It was reported in the press that a teacher who topped the list in the primary school teachers' recruitment examination 12 years ago did not get the job. After a long judicial process, and with intervention from the Supreme Court, she was offered the job. Five officials of the Directorate of Primary Education including the former Director General apologised to the court and received pardon for contempt of court (The Daily Star, December 15). What remains untold in the story has prompted this article.
Beauty Begum scored the highest in primary school teachers' recruitment test in Gaibandha in 2008, but she did not get the job. When she launched a legal battle, after she crossed the bars of the lower courts, the High Court Appellate Division on August 3, 2017 directed the officials to recruit her to the post in 15 days. When the authorities failed to act, Beauty Begum appealed to the Supreme Court Appellate Division for remedy and to cite the responsible officials for contempt of court. The Apex court, a three-member bench of the Appellate Division, headed by Justice Muhammad Imman Ali, summoned the five officials on December 7 to appear in person.
The former Director General, Dr Abu Hena Mostafa Kamal, (currently the defence secretary of the government), along with other officials of the Directorate of Primary Education, appeared before the judge, informed the court that a letter of appointment had been issued to Beauty Begum, apologised unconditionally for their conduct, and received a pardon.
A friend, the head of a missionary institution in Dhaka, on reading the newspaper account, wrote that the case raised three questions. First, was it a case of administrative corruption; then why did it take 12 years and intervention from the highest court of the land to correct? Secondly, the report mentions the contempt of court citation and the pardon, but nothing about the nature of the offenses, and the grounds of the pardon. Thirdly, we are not any wiser "how" or "why" this woman was denied an appointment by the officials for this very long period and this colossal failure on the part of the authorities occurred. It is like telling the story of Christmas without mentioning the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem, he thought.
Continuing with the analogy of the Christian holiday, my friend wrote: "It is as if we read in the newspaper one day that a thousand reindeer have suddenly invaded Dhaka and are now grazing in Ramna Park. We are told how many, what kind of reindeer, what colour, what they are eating, etc. But the report makes no reference to the absolutely bizarre and incomprehensible arrival of these reindeer. The real story, of course, is not the colour, the type, or the number of the reindeer or what they are eating, but rather the fact that such extraordinary animals should appear here at all."
My friend surmised: "Evidently, there is something about this case which a Bangladeshi reader easily understands and therefore the information I find strangely absent is hardly noticed."
He speculates about why the reporter omitted critical facts and explanation. "It may offend some Minister, for instance. Or it may reveal some terrible truth that everyone knows but that no one wants to discuss, such as that teachers must pay a bribe to get an appointment."
My friend was amazed and puzzled as much by the facts of the story as by an "evident presumption" in the reporting that the facts did not need explaining much and the readers would know what happened. Perhaps so. Because what happened with Beauty Begum is not as "bizarre and incomprehensible" as the sudden appearance of a thousand reindeer in Ramna Park. Actually, it is quite rare for someone in Beauty's position to persist and persevere for 12 years and finally find remedy for her grievance.
The reporting and the presumption of readers' understanding is symptomatic of how deep-rooted problems in the education system are defined and perceived and solutions are sought in superficial actions. The ordeals of Beauty Begum illustrate corruption, administrative inefficiency, lack of accountability, incompetency of officials, and slowness in judicial remedy.
Above all, it shows a disinclination to get to the root of the problem and bring about systemic change in practice and in attitude.
I have a fourth question besides the ones my friend asked. Will Beauty Begum receive her pay for the 12 years that she was not appointed to her job, when she should have been?
Dr Manzoor Ahmed is professor emeritus at Brac University.