What is the purpose of school? If we set up schools as exam factories, based on brutal competition for scores, failing to educate ‘the whole child’, should we be surprised at some of the more extreme consequences?
I lived and worked in Dhaka for two years. I knew these schools, I met some of the pupils and I was also immersed in the environment in which they were growing up. Sadly, I’m not surprised that these things could happen. Dhaka has a regrettable history that many of the top fee private schools have grown out of the tuitions industry. Some even have names that reflect that history. Teachers frequently tout themselves entirely on the basis of the exam results of their pupils. They mug and drill, in school and in outside tuition centres – those most ‘successful’ eventually rip schools apart to drag their pupils off to a newly created school.
This is schooling in its most extreme form, it is not education and it’s certainly a poor preparation for life. I once had a heated argument with an educator who said in a moment of anger, “when children die of drug overdoses, why should i care if a kid has their shirt tucked in or not?”
The reality is that if we truly care about children, educating the whole child must see us pay as much attention to the development of effective habits, life skills, character traits and understanding of the individual’s relationship to the bigger whole in today’s society. For that to happen, every educator has to be willing to bring their heart as much as their head, to get away from the image of themselves as the sage dispensing dollops of knowledge. Finally, we have to care about the child before the ‘stuff’ taught. There’s a warning whenever we find educators who want to spend all their time talking curriculum, budgets, premises and activities/ events – neglecting along the way to make space and time to talk about children, their lives, needs and the world they’re living in and growing in.