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English medium education, a luxury ‘product’ for Bangladeshis

Singapore, Hong Kong, Bangladesh, Bangladeshi, Asian universities, Hussain Muhammad Ershad, Pakistani government, 

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English medium education, a luxury ‘product’ for Bangladeshis

While a good fiscal or monetary policy can lend some momentum to a nation’s economic growth, according to macroeconomic principles, no growth is sustainable without technological development and a steady growth in a nation’s quality of education. However, sadly enough, Bangladesh’s pre-college education still could not completely detach itself from the elitism that divest a good fraction of the population from the so-called ‘English medium’ schooling, and thus a large chasm stands between the nations public and private schools’ quality of education.

Singapore and Hong Kong, two tiny island nations smaller than the size of an average district of Bangladesh, have started putting a lot of emphasis on secondary and post-secondary education. Asian universities are climbing up the ladder of world ranking as fast as the economies of these countries are growing. Now, with Bangladesh’s economy skyrocketing, it has become more important than ever to focus on the nation’s education system.

However, Bangladeshi schools still put little to no emphasis on teaching English as a language, and internationalization of the tertiary institutions still remains a far-fetched notion. Bangladesh’s former dictator, Hussain Muhammad Ershad, had once declared that he wanted to make Bangla language to be the only medium of education. However, such an attempt is self-destructive, and an attempt to ostracize the nation from the international society, so that Ershad’s notoriety would not reach the people of Bangladesh from the mouth of the international media. This is a common strategy of many dictatorial polities to bar people from learning any language but their own.

There is a misguided notion that using English as the primary language in education is against the spirit of the 1952 Language Movement. However, the language part in this movement was largely symbolic of the oppression of Bangalees by the Pakistani government. The Language Movement had nothing to do with English being used in educational institution, and absolutely nothing to do with detaching a nation from the international stage.

In today’s context, English has not become crucial to thrive in other countries, but it is essential to survive even if one does not step a foot out of their motherland. With the advent of the internet, people of all professions, and especially students, have to communicate with people of different tongues. It has, thus, become essential for everyone to know, at least, the lingua franca of the academicians, scientists and businessmen around the world. In fact, learning more than 2 languages should be actively encouraged at primary schools.

Bangladesh’s education board offers primary education in two languages: Bangla and English in two separate curricula. The English version schools under Bangladesh’s central education board are sparse, and also costlier than the Bangla version schools in which most students are enrolled. The private schools of the nation, mostly situated in Dhaka, also known as the ‘English medium’ schools because of their affiliations with the American IB Diploma and the British GCSEs, remain divorced from the nation’s central educational backbone in the sense that they are highly exclusive, and the average cost of studying in these schools is fourfold, sometimes fivefold, the nation’s GDP per capita.

These English medium schools are not only off-limits to the poor and the rural population, but even to government employees whose salaries are sometimes dwarfed by the costs of these educational institutes. However, the solution does not lie in curbing or limiting these exclusive institutes, but by making them accessible to all classes of people. The sad reality is that universities here and abroad always value a certificate endorsed by the University of Cambridge more than one by Bangladesh’s local education board. Thus, the small section that can afford these schools for their children can give them a better tertiary education, and the rest of the population, unfortunately, get stuck in a loop of inequality.

Bangladesh’s constitution guarantees ‘Health for all, Education for all’, however just as ‘health for all’ implies that the healthcare must be adequate and not a placebo, ‘education for all’ should also keep the promise it makes. However, the Bangla version schools are almost like placebos, often failing to deliver what our constitution declares a fundamental right. However, this issue cannot be solved overnight. The educational infrastructure works on a positive feedback, every little impetus towards improving the quality of education today guarantees a group of well-qualified teacher for the next generations. However, the responsibility lies in guaranteeing the principle ‘school uniforms’ uphold – equality.

However, the point that needs to be stressed here is that a system providing education of international standard already exists, but that remains inaccessible because of the cost of studying in such institutions. These institutions, too, have to charge high to sustain, since they are still not integrated with the country’s educational infrastructure, thus do not receive any subsidy which public schools do. Therefore, these English medium institutions should be integrated with the existing national curricula, turning them into subsidized school, thus bringing these institutions, finally, out from under the umbrella of elitism which they have long lived under.

Before 2020, the world did not fully fathom the importance of the healthcare system. Now, nations are eager to funnel billions of dollars into vaccines. A large-scale disaster could have been avoided, all around the world, if only people had realized earlier how vital the health sector is. Likewise, we should fully realize how crucial education is, and work towards improving this sector before another 2020 pokes us in the eye to show the point we have been missing thus far.

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Hanzalah Choudhury is a student of Engineering at the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK).

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