Another friend of mine, Sarah Kelley, grew up in Bangladesh as well, though she had a very different experience from Sadman. Kelley, a pre-med biology junior, moved to Gainesville from Bangladesh with her older brother Shane in August.
Kelley grew up a 40-acre campus of a Christian hospital in Bangladesh’s rural southeastern region. Her family served as missionaries at the base.
There was a Bengali medium school on the base, but Kelley attended a small English medium school for missionary children. A group from kindergarten through grade 3 may have consisted of around 15 to 20 students, the numbers dwindling with age.
Sometimes Kelley’s mother taught the group of students, sometimes other mothers taught. By high school, Kelley was taking classes mostly online through an independent study program.
Kelley had many friends who attended the Bengali medium school on the base. She often got a feel for the methods of the school when she passed by. From her observation, much of the teachings were based on oral instruction. The teachers would say something and have the students repeat it back to them.
The schools in her area are working on changing that, Kelley said. They have seen that the learning-by-rote method is not very efficient, and they are working toward more exercises in critical thinking.
The school goes up to grade 10, after which students are tested for two years of “college” (the American equivalent of 11th and 12th grades) and then can apply to attend a university.
Some of Kelley’s female friends would attend the school through 10th grade then get a job or marry. Other students were encouraged by their families to continue in their education.
“Bengali students are very studious,” Kelley said. “There’s a lot of family honor associated with grades and school.”
She described it as thought to be a “gateway” to a better life for many Bengali families.
In an article by the Khaleej Times, an English newspaper based in Dubai, the writer points out how empowered women in Bangladesh have been and are becoming. The article lists women’s development projects such as microlending as a positive endeavor to life widows and single mothers out of poverty.
The Khaleej Times says men still outnumber women in Bangladeshi universities, but the number of women enrolling is steadily increasing.
It is a hopeful prospect in a nation that ranks 146th out of 187 countries on an index that measures human development. (The list is compiled by the United Nations Development Programme, according to the Khaleej Times).
And according to UNICEF, 77 percent of females ages 15-24 can read (2005-2010). The number is 74 percent for males the same age. From 2007 to 2010 primary school enrollment rates are very high (in the 80s and 90s percentages) but secondary school enrollment rates are considerably less (hovering between 40 and 43 percent for males and females respectively).
But enough statistics. There are improvements that can be made, like in any education system, but I think Bangladesh is heading in the right direction, especially in terms of empowering women in an atmosphere surrounded by gender hardships.
A big thank-you to Sarah Kelley for letting me interview her!
Kazi Sadman, a materials science and engineering sophomore, lived most of his life in Bangladesh, until moving here to the United States in high school.
Sadman attended a private school in Dhaka from playgroup through ninth grade. He spent his younger education years in what is known as playgroup, nursery, Kindergarten 1, then Kindergarten 2. The rest of his schooling was labeled by grade up to 12, much like U.S. schools.
There are two kinds of schools where he is from, English medium schools and Bengali medium schools. The English medium schools are private, whereas the Bengali medium schools are public.
Sadman attended an English medium school, which meant having seven or eight periods a day, only one taught in Bengali. School days ran from Sunday to Thursday. There were two five-month semesters in a year, with a one-month summer break and one-month winter break.
Sadman’s school was very academically challenging. There were letter grades assigned, report cards sent out twice a semester, and parent-teacher conferences twice a semester. There were finals every year that were worth 75 percent of their grade.
“There were no curves, never!” Sadman said.
If students passed their A level tests in the 12th grade, they could go on to apply for a university.
The heavy-weight finals and A level tests added a lot of pressure to students academically, Sadman said, something he was spared of in his final years of high school when he moved to the United States.
Students at Sadman’s school were not only held to a high standard of academics. There were many rules put in place to keep students’ behavior in line. Boys were to wear a uniform of brown pants paired with a white shirt. The teachers and administrators of the school were very respected, and they were given the ultimate authority. It was not uncommon for a student to get slapped or spanked by an administrator as a punishment for behavior.
But they also had fun with school too, Sadman said. A close-knit community, students grow up knowing basically everyone in their grade level, as they progress from playgroup through grade twelve at the same school. Sadman said when he left there were about 90 students in his grade, students whom he had grown up going to school with.
Sadman remembers some extracurricular programs his school offered. The debate club was big. Table tennis and basketball were popular as well. The school put on several functions, one called “race day” which is similar to an American field day. Other functions celebrating holidays like the Bengali New Year (Pohela Boishakh) gave students an excuse to dress up and enjoy food and music together.
I want to thank Kazi Sadman for sharing his school experiences with me!
To know more about the education system in Bangladesh, visit their ministry of education website. It is packed with statistics and official-looking documents, although the documents themselves are written in Bengali.
Heated protests in Turkey last week have added more contention to a debate that spans the nation’s history. Intentionally founded on secularism yet still a nation with a very religious population, there is bound to be a good amount of rubbing shoulders between these two ideals that apparently don’t coincide.
And last week, the tensions between these ideals surfaced with the protests in Turkey’s capital, Ankara. Demonstrators gathered to challenge the Parliament’s nearly-completed overturning of a 1997 law that stipulated that only children ages 15 and above could attend religious “imam hatip” schools, according to Al Jazeera.
The “imam hatip” schools, said Reuters UK, specialize in religious education combined with a modern curriculum. If the bill is overturned, students as young as 11 would be able to attend these schools.
Parliament accepted a proposal last Thursday from Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan’s AK Party to offer optional courses on the Quran or the life of the Prophet Mohammad in public middle and secondary schools, says Al Jazeera.
But the debate is more than just a feud over the place of conservative Islam in the Turkish education system, a blogger for the Daily Activist argues. It is more like an issue of the “steady erosion of secularism” in Turkey, the blogger writes.
Turkey has long been known for its secular tradition, an Eastern nation founded on such principles. Excerpts of the Turkish Constitution, found on Turkey’s Ministry of National Education’s website, emphasize this concerted effort to remain secular in educational and political realms in a largely Islamic nation. Article 1.3 states that the general purpose of education in Turkey is to raise citizens who:
“…are aware of their duties and responsibilities towards the Turkish Republic, a democratic, secular and social state of law based on human rights and the basic principles defined at the beginning of the Constitution and for whom these duties have become a habit…”
“…have a balanced and healthy personality and character, who are developed in terms of body, mind, moral, spirit and emotions, free and with scientific thinking abilities and a wide worldview, who respect human rights, who value personality and enterprise, who are responsible towards society, who are constructive, creative and productive.”
According to the Associated Press, Prime Minister Erdogan championed the move towards overturning the 1997 bill as a step towards greater democracy. Erdogan, who graduated from an Islamic school, has spoken of government support for raising a “pious generation.”
Al Jazeera states that the 1997 law led to the decline in attendance at “imam hatip” schools, when the age standard was placed at 15. According to statistics by UNICEF, enrollment in Turkish primary schools decreased since 1997. However, enrollment rates increased in secondary schools post-1997.
The bill, which has passed through a majority AK party Parliament, just needs to be approved by President Abdullah Gul before it comes into effect, according to the AP.
AK Party leaders hail this as a reform that will decrease illiteracy and raise school standards. Turkish secularists worry that this will set the nation back in the wrong direction. It could be an interesting wave into a new era for Turkey.