One of the criteria that make a child a "good child" in an urban upper/upper-middle class Bangladeshi house is being a student who is hard-working, high-grade-achieving, and obedient to teachers and parents. But the phenomenon of being a good child in their households is not held in very high esteem among peers.
The very word "nerd" has become extremely stigmatized and conforming to the norms of being a nerd often incurs a lot of insults.
Nerds are often regarded as people who are only good in the academic sphere, but they lack other necessary social and emotional skills which makes them the subject to a lot of bullies and insults. Farhan Al Zabeer, an international student in Canada pursuing Computer Science and Engineering at University of Manitoba, confirms that he was bullied for being the top of his class.
Although at times, academic prowess is considered to be one of the principal measures of social hierarchy in educational institutions as well, being a nerd is always frowned upon in those places. This culture is pervasive and almost ubiquitous in all the educational institutions of the country, starting from the institutions situated in the fringes of the country to the most venerated and respected institutions situated in all the other places. The ethical values that are almost universally associated with nerds are also deemed as “uncool” since cheating in examinations is considered to be the norm among most of the students. Both not ‘helping’ out the friends during the exams despite having studied thoroughly and not contributing the most in a group work despite being a favourite face of the faculty are severely disliked by many. This, in turn, brings up a lot of shame for the nerds since they in all of the situations are not conforming to the basic shenanigans which are considered to be the part and parcel of educational experience in this country. Starting from having a very sound relationship with the teachers to getting good grades by dint of hard work and merit rather than cheating, every aspect that comes up with being a nerd is seen in a very bad manner in almost all the educational spectrums of the country. A 21-year-old English major from a reputed private university shares, "Nobody tries to understand my anxiousness before exams. Most people brush everything off as ‘Ah, you can do it, stop acting like you'll not ace it.’ And obviously, a lot of people tend to dump all their share of group work on me or my friends who are passionate about studies."
One of the main reasons behind this is that education is considered to be a ladder that will take you up in the social hierarchy. That is why it is considered to be an obligation rather than something that people can take up as a passion. That is why anyone being passionate about their studies rather than going through the bare minimum, which will land them a good job and good grades, is considered to be extremely unnatural in the social scenario of our country. Sadea Naowar Khan, a student of the University of Dhaka pursuing a BBA in Finance shares, “A few of my classmates and I were discussing how we could avoid a session jam during these dire conditions. It was important to us because we are passionate people who have planned their lives and graduating at a certain time is an essential part of our plans. But, this whole discussion was deemed insensitive and absurd by several of our classmates.”
This situation can be seen in almost all the spheres, including choosing majors as most of the people tend to choose professional majors that are guaranteed to land them with a job after they complete their degree. Apart from all this, the most common stereotypes about nerds are they are socially crippled and lack the basic skills to communicate with other people. “People always seem to take these "nerdy" people's grades for granted, as if there’s no hard work required. Furthermore, the society pushes their boundaries of expectation onto them. There is a misconception that these people with good academic performance are usually very bland with boring personalities and don't indulge in other activities apart from studying.”, says Shamrin Adiba, a biotechnology major at Brac University. This stereotype is mainly propagated by American Teenage Dramas which generally show the sporty and the social person being dominant and victorious in every possible scenario over the socially awkward nerd. The stereotype has a bit of truth in it, as nerds do not generally engage in social situations much because they have a different set of priorities compared to the people who engage in those social scenarios.
But the most problematic thing in this particular case is the veneration of a specific set of values over others because of the influx of popular culture. Nerds are considered to be old-fashioned as they, in many ways, represent the set of educational work ethic which is held in high esteem by the older generation of people. This is one of the reasons why nerds are viciously bullied, frowned upon, and have to go through a lot of trouble because the pervasive culture in the institutions favour non-conformance to the authority figures and nerds are exactly the opposite in this very scenario.
Rassiq Aziz Kabir and Mashaekh Hassan are university students.