When the student becomes the teacher
“I couldn’t help but teach – it was the only way I could manage time and space to get my own studies done,” says Habib with a wide grin. He was enjoying my reaction as upon hearing this, the biscuit I was having dropped from my hand. Habib is from the first batch of students to receive BRAC’s Medhabikash scholarship. He is now a lecturer at a private university in Dhaka, and he looks nothing like one. When he came to greet me and my colleague outside the university gate, I looked past him, trying to spot someone in formal attire and a teacher-like persona. Habib, slender and casual, with expressive eyes and a teenager’s profile, introduced himself. He looks barely young enough to join university, let alone teach in one. Following him through the bustling student common room to his quieter room, I couldn’t help but ask him if his students give him a tough time in class; he doesn’t say anything and just smiles.
We talk about many things – mostly about how a simple boy from Shirajganj became a lecturer at a university in Dhaka. His story is pretty straight forward for the first 12-13 years of his life: a hard-working mother providing for her family of two sons and three daughters, a bohemian father who inspired him to study but earned so little from his homeopathic practice in the village market that his words were just that – words. Habib didn’t receive any government scholarship after completing primary school (end of class five), like many poor meritorious students of rural Bangladesh. It meant that his mother, who was supporting the family through her poultry farm, had to pay for the tuition fees for both Habib and his elder brother. Reality hit hard a year later when Habib realised that he could not continue his studies in a good high school with the spiralling expenses for school fees and books. Along came a sympathetic teacher from his village school who believed Habib had potential and admitted him to his school in the same village. Habib recalls starting to work as a tutor from class 8 where he used to earn BDT 30 per month from each student.
In class 9, Habib did something extraordinary – he completed his mathemetics syllabus for SSC, which is taught in a span of two years, within four months. He started to teach three students senior to him who had failed their SSC exams the previous year. His reputation as a teacher was set when all three of them passed with A+. Habib began to take on more students, including his classmates. He mentions matter-of-factly, “My family of six used to live in one room. There was no room to study in so I had to find my own time in my students’ houses in between tuitions.”
Habib sat for his SSC exam in 2005 and secured the highest result: a grade point average (GPA) of 5. He was the first to do so from his school, and the only one from his sub-district. Soon another crisis hit him – his family was unable to support him for the next phase, his college. BRAC’s Medhabikash scholarship initiative identified him as one of the potential recipients. One of his uncles who lived in Savar offered to let Habib stay with him and eventually helped him get into a local college. The principal of the college liked him and exempted him from tuition fees. Habib used to receive a stipend of BDT 150 per month. It wasn’t much but along with computer and English language training, and the frequent meetings with other Medhabikash recipients, Habib knew he was not alone in his fight for a better education; he was and still is part of a group of brilliant people who weren’t afraid to dream big.
Habib scored GPA 5 again in higher secondary certificate (HSC) exam. With help of a grant from Medhabikash to pursue a university admission coaching, he got into Mawlana Bhashani Science and Technology University, a government financed public university in Tangail, to study textile engineering. The four years of university was a challenge: staying in a crammed dormitory while studying a highly technical subject, and settling in a completely new place. “I was receiving BDT 2,500 every month from Medhabikash during my university days and that really helped me,” recalls Habib.
Habib graduated from university securing a high CGPA. His career as a teacher began even before his results got published. Habib now effortlessly teaches a big class of students. His tested method of learning by teaching is still working as he now pursues a Masters degree in Bangladesh University of Textiles. He dreams of going abroad for PhD. As he takes his books and enters the classroom, I see the face of a person who had had to fight hard for everything he has ever achieved – and I know that he has so much more to achieve, so many more to inspire.
By Rakib Mohammad Avi, partnership manager at BRAC in Dhaka, Bangladesh.