Teaching-Learning

Bangladeshi People’s English Skills in the Global Standard

English skill; Photo: Pixbay
English skill; Photo: Pixbay
Masum Billah
Written by Masum Billah

Education First, a Switzerland based organization, has been working in the field of language and culture for more than five decades. It runs its activities in 116 countries and since 2011, it has started working on exposing the English skills of various nations of the globe. It released its findings on the English skills of 100 countries in the month of December 2019. It conducted research on 23lac people of 100 countries to see their ability and skills in English whose mother tongue is not English.

The countries have been divided into five categories on the basis of their English skills in the very high performing, high performing, middle performing, lower performing and significantly lower performing skills. Bangladesh stands in the 71st place with her 48.11 score showing its skills at the very lowest tier. It is a global standard and evaluation. English has been taught in our country for twelve years together as a compulsory subject. In the public examinations, we see the pass percentage reaches up to 98-99 percent showing no or extremely little failure case.

But the picture shared by EF shows just the opposite that definitely shares our evaluation as well and opinion though our national evaluation and international evaluation system stands poles apart. Our general observation also gives the same result and there lies no doubt that the English skills go very poorly with the maximum number of students and our public examination cannot identify or talk the genuine skills of the learners.

Educationists opine that children’s English phobia beings from the primary level. The lack of quality teachers and weaknesses of the curriculum can be attributed to this cause. Whatever students produce in the exam scripts of English are declared pass without judging at all whether they are really on track to learn this foreign language. They stand far apart from the basic objectives of learning English as they put emphasis on just crossing the ladder of this subject, meaning to pass it anyway.  

This situation leads them to bear the whole student life with the basic problems and weakness in English that accompanies them till the last days of student life. With the same weakness, they get into a job and cannot perform as per the desired level. I conducted a survey on twenty high officials working in the government and private sector which I found using such kind of English “I shall be go. They must be doing it. `New normal checking can add in pedagogy’ (it should be in the passive form), ` It can revise (it was also in the passive)’—

Crossing the bar of examination stands as a prime objective of learning and teaching English that produces graduates with serious basic problems of English. When this is the fact what is the necessity of teaching it as a compulsory subject? The state has kept English as a compulsory subject for all till the twelfth class so that students can acquire this global language without putting extra time, pressure, labour and money.

The state employed money, teachers and the usual time of student life would give them a good foundation of this language so that they can utilize it for their own benefit and the welfare of the state while going abroad or doing some income-generating works, may at home or abroad. However, things have stood quite on the opposite side of this objective. English has become a passing subject anyway, not as a global language for the benefit of the individual and state though they face it very cruelly while entering the job market spreading from home to any part of the globe. Then they begin to understand the necessity of learning this language for their own interest and being blaming the state, teachers, institutions and the entire system of teaching English to get enrolled in English teaching.

English teaching strategy has seen no change even though teachers receive training both from the government and private sectors. We witnessed a gigantic project named ELTIP (English Language Teaching Improvement Project) to provide exclusive training to the English teachers and BRAC Education had a huge project for English teachers of the secondary level. Still significant change has not been discerned in this sector. What I have observed closely that the teachers are not convinced to teach this language just like teaching the mother tongue. They start teaching complex grammatical rules though it does not have any practical link with enabling the learners to use this language in their practical field.

As nobody will ask you’ whether it is a complex sentence or how a sentence can be changed into passive,’ they continue doing it without making the students prepare to use this language in their everyday life. I do not fully blame the teachers. The assessment system still encourages those points either directly or indirectly. That is a state responsibility. The state spends much money, no doubt, to teach English of the future generation. However, the strategy does not prove sound as both students and teachers swim outside the water.

A hundred countries whose mother tongue is not English nor it is a principal language there, EF conducted their study and research that shows Bangladesh occupies the 71st position obtaining 48.11scores and India occupies 34th place with 55.49 scores. Nepal stands in the 66th position with a score of 49 that is four grade earlier than us. What I have observed the causes of Nepal’s going ahead in English is its English Teachers’ Association known as NELTA contributes a lot to enhance the English skills teachers of rural and remote areas that is not happening in Bangladesh though she has seen the English teachers’ organization named BELTA  So, ETAP (English Teachers’ Association of Bangladesh) has emerged with the objective of developing and empowering the English teachers particularly rural teachers and the teachers teaching English at the remotest and challenging to reach areas of the country.

