Medium of Instruction in Education as Social, Cultural and Socioeconomic Inequality in Primary, Secondary and Higher Secondary Level in Bangladesh

Medium of instruction in education means the use of language in education and the language is considered as a standard variety of main and national language in different countries. Image source: Arizona State University
Medium of instruction in education means the use of language in education and the language is considered as a standard variety of main and national language in different countries. Image source: Arizona State University
Md. Jahid Hasan
Written by Md. Jahid Hasan


Education is the builder of a nation. This enables people to develop technologies, make economic development and enrich culture. This gives immense power to human beings to innovate ideas to contribute to the social, economic, cultural and demographical changes needed to construct a civilized society. It is proved that education can build a devolved nation; for example, New Zealand has a 99% literacy rate (UNESCO, 2018) and by increasing literacy rate, this country has developed its economic, social and cultural conditions. Education also has negative impacts, like promoting discrimination based on wealth, gender, and socioeconomic role (Hossain, n.d.). However, the medium of instruction in education is considered as one of the important factors in an education system.  

In developed countries, almost every student can attend school. In contrast, not many Bangladeshi students can complete a single education cycle because of poverty and other social issues. Going to school is a challenge for many students in Bangladesh, especially in rural areas. The government, as well as non-government agencies, are trying to maximize the number of school goers. Since the last decade, many necessary steps have been taken to develop the literacy rate.

Education System in Bangladesh 

The first requirement for building a strong progressive country is an adequately educated population in every level of educations (Pradhan). To make the people educated, the nation established an education system. Unlike other countries, Bangladesh has an education system of its own. The education system of Bangladesh is categorized into three systematic ways: 1. General Education; 2. Technical-Vocational Education; 3. Madrasah Education.

The general education system is classified into four categories- a) Primary Education; b) Secondary Education; c) Higher Secondary Education; d) Tertiary Education. For Hamid & Erling (2016), general education serves 83% of the school-going population.  

Madrasah education provides religious education and general subjects (Hamid & Erling, 2016) like English, Mathematics, Science, etc and it includes two types of institutional systems- a) Aliya Madrasah; b) Qawmi Madrasah. English medium education is the private education for the elite society and (Hamid & Erling, 2016) professional or business classes. Technical-vocational education provides different practical knowledge of technologies and skills and Bangladesh can hardly be emphasized on this education (Ahmed, 2020).

Bourdieu’s (1992) capital theory describes the linguistic capital of a country’s education, how this capital works in the segments of the society, how it creates balance and imbalance in the society:

  1. Economic Capital: material wealth in terms of money or properties
  2. Cultural Capital: knowledge, skills, and educational or technical qualifications
  3. Symbolic capital: accumulated prestige or honor
  4. Linguistic capital: competence in the prestigious variety of the language spoken by the powerful segment of the society

How a dominant language exploits, a weaker language in the society has been shown in Bourdieu’s capital. 

Medium of Instruction in Education

Teachers’ language use to teach language or educational content is known as the medium of instruction. According to Richard et al. (1985), medium of instruction in education means the use of language in education and the language is considered as a standard variety of main and national language in different countries. The medium of instruction in education is defined as the vehicle for teaching and learning has become an important theme in language policy and planning (Hamid et al., 2013).  

The education sector has taken several language policies and planning decisions: the medium of instruction in education is language planning and policies. Bangla and English are both the medium of instruction in education in Bangladesh. There are currently three divisions of education in Bangladesh: Bangla‐medium mainstream education, English‐medium Western education, and Bangla‐and Arabic‐medium religious education (Jahan & Hamid, 2019).

National Education Policy 2010 and Medium of Instruction in Education

National education policy (2010) has been formulated with the consistency of the Constitution of Bangladesh. National education policy has included pre-primary, primary, secondary, higher secondary and higher education for determining the policies. According to National Education Policy (2010), at primary level and secondary level, higher secondary level, Bangla is the medium of instruction in education and ensures efficacy and proper teaching of Bangla language, on the other hand, based on the competence of any educational institution, it can also be English.

In the case of facilitating learning to the ethnic people, the medium of instruction in education should be in their native language. Through the use of the mother tongue of indigenous people and the ethnic minority will expand and develop their cultures and language. Simple Bangla lessons will be provided for teaching foreigners (National Education Policy, 2010). 

Bangla as a Medium of Instruction in Education

In Bangladesh, languages are sensitive and sentimental issues. Bangladesh has a unique history of sacrificing lives for protecting its national language, Bangla. Bangla achieved the status of national or official language by the first Constitution of Bangladesh, 1972 and almost 98% of people are spoken in this national language, Bangla. Bangla is needed for the formation of national identity. Bangla is the medium of instruction in education at all levels (Ministry of Education, 1974) and all the communication in the educational institution, government and semi-government offices.

Bangla is the de facto and de jure national language (Banu & Sussex, 2001). Bangla is the cultural and linguistic identity. In the Constitutions of Bangladesh (2018), Article 3 stated that Bengali is the only official language and medium of instruction in education. Bangla is always used in the public sector in Bangladesh. Bangla is a symbol of the power of identity. Several sociolinguists describe society as a stratification system based on the hierarchy of power, prestige, status and privilege, etc, that creates social inequality and division (Crossman, 2012; as cited in Anwar, 2013).

