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MORE than two million students — 2,072,163, to be precise, with 1,021,197 boys and 1,050,966 girls — taking the Secondary School Certificate and other equivalent examinations of 2023 that began on April 30 this year under the 11 boards of education comes up as an occasion to reflect on what happened in the SSC Examinations of 1986. Under the four boards of intermediate and secondary education — Cumilla or Comilla, Dhaka, Jashore or Jessore, and Rajshahi — 369,904 examinees, who included 108,595 girls, took the examinations then.
But what makes the 1986 SSC Examinations stand out, still, was the way it was held. It was neither the best nor the worst. But, it, certainly, was the strangest. Examinations are almost always invigilated by the teachers concerned. But that year on March 6, when the examinations began, it was government secondary teachers, college teachers, senior primary teachers and public servants and others on their staff who did the invigilation.
Most of us born around the turn of the 1960s into the 1970s tolled the final bell of our school education and headed to the examinations halls. But guardians of many told us to hurry back home at the slightest hint of trouble at the examinations centres or the halls. The examinations could be taken the next year.
Non-government secondary teachers had gone on strike 12 days before the examinations, on February 22, to push for their four-point demand. While the teachers were, perhaps having no other options, resolved not not to conduct the examinations, Hussain Muhammad Ershad, who was then president, and his education minister, MA Matin, were keen on showing their mettle. It had soon become an affair of ego tussle and the whole administration came to the rescue of the education managers.
The Daily Ittefaq in its March 6 issue ran a double-column report, the first news of the day’s front page, headlined ‘SSC Exams begin across the country today’. The shoulder, or the kicker, of the news, in white-on-black said: 3 lakh 69 thousand 9 hundred 4 examinees.’ The news report began: ‘The SSC Examinations of 1986 under the four boards of intermediate and secondary education across the country begin today (Thursday). In all, 3 lakh 69 thousand, 9 hundred and 4 examinees will be taking the examinations.’
The report in the second paragraph, or graf as it is called in newsroom, said: ‘The examinations that a quarter to four lakh students will take has been arranged amidst the strike and disruption by a handful of teachers.’ The fourth paragraph said: ‘The conduction of the examinations has been invested in the deputy commissioners. As a section of teachers have gone on strike, teachers of government schools and colleges, government officers and senior primary teachers have been deployed for invigilation.’
The government, in fact, as we came to know later, deployed clerks and other officers, and even employees in the lower rung, for invigilation in many centres. The report also gave a breakdown of the number of examinees under each of the boards — the Cumilla board had 86,665 examinees, the Dhaka board 111,783 examinees, the Jashore board 80,974 examinees and the Rajshahi board 90,48 examinees.
A single-column report set inside the double-column display headlined ‘Strike of non-govt teachers continues’, suggests that most of the teachers who taught the students were absent from the scene. Another three-column report set in the right, headlined ‘Whims of some teachers should not harm academic year of several lakh examinees—Ershad’, suggested an officially presumed insignificance of the teachers’ demand and a significance of the resolve of the president.
The report began: ‘President Hussain Muhammad Ershad yesterday (Wednesday) said that the SSC Examinations would be held keeping to the schedule and all the preparations had been made in this direction. He said that the government could not allow the whims of a section of teachers to harm the valuable academic year of several lakh SSC examinees. He hoped that non-government school teachers would rejoin work immediately in the greater national interests.’
The issue of the Ittefaq in the letter-to-the-editor column on the second page printed a letter, written by two examinees, apparently siblings who then resided at Mirpur in Dhaka, expressing concern about a general strike that political parties in the opposition called for March 8 that could hamper the holding of the examinations. The next day’s report said that the Latin examination was scheduled for the morning of March 8 and the leather craft examination for the afternoon.
The next day, on March 7, the Ittefaq printed a three-column photograph of students taking the examination at the Agrani Girls’ School at Azimpur and a double-column report, headlined ‘First day of SSC Exams passes’. The report began: ‘The first day of the SSC Examinations of 1986 under four boards of education across the country passed off peacefully yesterday (Thursday) but for some stray incidents. There was no disruption in the examination in the Dhaka city. The holding of the examination was peaceful.
‘Although the examination was peaceful in most outlying areas, our correspondents from some places reported trouble. It came to be known from the reports that the examination could not be held in some centres because of such trouble. Gun shots were fired in some centres. A man died after being hit with bullet in Moulvibazar.’
The headline suggests that the first day of the examinations having passed off without any large-scale trouble was a sigh of relief for the authorities. The report said that 29 students had been expelled. The unnamed man died in clashes between the police and the striking teachers at Kamalganj in Moulvibazar; 12 police personnel became injured. Four gun shots were fired before the examinations and five shots were fired during the examination.
Crude bombs were exploded at Ishwardi. A centre were pelted with stones at Lalpur and five gun shots were fired. The roof of an examinations hall was set on fire at Rangunia; 10 gun shots were fired; 12 were arrested; and 20 were injured. A school nearby also ran into trouble. A striking teacher was injured with a bullet at Daulatkhan in Bhola. Trouble ensured at Tanore in Rajshahi, Gomastapur in Chapainawabganj, Santahar in Bogura, Tarash in Sirajnganj, Rajapur in Jhalkati and in Barisal. The examination was delayed by up to two hours in some places.
