Books’ availability in this country is not same in all the places. Chittagong Hill Tracts’ situation is one of the worsts. In order for the intellectual uprising, there is no other alternative to reading books and nothing could be better for cultivating knowledge than a library, writes Niswi Mong Marma
Karuna Shishu Sodon is a Buddhist monastery located at Boli Para union of Thanchi upazila in Bandarban district. Nearly two decades ago, Gaynosri Mohathero established the monastery to spread education in the desolate Thanchi region. Currently, more than 130 young students are living here.
In the February of 2018, three other people — Shanty Bikash Chakma, Swe Cho Wong Marma, Aung Chain Nue — and me, initiated to establish a library. Our major agenda was to offer chances to read diverse kinds of book besides curriculum, to create an atmosphere of knowledge cultivation and communication among young people. We spend the entire year collecting books taking the tally to over one thousand.
Let us shed light on the current situation of education of Chittagong Hill Tracts CHT to justify our initiative. The educational infrastructure of CHT is downright miserable. Even though, conforming to the current trend, different types of educational institutes are being established, however, quality education is accessible to only a handful of urban centric and affluent families. Apart from them, a large number of students cannot avail facilities of modern education. These days, parents are more conscious and aware about their offspring’s education, however, drop-out rate here is astonishing. Many young people cannot continue their studies after finishing school or higher-secondary degree. Many do not have the economic affordability, but many just cannot pass to the next level.
Particularly, conditions in the CHT are much worse. The number of failed students in these areas is indicating that not only in competitive examinations, but also in different public university admission tests, members of ethnic communities cannot even fill up one per cent quota reserved for them. Thanchi, Ruma, Bilaichari, Sajek and other areas have very minimal representation in different public universities, whereas, there are other rural places that have many representative at public university level. We have to keep this in mind that not only number of students, but also the quality of education should be considered.
Should we scrutinise current education condition of CHT, the major problem that would come up is — linguistic barrier and quality of education. Young pupils, from the first grade, have to cope up with a completely unfamiliar language — Bangla. For such young minds, this is a huge burden. As a result, their education is more focused on memorising rather than understanding. Education becomes synonymous to examination. This practice, in turn, the young minds irresponsive to knowledge practice. Perusing education, at primary level, in any other language but mother tongue is certainly not an easy task. Lack of interest for education among students is a major factor for the huge dropout rates in our areas.
School teachers and guardians could address this issue by interestingly presenting curriculum to the young students. In the practice of knowledge, nothing can be better than reading books. It would be really fantastic if we could introduce them with books apart from educational curriculum. Should they be able to read comics, science fiction, child literature from a young age, they could develop zeal for knowledge, sharp imagination power and courage to dream. However, access to books outside of educational curriculum in CHT is not easy. More specifically, as a boy grew up in Thanchi, I got my first chance to read a book, which was not in my syllabus, when I entered college. Before that, I never had the chance to properly read a literature book. I can still recall my childhood memories, when I used to read newspaper that came as a wrapper for our breakfast. We dream that our next generation will grow up reading different books, and this dream works as the driving force for the establishment for our library.
I used to provide tuition to students of my locality. Particularly, in 2015, when I got myself admitted into University of Dhaka, I felt that as a community member, my responsibilities increased. From then on, I, along some of my friends, try to help young students of our locality with their education during the month long Ramadan break. Every year, more than 150 students from a number of villages have been availing this opportunity.
When I was in grade ten, I attended one such free coaching class, initiated by university students of Bangladesh Marma Students Council. Their initiative hugely inspired me and boosted my confidence to do something by myself. Then, to give the courage to dream to local students, me and my friends started arranging seminars. There, we used to explore criteria of admission in different public universities, procedures and dreams of the young minds. While doing these, I got the confidence that university students from our community can play pivotal role in advancing our society. We felt that we should create zeal for knowledge among our younger generation. Creating the practice of dreaming inside those young minds was our responsibility. Moreover, we observed that where young people are involved in different social and cultural activities, the dropout rate was low among them.
Another observation is that missionary schools played an important role, in CHT and other parts of the world, in spreading Christianity. Missionary schools in different areas of the country such as Notre Dame, Holy Cross and Saint Joseph are examples. CHT is Buddhist majority region, in three districts of CHT, there are over one thousand Buddhist pagodas. Principals of every pagoda are solvent enough to take care of education of at least ten children. And, if one from every ten could get chance to study in public universities, CHT could go under revolutionary changes. I feel lucky that I had the chance to study in such a monastery. Should Gaynosri Mohathero choose not to establish one such, many young people like me would never see the light of education.
To wrap up the discussion, I would like to say that there should be more libraries in different parts of CHT. I think that nothing could be better for cultivating knowledge than a library. Young Jummas’ lack of interest in education and huge dropout rate could be traced back to weak basics of students due to their early schooling years. Should we be able to make the primary education more interesting to the students, we could trigger their dreams, their interest from education, we would be able to build a better Jumma community. And in order for the intellectual uprising, there is no other alternative to reading books. Making books available to the next generation is our duty and we are carrying out our responsibility with the library.
Niswi Mong Marma recently graduated from University of Dhaka.
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