Awais pulled his schoolbag up by the straps and unzipped the main compartment. Jasir looked around with a bored look on his face as he waited for his friend to reveal his shortcut for writing long essays for board exams. When Awais pulled out a book that was thick enough to be three separate books and slammed it down on the table, Jasir was not impressed. “What on earth is that?” he asked.
Awais patted the book cover. “This is what everyone uses to write essays.” He opened the book to a well-worn part. It opened in such a way that it looked like the top of the book was going to separate from the main body, but Awais held on to it and tilted it forward to show Jasir. “Look.”
“It’s a list of essay topics,” Jasir said dully. “How genius of them to list all the possible essay topics. I could have done that on two pieces of paper.”
Awais flipped the page over. “Now look.” He pointed.
Jasir looked at Awais to make sure he was serious before looking at the page. “That’s...an essay sample?”
“It’s a whole essay,” Awais said. He flipped through several pages and then held them together between his fingers. “See? All you need to write an essay long enough to get the marks you need to score big.” He closed the book and showed him the cover.
“I can’t believe you’re my friend and you own something like this,” Jasir said. “This is just the opposite of the way I see you as a person. I thought you were cool. I thought you never did anything studious. You’re making me uncool now just by sitting here and looking at this thing. Why do you have a guide book? Do you know how nerdy that is?”
Awais stared at him. “I go out of my way to solve your problem about writing essays for this tuition prison we’re stuck in, and you’re just sitting there having feelings. I’m saving your energy. You can just dump this essay out from the guide in the next tuition session. Easy.”
“I’m supposed to memorise whole essays now? Come on, there’s got to be a better way than that. At least essays are the free space where you can just write whatever trash you feel like and not have to remember something.” Jasir yawned.
“I’m just telling you like it is,” Awais said. “You can do what you want.”
“I don’t know what happened when we got stuck with tuition this summer and why we actually ended up studying, but let’s snap out of it,” Jasir said. “When tuition is over I want to forget all about it. Let’s go have some fun.”
The two boys ran off into the living room to watch TV, leaving the drawing room study setup behind.
The next time Jasir saw the guide book was when he walked in on Leena and Inaya crying with laughter over it. Sitting with the book between them, they were reading out sections to each other and dissolving into fits of laughter. Jasir ran up to them and grabbed for the book, trying to pull it away from them. “Let me see what you’re laughing at,” he said. “Did Awais leave something between the pages?”
“Nothing like that.” Leena stopped laughing long enough to collect her breath and answer Jasir. “We’re just laughing at the book. It’s all the same since I did Matric, and I am doing my undergraduate now, so that makes it extra funny.”
“The gold standard of honoured prose passed down from generation to generation, so that each class of struggling schoolchildren can face the terrible blank paper of the exam, and come away with a high score,” Inaya said, throwing her arms wide and leaning back in her chair.
“You can’t be serious,” Jasir said. “You’re not telling me that students have been writing these essays in their papers for years and years and the examiners still keep scoring them highly.”
Leena looked thoughtful. Her finger stopped halfway down the open page of the essay book, she said, “I think they just consider them the gold standard for essay writing, that’s why they keep giving them high scores and students keep writing them.”
“Gold standard?” Inaya raised her eyebrows. “You mean in length?”
“Well, it’s not just length, you know,” Leena said. “It’s how you make it long enough to be considered enough written words for the topic while still remaining on topic.”
“I can’t believe you have that much to say about boring old essay writing,” Jasir said. “You sound like Aqeel.”
It was Leena’s turn to raise her eyebrows. “You call your tutor by name?”
“Why shouldn’t I? He didn’t ask us to call him anything special.” Jasir grabbed the thick essay book from Leena, slammed it shut and tossed it onto the study table. The guide book landed with a thud, followed by the table shuddering and several loose items falling off. Jasir shook his head at it. “I can’t wait to be done with this essay writing stuff and move on to something I can actually use,” he said.
“If Aqeel prepares you enough during summer holidays to cover everything you’ll learn during the upcoming school year, you will learn things that have practical applications,” Leena said.
“Like what?” Jasir asked.
“What do they teach at ninth grade level Matric that has practical applications?” Inaya asked.
“I mean things like letter writing,” Leena said. “You still need to write properly formatted letters as a student and when you enter the workforce.” She paused for a moment as if recalling a memory. “Though I should tell you, you will only learn that if you want to learn it. Most students are just interested in passing their exams, or they’ve received too many assignments handed back completely covered in red teacher’s ink to even want to attempt composing their own sick leave application.”
“Or they might just not be bothered to even try to do it themselves when they know they can just ask someone else,” Inaya said. “I know I would do that if it would get me out of that chore.”
The gold standard of honoured prose passed down from generation to generation, so that each class of struggling schoolchildren can face the terrible blank paper of the exam
“That’s not it,” Leena answered. “They genuinely don’t know how to write their own leave applications.” Inaya and Jasir stared at her, then at each other. Finally, Jasir leapt forward towards the study table, grabbed the guide book and started flipping through it.
“I’m sure there are sample letters in here somewhere,” he said.
Leena groaned. “You can’t do that, I won’t let you do it,” she said.
“If I can score high this way and Aqeel approves, why shouldn’t I?” Jasir kept flipping through the pages.
“I will tell you why.” Leena stood up.
Inaya frowned at her. “You’re not supposed to say that,” she said.
“Jasir needs to know,” Leena replied. Turning to Jasir, she said, “Do you remember when you participated in Student Super Star?”
“You mean when I won the Student Super Star reality TV show,” Jasir said. “I came first, I didn’t just participate!”
“Yes, that,” Leena said. “Your first prize was a college scholarship.”
“Yeah, that’s years away, I can think about that later, I’m already in.” Jasir waved a hand dismissively. “Inaya gave her O Levels again to improve her chances of getting admission, you’ve already done one semester of college, you two are the ones who need to worry about your grades. I’m covered.”
Leena kept staring at him. “Actually, you’re not. You have that scholarship, but you still have to earn it.”
What does Leena mean? Find out in the next episode of Hackschool Project.