A boxed, single-column report set inside the main report was headlined ‘Education minister satisfied’: ‘The education minister MA Matin thanked people, teachers, guardians and the examinees on their assistance and support for the peaceful holding of the first day’s examination.’
Reports in the newspapers the preceding days could shed more light on the turns of events. The newspaper in its March 5 issue printed a single-column report on the front page headlined ‘SSC Exams begin tomorrow’. The March 4 issue had a single-column report headlined ‘SSC admit card distribution begins’, which happened the day before on March 3. The March 4 issue also printed a report on teachers’ strike: ‘Striking teachers rally at Shahid Minar today.’
The March 3 issue had a report headlined ‘Help in holding SSC Exams—Education minister’; the minister the day before, on Sunday, said this at the silver jubilee celebrations of the Adamjee Cantonment College. The same issue had the report headlined ‘Call for addressing concern of examinees, guardians’: ‘Various organisations and political leaders urged the government to attend to the concern of SSC examinees and their guardians by taking steps for secondary teachers and teacher trainers to rejoin work before March 6.’
The Ittefaq in its March 2 issue printed a report headlined ‘Some more teachers arrested’: ‘Teachers training college trainers and striking teacher and employees of non-government schools yesterday (Sunday) marched in a procession to the Dhaka board of education and sat in there. The police arrested 3 leaders of the teachers at the sit-in… The police arrested 6 teachers at places in Mymensingh yesterday. In all, 35 teachers have so far been arrested in two days.’
The newspaper published a report headlined ‘Arrest at Dhaka and Chattogram: Call for realisation of striking teacher’s demand’: ‘Twenty-three of the striking teachers and employees were arrested on the seventh day of their work abstention yesterday (Friday) at a place in front of the Dhaka board [of education] where they sat in.’ The issue published another reported headlined ‘SSC Exams to take place as scheduled—Education minister’. The newspaper published another report headlined ‘Dispel our worries’ on the day on a statement that the Bangladesh Sangbad Sangstha said the guardians had issued the day before. Another report on the day was headlined ‘Preparations to hold SSC Exams completed.’
On the day, the Ittefaq’s first editorial dwelt on the issue — ‘Secondary teacher strike and —’, saying: ‘The SSC Examinations are scheduled to begin on the 6th. But, about a lakh and a quarter teachers and employees of non-government secondary schools went on strike on February 22 to push for their two-point demands and have abstained from work. Allegations have it that no steps for dialogues have so far been taken to end the trouble born of out the work abstention. It has come to be known that the Dhaka, Rajshahi and Jashore boards have been forced to stop the supply of papers required for the examinations in the face of pressure of the striking teachers and employees. In such a situation, students and their guardians fear whether the examinations could be begin on March 6. This is, no doubt, a matter of concern.’
The Ittefaq on February 24 published a report headlined ‘Non-govt secondary teachers on strike’: ‘Non-government secondary teachers and employees in most secondary schools went on strike last Saturday to push their four-point demands, including the nationalisation of their job.
‘The Bangladesh Teachers’ Coordination Council, with the Bangladesh Teachers’ Association (Kamruzzaman-Hena Das), Bangladesh Teachers’ Association (Noor-Nazrul), Bangladesh Assistant Teachers’ Association and Bangladesh Teacher Trainers’ Unity Council banded together, said that but for a small number of schools, the strike has been enforced in all other schools since Saturday. The Bangladesh Teachers’ Association (Amanullah-Azizul), which is opposed to the strike, on the other hand, said that classes were held in all schools across the country but for seven of them in the metropolitan city.’
The publication of reports on the teachers’ strike and the way it was done suggests that all quarters were concerned. Teachers were decided, perhaps with no options having been open to them. Ershad was adamant, in a show of mettle. Everyday was happening. Teachers were arrested. Reports were coming up. And, the government was not lifting a finger. Many of our batchmates still appear hesitant about talking about their SSC Examinations year. Because, the situation allowed unfair means to take place by a large measure.
In 1971, when the SSC Examinations began on July 16, during the war for liberation, which could not be finished, the authorities tried to cover up the trouble with newspaper reports saying that nothing untoward had happened, especially on the first day. When the examinees of 1971 and 1972 took the examinations separately in 1972, all came out successful by the grace of the then education minister Muhammad Yusuf Ali. It is still said that even the tables and chairs of the examinations hall came out successful.
The like of that did not happen in 1986, but it left a scar and gave birth to a perception that everybody resorted to unfair means and almost all passed the examinations. The results, which were published on July 31, said something else. It came to be known that 366,381 students took the examinations and 241,134 of them came out successful, with the combined pass percentage, keeping to the Ittefaq report, of 66.39, as an education ministry released said. The daily Sangbad, however, put the pass percentage at 65.81 and termed the ministry figure, as it was in the release, incorrect.
Akkas, Abu Jar M (2023 May 26). A strange holding of SSC exams in 1986. New Age p8