The ability to use this language perfectly and ingeniously in terms of describing the social situation, the inhabitants can read the higher-level English composition, comprehend and can negotiate with the people of English-speaking countries have been put in the category of extremely higher-order English skills by FE. Netherlands, Singapore and Sweden belong to this category though their mother tongue is not English.

The ability and skills of giving a presentation in English in the working place, comprehend the TV shows well and understand English write-ups and newspapers well fall in the category of higher-order level and Hungary, South Korea and the Philippines stand in this category. Understanding English songs, writing professional emails correctly by the citizens have been considered as the middle category and China, Costa Rica, France and India belong to this category. As tourists, the citizens of a country can move freely, communicating well while visiting the English-speaking countries, getting engaged with the colleagues in small discussions in English and understanding email of the colleagues mean lower-order English skills and Bolivia, Pakistan, Russia, Japan and Nepal fall in this category.

And extremely lower-level English skills indicates giving one’s own introduction keeping confined to name, age, and country, understanding the usual signs and giving direction to the foreigners. Bangladesh, the Maldives and the United Arab Emirates fall in this last category.  

English weakness and incompetence that accompanies the students cause many problems in professional life. There lies not alternative to acquire English, as said by the ex-chairman of the Association of Bankers Bangladesh. Recruited staff need to give a presentation in good English before the investors and international customers that most of the time see a poor show. Even in government administration, many cannot do it well though in recent times the matter has received much attention and importance to become competent in English.

However, the people who belong to administration only do not run the whole affairs of the country. In this age of globalization, professionals of various sectors need sound communication ability in English but the sign of severe inefficiency surfaces in almost all the sectors because the English they learned as subject to passing the examination does not help them use it effectively in their practical life situations. Now, what to do and how to overcome this situation? We must come out of this situation if we really want to reach the level of the middle-income country, leading to developed countries.

The research of ‘Gonoshakhorota Avijan- Education Watch’ a non-government organization, tells in its 2018-19 report that 56 percent of teachers teaching at the secondary level do not have any training. Teachers teaching at this level think only explaining some grammar rules in Bengali means teaching English and those who do not have any training must fumble in the dark.  In terms of composition, they think and it is a practice that two or three essays, two or three paragraphs, are set for a term that needs to be memorized by the students and produce them in the examination script either in the internal examination or in the public examination.  

These three or four compositions are taught sluggishly in the classroom so that students go to the coaching centers or teachers’ homes. Students studying with these teachers or coaching centers memorize those selected compositions again and again and write them frequently by the guidance of those coaching or private teachers and do well in the examination that brings credit for the private or coaching teachers and students. That definitely help them obtain good grade as questions in the public examination come from this limited list but that never tells the blooming of students’ hidden talents nor does it enable the learners to produce their own thoughts and ideas in the form of essays, paragraph or letter and application in English.  

Teachers think these limited paragraphs if they teach in the class well, students will not come to them for private tuition, impacting their extra income. That is a cruel truth that teachers definitely need money but not in this way as it talks about a different way of earning. Setting questions in the public examination to test the skills of English of the learners does not prove sound and suitable enough and static state policy to teach this language has given rise to this unsatisfactory state of English.

Urban based language skills findings have also been released by EF that shows the situation of English skills is comparatively reasonable than rural areas, particularly in Dhaka that is supposed to happen and causes must be easily understandable and identifiable without going through any in-depth research work. Even assumptions can tell us that. That even does not talk much or shows a satisfactory picture comparing with the global standard.

Dhaka city still stands in the lower tier, with a score of 48.67. Several recommendations have been made by the organization both for the government and education related to people. Students could be assessed regularly whether they are gaining the English skills that must be embedded in the curriculum. English teachers should be further trained through a newer model to use English in the classroom and school campus with the emphasis on employing quality English teachers. I think staging training for teachers at the state level should continue but the basic things need to be learned by the teachers teaching English of their own accord and in the greater interest of the nation employing their hard labour and genuine effort.  

About the author

Masum Billah

Masum Billah

Masum Billah works as a Program Manager in BRAC Education Program, BRAC, and Vice-President of Bangladesh English Language Teachers’ Association (BELTA), Dhaka, Bangladesh.

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