Chittagong Workshop



Behind the Blackboard Chittagong was conducted in privately run Ambition Ideal School & College in Bandortila area of the Chittagong City in Bangladesh. Altogether 15 students from the classes 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10 participated the workshop.

Ambition Ideal School & College was founded as a part of political agenda of th Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh, the largest conservative islamic party in the country, to build  a new generation of leadership by establishing thousand schools around the country during 1995-2005. The programme aimed to root the party´s influence into Bangladesh society and to strengthen the young supporter base of the party by providing them employment from the schools along side with political activities. Most of the teacher´s and students of the Ambition Ideal School & College come from the Jamaat-e-Islami party background, and thus from very religious settings. The school run also a children´s madrasa, a religious school teaching islamic practices, during early hours of the day.

In the time of the workshop Bangladeshi elementary education was in the transition process towards new curriculum titled the creative method. The transition aimed to  revive the curriculum established in the British colonial era based on memorizing and banking of knowledge to more creative and practice based learning. The transition was however in the first steps and the teaching was in practice based on memorizing the studied content in contrary to understanding or implementing it. The teachers salaries in Bangladesh are low and in many cases not enough to motivate the teachers to carry out their work properly. The power distances in Bangladeshi culture are high, which is not only reflected in disciplined behaviour of the pupils and respecting relationship of students with their teachers but also in students responsibility in accomplishing the educational goals their parents have set for them. Religion plays important role in the everyday life of Bangladeshi´s and the Bangladeshi culture is very communal. The strong community is on the one hand supporting communal knowledge production, -creativity and -cooperation, but on the other hand discouraging the individual thinking of students.

Workshop description

In the beginning of the workshop the students were encouraged to discuss in small groups what problems they face within their school community. These problems were listed and discussed together with the whole workshop group. After the problem mapping the students were introduced to basics of conducting a survey research. To find out the opinions of all the students in their school the students designed and ran a survey for the whole school community.

As a result the students found material inadequates and social problems inside their school community. The material inadequates stood out from other problems, and the most visible ones included lack of a school library, lack of a science lab where the students could implement the learned knowledge in practice, and lack of a social space. The lack of the social space decreased interaction between the students and led to many social problems within the school community: many students didn´t belong to any group of friends, there was intolerance against differences in the school community, and backbiting.

In order to contemplate the survey findings the students made videos dealing with the most common problems in their school community. The videos the students made were presented and discussed together with the workshop participants. Including the video making reflecting group discussions and mind mapping techniques were used s a tool to develop solutions for the problems. As the solution the students designed a space which could be used as a school library, science lab, playground and as a social space for all the students of the school. During the workshop the students designed the interior, furnitures, and all the other functions of the space. The school authorities gave one room for the purpose. After building new furnitures and gathering required material the space was renovated and the openings of the space was held in the last day of the workshop.

Along with the space the students formed two groups to tackle with the social problems within the school community. The first one focused on increasing tolerance between the students and decreasing the backbiting. As a method the students decided to form a literature circle which would gather weekly in the new social space the students developed during the workshop. The group would invite all the students involved in conflict situations to participate the literature circle to read hadiths – a record of the traditions or sayings of the muslims´ Prophet Muhammad, received as a major source of moral guidance – dealing with tolerance and backbiting.

The second group in turn focused on decreasing loneliness of the students who didn´t belong to any group of friends. As a solution the group designed a weekly event taking the place at the social space where the lonely students would be invited with other students to play games, gossip and enjoy time together