Were you able to attend your online classes through your computers or smartphones? If you did, that's great! But do you know many other students are deprived of these tech-blessings? In greater Rangpur, many students, including college goers, can't even afford internet connections, let alone buying a computer or smartphone.
They have desperately been waiting for normalcy to return since the pandemic hit us, and hoping to get back to their respective physical classes in 2021. However, they are not sitting idle at their comfort couches. Right here in my village, I have seen students, including high school goers catching and selling fishes, working in the paddy fields as harvesting season swings in, and pulling rickshaw vans to earn subject wise tuition fees which they'd require once normalcy returns and educational activities resume.
One such student is Sajid, a 7th grader, whom I had seen going out with traditional fishing gears on a sunny Sunday morning. Sajid is my next-door neighbour. He ran into me at the crossing, where the village road splits into two – one leading towards the beel.
"Where are you heading, my boy?" I enquired. Sajid felt ashamed. His face blushed! But he was a bit relieved when his friend, Tapan rushed to join us. They explained that the fishes were in plenty in the lake, river, and the beel as the flood water went away. "Deshi (indigenous) Fishes are very tasty, sir." Tapan said. "We sell most of them and save money for the tuition fees next year." I found that they were interested in catching fish, for them it's like an adventure. They enjoy the work.
I went out later in the evening. While standing in the middle of a country road at the back of my village, one surprising voice drew my attention to a young chap. "Sir!" He was walking up the road from the spanning yellow paddy field. "Hey Lizan, how is it going?" Lizan shook his hand with me while holding the sickle in his left hand. "We were cutting the ripped paddy grasses." "We?" I asked. He pointed towards the golden coloured rice fields.
I saw some young men cutting and tying the paddy bundles. Some of them were bending over while others were sitting and singing the chorus. This amazed me much. Lizan is a college student. Unlike many other students, he too sells labour during his homestay to save some extra money so that he can take some more lessons privately.
The other day, I was going to the town for my weekly groceries. The transports between villages and nearby towns are basically three-wheelers, some are motorised and others are still peddled. I hopped up into one such auto-van, a motorised one. "Sir!" a pleasant surprise was waiting for me. I faced him when he turned back from his driver seat and asked me "Do you remember me?" I did. He was my student in class five. "Now I go to college. As the college has been shut down, I drive this Tomtom to earn my English tutor's fees that my working-class father can't afford." He gave me a comfortable ride to the town.
It was comfortable because he refused to take any more passengers other than me. When we reached the town, I slid my hand into the back pocket of my khaki jeans. I wanted to give him a bit of a tip too. But Naim insisted, "I can't charge you for the ride, sir!" It was all the more surprising since I met him after 6 long years. He started the engine and drove away through the busy highway. I stood still and murmured, "You make me proud, Naim. This is more than just respect for a teacher."
While some students are taking online classes during the pandemic, many others are making the best use of their time doing odd jobs, working in harvesting, and driving auto-rickshaws, simply because they can't afford computers or phones. I wonder what more education they could get from those virtual classes which they haven't already learnt from the real world.
I salute those of the young generation living in the rural parts of Bangladesh who despite being poor and unfortunate, do understand the value of education.
Rezaul Karim Reza is a teacher and a history enthusiast.