The Financial Express

Stepping into life's school with 'out books'

| Updated: January 04, 2022 17:10:46

Stepping into life's school with 'out books'

In the days of new school textbooks coming free from the government on January 1 every year, few can realise the bitter-sweet experience of getting such books in the bygone days. Getting sleek fresh books smelling of the new paper remained a far cry for children of many fixed-income people in the urban areas in those days. Yet their parents had to buy the books which had been replaced with new ones. For the rural and mostly the poorer students, books of students promoted to higher classes emerged as their 'new textbooks'. To many promoted students relatively senior by age, the used and dog-eared books contained enormous volumes of pleasure. Pages of these books were torn at places. But the students learnt to derive pleasure from these books as they would have from brand new books.

The normal scenario in capital Dhaka and the large cities 50-60 years ago was one of festivity. Textbooks for free were beyond the furthest recess of the students' and the parents' imagination. The poorer segments of students may have to warrant their wildest capability to indulge in such fancies. The reality was hard. Like in the villages, many lower-middle class families would be seen collecting the used books the students promoted to higher classes had left behind. Many of the insolvent students' parents were required to inform the promoted students' families that they needed the books for their children. The solvent families would be seen buying new textbooks from the crowded bookshops at Dhaka New Market. A few of them would awkwardly enter the bookshop selling old textbooks. No longer existing, the humble-looking shop called Gias Book House at New Market would serve this particular purpose. Its collection was not rich. But the shop worked as a source of out-of-print textbooks. Amid this veritably austere atmosphere, the new school-based academic years would begin in those days.

Textbooks are largely meant for engaging in academic exercises. Yet there are voracious readers who would develop their reading habit with Bangla textbooks. Those included a book called 'rapid reader'. Turning to this type of books was not compulsory. While setting questions of the final exams, teachers would skip the 'rapid readers'. The interesting aspect is the future readers, as well as writers, were normally found glued to these books. The main Bangla textbook had also had its unique appeal to the students on way to developing the pleasure of reading. As this book-loving segment of students kept maturing, they unwittingly broadened their horizon of reading materials. In the bygone days, reading habit at school kept expanding to myriad genres as the students kept being promoted to higher classes. The areas of pleasure-reading would range from fairy tales at lower grades; adventures and space expeditions, as well as stories of hunting in the middle grades. From the middle stage onwards, the reading students, boys in particular, would be seen leaning to detective and horror novels, science fictions etc.

To the great disappointment of many parents, the school-level bookworms cannot show better performances in their advanced stages of learning. Parents blame the 'out books' for these career downslides.   But there is heartening news for the guardians of these book-loving students. It has been seen through the ages, it is the bibliophiles who make brilliant minds later in life. Those include authors, scholars, academics and the members of many other disciplines related to the arts. Attaining brilliant results by just reading class books goes well with the average students. But the geniuses of the future find a different course open before them. Some are born to be bookish. Some are not. The latter make humble results in their examinations.

Many might feel that students engrossed in textbooks emerge as book lovers, and in the long run they can mould for themselves a successful career. This is not true in most of the cases. The average textbook-centric boys and girls remain mediocre students throughout their school careers. It's in their college and university days that a few of them show flashes of genius. In contrast the lovers of 'out books' fail to make much headway in the professional careers after the end of their student life. There are, however, extraordinary exceptions. Many of those from the latter group who prove their literary or cultural penchant eventually turn out to be national figures. Despite the fact that these students lag behind the better students, they can manage to be stay afloat in their school days.

Picking the reading habit at school at the teenage years is a common feature globally. To the disapproval and objection of the puritan guardians, this is the right age for book loving students to join various campaigns of book reading and reading competitions. Many of those who grow a strong passion for books cannot be resisted from these campaigns. It is the urban high schools which are normally targeted by the book-reading campaigners. These campaigners are non-profit platforms. Most of them have no other ambitions except making students friendly with the world classics of literature, philosophy, history and civilisations. As expected, it is the academics or renowned teachers who are found serving as the chief patrons of the book-reading programmes. Due to their activities, they earn the annoyance of parents habituated to a straitjacket style of life. On the other hand, the average book lovers dread this manacled childhood or youth. The higher-grade school students want to enjoy reading. Unfortunately, the textbook writers and editors seem to be in a competition of who can make their books more dull and insipid. This trend has been in place since Bangladesh government began to be in charge of the publication of school textbooks. These books are published under the direct supervision of the school textbook board. Senior teachers, academics and professional textbook writers are assigned the task of writing the books. After the completion of printing the textbooks, they are distributed for free among the schools throughout the country. Prior to the start of free distribution of textbooks 11 years ago, these books had to be bought from shops. There are flipsides, though. Because whether the students can avail of the books for free or they have to purchase them from the market is not a vital issue. It is mostly related to the economic condition of society.

From the point of view of the textbooks' readability, these publications continue to disappoint the teenage students who are tipped to become passionate readers. The problem with the textbooks' content is they are selected randomly. Most of the subjects have been picked without in-depth research work. It results in the learners being stuck in bewilderment. Academic activists come up with proposals of recasting the textbooks of all classes. As they view it, these books should continue to be attractive in content, illustrations, paper quality and printing & binding. Unfortunately, the authorities concerned appear to be least concerned about these vital features. A book shouldn't be viewed as a school-approved guide to promotion to higher classes with good marks.

Theoretically speaking, it has many other functions. Widening the horizons of the students' imagination is one of them. With the teachers engaged in their 'teaching employment' and the typical guardians looking to their children's future careers, the teenage boys and girls become the silent victims of a non-creative system. Belittling the need for helping the fast growing learners expand their ability to dream is insensitive.

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