Wednesday, January 18, 2012

‘Fun-tastic’ education and campus killings

Corporal punishment is often defined broadly as bodily punishment of any kind. Bangladesh is celebrating the first anniversary of the abolition of corporal punishment in schools on January 13. The credo of Sir Frank Peters, the pioneer in this noble campaign, is: Learning should be FUN-tastic – help them know; help them grow.” We sincerely admire his endeavour.

As a knowledgeable person Sir Frank should be aware what The Bible Says: “He who spareth the rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him correcteth him betimes” (Proverbs 13:24). Thou shalt beat him with the rod, and deliver his soul from hell.” (Proverbs 23:13-14). This was the inbred belief among parents that beating children was a corrective method. But modern professional organizations of physicians and psychologists have suggested that spanking is damaging and leads to family violence and child abuse. They have suggested that spanking teaches physically aggressive behaviour which the child will imitate. Well, though the conclusion is not definitive, but it is incontestable that severe forms of physical abuse does more harm than good. At least this can be asserted with certainty that corporal punishment does induce fear among school goers.

One of the most important founding figures in Western philosophy, Aristotle – who believed that liberty as well as equality are chiefly to be found in democracy and they will be best attained when all persons alike share in the government to the utmost – asserted over twenty-three hundred years ago that Man is by nature a political animal. So there is no argument over the necessity and importance of politics; but nowhere else in the world politicking and politicisation have assumed such an intolerably demonic perilous shape in the political scenario as in Bangladesh where the people – even professionals like lawyers, physicians, journalists, freedom fighters et al – are sharply divided into two distinct political camps. It is anybody’s guess what might happen unless the ongoing imbroglio over the caretaker government issue and the next general election are not amicably resolved.

No other people know better than the Bangladeshis how politics can vitiate academic environment. Nevertheless, what are posing potential threat to academic atmosphere are the violent fights on the DU and all the other ‘varsities as well as colleges since 1974 when several students were shot dead near the TSC. Over the past three years the pro-Awami League Bangladesh Chhatra League (BCL) factions have been engaged in internecine mortal clashes. A fourth-year student of Jahangirnagar University succumbed to his injuries on January 10 after he was brutally beaten up allegedly by activists of a rival faction of BCL. Statistics of the victims of campus murders may not be readily available, but the figure should be terrifying.

Let us turn to our foremost centre of higher education. The University of Dhaka (DU), which celebrated its 90th birth anniversary last year, now boasts 10 faculties, 48 departments, 9 institutes and 26 research centres, and 17 dormitories. Two-thirds of the faculty members have degrees from European, North American, Australian and other foreign universities; and some of them achieved international renown for their scholarship and have taught at well-known ‘varsities and institutions abroad.

This ‘Oxford of the East’ had a very stormy start when many Calcuttan leaders were unhappy with the government’s intention to set up a university in Dhaka. A delegation headed by Dr Rash Bihari Ghosh, met the viceroy and contended that “Muslims of Eastern Bengal were in large majority cultivators and they would benefit in no way by the foundation of a university”. Lord Hardinge told Sir Ashutosh Mukherjee, vice-chancellor of the Calcutta University, that he (Hardinge) was determined to establish a university in Dhaka in spite of their vehement opposition. However, modelled on modern British universities such as Manchester, Leeds, and Liverpool, the DU itself became a model for Indian universities at Allahabad, Aligarh, Annamalai, Benaras, Hyderabad and Lucknow.

 There is no gainsaying that Sir Frank has inspired many teachers and parents here to seriously look into the issue of corporal punishment. Can he begin his second phase of campaign against senseless murders on the campuses taking place with horrifying frequency? For example, he may organise countrywide human chain to press home the issue. But a word of caution! Before doing so he must get assurance from the Home Minster that that his harmless programme shall not be attacked by the police.

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