Renowned personality and educationist, Niloufer Manzur has passed away in a situation when not only our country but also the whole world is scrambling hard to survive amidst Covid-19 pandemic. Like countrymen, we, expatriate Bangladeshis, are equally shocked and grieved to hear this sad news.
Niloufer Manzur is well known in the society for more than one reason. She is the daughter of late Dr Mafiz Ali Chowdhury who was an MP and a minister in Bangabandhu's cabinet in 1972. She was the wife of Syed Manzur Elahi who is not only an eminent industrialist, but also well known for practicing corporate governance in his business enterprises. He also served as an adviser to the former caretaker government twice. But surpassing all, she has established herself with her own contribution and emerged as a pioneer educationist by spreading quality education in the country. She was the founding principal of Sunbeams School which is known as one of the best English medium schools in our country.
The 1980s saw a rise in the trend of studying in English medium schools. Especially, pursuing O Level (Grade Ten) and A level (Grade Twelve) program administered by the Cambridge International Examination, London, UK, was getting popularity among the affluent people of Dhaka city. In order to capitalise on this trend, one English medium school after another was springing up and their education system was designed with a commercial motive. An atmosphere of undue competition was created among the contemporary English medium schools to allure students and educating them in an English environment. But the standard of education provided by many of those schools was questionable. In this situation, Sunbeams School came up with an exemplary platform of ensuring quality education to its students and that was possible due to the visionary role played by Niloufer Manzur. She was not only the founding principal of this school but also contributed to every aspect of the school ranging from curriculum designing to conducting the courses in the classroom. She established a superb standard in appointing teachers and admission of students. She never emphasised grade-based education rather believed in imparting knowledge-oriented quality education to the students. The work of designing curriculum and selecting textbooks was unique and different from the traditional approach followed by other schools. When all other English medium schools referred their students to the Mathematics books written by Harwood and Clerk, Sunbeams School used to follow different books by British and Indian writers. Her philosophy was to build a strong foundation of knowledge among the students and in keeping with this view, she used to motivate all her teaching staffs who could easily transfer her ideology to the students of her school. During that time, Sunbeams emerged as a very reputed English medium school in the Dhaka city when admission of their children was a dream to many city dwellers. The knowledge-base of the Students in Sunbeams was so strong and versatile that they could be easily distinguished from other students. Students graduating from Sunbeams school could easily quality in any competitive exam and therefore, their acceptance was everywhere from higher grades in other reputed schools to universities and to many overseas institutions of the developed world. This spectacular success was possible because of the dedication and contribution made by Niloufer Manzur.
In the 1980s, when I was studying in Dhaka university, I had an opportunity of tutoring some English medium school students and most of them were from Sunbeams. Because of different teaching styles and referenced textbooks, there was always confusion among the students. So, I wanted to discuss the matter with her, it was very difficult to arrange at that time because my request was never conveyed to her by the office staff. At a certain point, I wrote a small letter directly addressing her and briefly explained the reason why I intended to meet her. This worked well and I had an opportunity to meet her and share my opinion. She carefully listened to what I said and initially expressed frustration knowing that her students needed private tutoring. When I explained to her that I was not a typical private tutor, rather helped the students who desired to study at an advance level, then she was convinced and appreciated me. She also thanked me for proactively expressing my opinion and sharing experience. However, from that short discussion I realised that she was far ahead of the traditional education system and very focused on knowledge-based education. Since that brief meeting, she became one of my respected persons in life. I wish I could be her direct student. In Canada, my daughters have been studying under a special program which has a close similarity with the curriculum followed in Sunbeams School and whenever I discussed with my daughters about her studies, Sunbeams school and its founding principal, Niloufer Manzur came up. Although brought up in a different environment, they became familiar with her. A few years bank, when I went to Bangladesh, I bought a full set of books taught in Sunbeams school for my daughters who have additionally studied those books for enriching their knowledge.
Her another principle was merit-based students' admission. We all know that parent's solvency or income level was one of the most crucial factors in getting students admitted to English medium schools. Whatever the talent the students possess would not be considered if his/her parent's income level is not found to be adequate. Sunbeams school has never considered parent's income level as the criteria for acceptance, rather students' smartness, sharpness and intelligence were the most important factors in admitting students. Many of my close friends are middle class people and their income level is not that high, but their children have studied in Sunbeams school. That was possible because family income was not so important there. It is Niloufer Manzur who introduced this system in a departure from the practice most English medium schools have followed and has thus provided an opportunity of quality education to all irrespective of the students' financial background.
Sunbeam school will continue to advance by maintaining the standard set by its founding principal, Niloufer Manzur. After dedicating her entire life in spreading quality education in the country, she has started her journey for the heaven. May her soul remain in peace. Our only regret is that we had to bid a solitary goodbye to her, although thousands of people were supposed to participate in her Janaja and gather at the grave. It is a cruel reality that we will have to painfully accept. We pray to the Almighty for the peace of her departed soul and heavenly blessings.
Nironjan Roy, CPA, CMA is a banker and lives in Toronto, Canada. Nironjankumar_roy@yahoo.com