining enough quality in their teaching? And why does our education system support such a rigorous system intent on crushing the hopes and dreams of children?
From the surface it might seem teachers' fault for not putting enough effort at finishing the syllabus at school, thus leaving the students bereft and desperate to turn to home tutors and coaching centres to fulfil their needs.
"We are thinking of an ideal situation where the teacher manages to finish the whole syllabus in the classroom so that students do not have to resort to additional tutoring, but the real situation is far from it," said Dr Md Ali Zinnah, professor of the Institute of Education and Research at Dhaka University.
"If we look at the vast SSC or HSC syllabus, it becomes evident that it is near impossible for teachers to cover it during school hours only. From my research conducted at various districts of Bangladesh, I have seen that it is very difficult for a teacher to answer all the queries that a class full of students might have. Due to these constraints, it becomes difficult for teachers to even finish a whole chapter in class; they only can give a vague idea before the bell rings."
According to Dr Zinnah, another factor that contributes to the students' tendency to resort to additional tutoring is the "golden GPA-5". This prevents many students from endeavouring to receive actual learning; instead, they focus on shortcuts and tricks.
"Neither the teacher nor the student is to blame for this. Instead, we should focus on the family, peers and society who immediately cast an individual in a negative light when he or she fails to acquire a golden GPA-5 or fails to get enrolled in a prestigious institution for further studies," he explained.
This reality creates a mental pressure on these students. As a result, they do not see any other way except to resign themselves to attending one or more coaching sessions.
Efforts to remedy this situation were made in the past, but in Dr Zinnah's opinion, they were half-hearted at best. As there are different types of education systems in the country, the budget allocated for education breaks down into minuscule amounts that ultimately is not enough, he observed.
So what could be the solution?
"I am not in favour of coaching centres or tutors, but in the present situation, shutting off this practice and relying only on school would probably end up with a negative impact on students' results," he stated.
Dr Zinnah opined that teachers have to be provided with adequate time in the classroom, optimal number of students so that no one's queries are left unanswered, enough time and opportunity to plan their lessons, and a better compensation package.
When these parameters are met and the syllabus is reviewed, only then can we hope to abolish the coaching system, he said.
"A post-mortem of the present prevailing situation has become very necessary. Without knowing the diagnosis, it cannot be solved in traditional ways. What we need is a holistic solution," he concluded.
And here we see that the presence of coaching centres is less of a benign problem and more of a vicious circle where abruptly abolishing it would not solve anything. The society's attitude towards it is such that it encourages the rat race of students in pursuit of good result and pushes them towards spending their days running to tutor after tutor. Truly, this problem has no single solution, but research and a more holistic approach will surely be beneficial.