The capsize of a boat with JSC (Junior School Certificate) examinees in the Pagla River in Nabinagar Upazila of Brahmanbaria should have mortified the national conscience but, it seems, it has not. There were reports of two deaths and injury to three other at the time of the sinking of the boat. Three more girls were missing. What has happened to the missing girls is yet to be known. On the number of girl students -all from Birgaon High School and College-the boat was carrying at the time of accident reports vary. But it appears there were no fewer than 100 of the JSC candidates on board. The number may as well be as high as 150.
The number of girls is important here because the boat that carried them had to be suitable for ferrying such a large number of passengers on a river. It was the school authority that took the responsibility of hiring the boat for the girls. Nothing wrong for it unless it was guided by an ulterior motive. A report has it that the school authority took Tk 200 from each girl for the extra service.
It appears that there is a considerable distance between the examination centre and the location of the school where the girl students studied. Also the journey is not easily negotiable. Was it absolutely necessary to designate this centre for students of Birgaon High School. Could not the river crossing by boat be avoided in the first place? No one in his or her right mind will think of subjecting students, girls in particular, to such travail and risks involved. Couldn't their exam centre be located nearer with hassle-free journey?
Who will now take responsibility for the death, injury and trauma the survivors suffered? There is no point forcing students to die so tragically just for the sake of an examination that has hardly any value. Even the traumatised students who had appeared at the examination in their wet dresses are not expected to do well for understandable reasons. The fear and the death of their classmate will continue to haunt them not only during the examination but also for the rest of their lives.
The girl students of Birgaon have paid the ultimate price for an ill-conceived examination. It is a fact that the committee that was formed to suggest reform to education had not recommended a public examination for class VIII. It was the bureaucrats who actually were dead set to hold an exam at this level. Even there were long deliberations for doing away with the JSC exam. It is a needless exercise and had it been dispensed with, this extreme case along with various other troubles examinees face could be avoided.
A public examination of this order puts enormous pressure on school authorities and parents. Parents have to look for temporary lodging nearer exam centres if the journey is not easy and of a short distance. Quite a mass movement and the expenses too are not negligible. The benefit is not worth the hassle. What matters is the Secondary School Certificate examination. The public examination at the junior level should immediately be abandoned for good.
It is unwise to subject students and their parents to a needless ordeal for the whims of a section of bureaucrats. In the Brahmanbaria case, the unthinkable has happened. When involved here is the movement of millions of students, there is no guarantee more such tragedies cannot occur. At the local level, it might have been a folly if there was any possibility of an alternative exam centre nearer. But the main culprit is the wrong decision to impose a public examination on students in order to burden them unnecessarily.
The system of education needs further review at the lower level. Students should be treated with dignity. Unless they grow up with a sense of dignity and their own appreciation of education, this type of education will prove fruitless in the ultimate analysis. Burdening them with books and examinations does not help serve the purpose. All they need is to learn on their own initiative and with joy.