The background of Bangla medium education is usually associated with the lower economic condition. Most of the students are from the lower class. Bangladesh is a developing country; most students live in rural areas, they do not get the modern facilities like urban students. Living conditions are very low for rural students than urban people (Hossain). Urban schools are well organized and have all the facilities, but rural schools lack basic resources and facilities.

Buchmann & Hannum (2001, as cited in Baidya, August) stated that selecting a school for children depends on the family’s financial condition. This also creates a socioeconomic division, as the students have to be admitted to the lower educational institution and it hampers acquiring the Bangla language properly. Still, most of the students cannot speak in Bangla properly. Currently, 100% of students cannot access primary schools for economic, social, cultural, religious, and geographical factors. Bangladesh has one of the hegemonic and chauvinistic languages policies. Bengali is the medium of instruction in education, which puts the ethnic population of the state at a disadvantage.  

In the case of Bangla medium school, both Bengali students and ethnic students adopt Bengali cultures. Ethnic people cannot use their native language and do not know about their culture. Most of the indigenous people use their mother tongue at home, but all of them cannot speak in Bangla, who only go to school or take education can learn Bangla. As a result, students of these communities claim that they hardly find it easy to compete with Bengali students. The rate of dropout of the students of this community is so high.

In the National Education Policy (2010), education has to promote the cultures and native language of the ethnic people. However, there are no official instructions to facilitate instructions to the ethnic minority in their own languages. The state has imposed its own concepts, identification and education upon its ethnic population. Bangla medium students feel inferior in communicating English medium school, as the English medium students are so fluent in speaking English. In the case of culture, Bengali medium school students celebrate their culture, like Pohela Baishakh, Falgun etc. Bangladeshi Government designed book for ethnic minority people, but there is no implementation of those books, teachers are not trained enough. 

English as a Medium of Instruction in Education

English is an internationally globalized language and enjoys a special status in Bangladesh. British East India Company introduced English in the early 17th century and later presented it through British Colonial rule (Zaman, 2003, as cited in Hamid & Erling, 2016) as a power of language and social mobility. For Demont-Heirich (2005, as cited in Sultana, 2014), English is not a stoppable linguistic juggernaut, which has expanded social, cultural, and educational effects (Philipson, 1992,1998, as cited in Sultana, 2014).

English has survived and established the highest rank in the linguistic hierarchy along with social elitism and power (Hamid & Jahan, 2015, as cited in Hamid & Erling, 2016). English was inaugurated by Christian Missionaries and gave a gap between social elitism and demand and supply of English (Hamid & Erling, 2016). At the end of colonial rule, English was retained as a language of power and as a medium for social divides. After the end of British colonial rules in 1947, there were established two domaince of Pakistan – East and West Pakistan in Bangladesh.

English language is the only connection between East and West Pakistan and was divided by languages and cultures (Hamid & Erling, 2016). “English is available in two forms in the education system in Bangladesh (Banu & Sussex, 2001; Sultana, 2003, 2004, as cited in Sultana, 2014): as a content-based subject in government and non-government Bangla medium schools and colleges (BMSC) and as the only language of academic discourses in the elite English medium schools” (EMSC).

The increasing popularity of English in the private sector was responsible for (Hamid & Erling, 2016) the restriction in the public sector. The main reason for the popularity of the private sector is establishing English medium schools for wealthier and elite classes. “The information of English medium school education can be found in Hossain and Tollefson (2007) and Al-Quaderi and Al Mahmud (2010), the exact number of these schools and their enrollment sizes remain unknown because the Government has no control over this stream of education” (Hamid and Jahan, 2015).

English is the language of science, technology, globalization, etc and remained a source of failure (Tsui, 1996, as cited in Sultana, 2014), frustration and low self-confidence for many students. English medium students have less knowledge of Bangla and Bangladesh. The students have more exposure to Western culture and values, making them less Bangladeshi than the Bangla medium school students. English medium school has taken the high amount of fees which are only affordable for elite society, professionals and business class.

The high-quality English medium schools are considered Anglophile elites (Jahan & Hamid, 2019), whereas the Bangla medium school produces loyal Bengali for its low quality. English medium school students always represent hierarchy, status and class struggle with Bangla medium school. English and Bangla divisions are not the war of languages (Chidsy, 2018); it is a proxy representing unevaluated class positions. 

Indigenous Community and Medium of Instruction in Education

In 1971, Bangladesh got independent as a new nation based on Bengali nationalism. After the independence, many questions began to rise on the exercise of the term ‘Bengali’ to refer to nationalism for all citizens, including ethnic minorities (Kabir & Nath, n.d.). Using this term, the early nationalism of post-independent Bangladesh marginalized and separated the small ethnic minorities (Mohsin, 2011).

Again, in post-independent Bangladesh, without recognizing the fact of multilingualism, Bangla was anonymously taken as the medium of instruction in education at all levels. There is a recommendation from the Dr. Qudrat-e-Khuda education commission “We must use Bengali as the medium of instruction in education at all levels to make our educational schemes successful” (Bangladesh Education Report 1974). Therefore, most ethnic communities demanded the medium of instruction in education in their own languages.

Though the medium of instruction in education ‘Bangla’ remains the same, the students of ethnic communities can pass the primary level of education due to the flexible promotional system (Kabir & Nath, n.d.). The ultimate problem occurs in the secondary and higher secondary levels when the students cannot perceive the contents in Bangla and English. Still, the teaching method in Bangladesh is GTM in the rural and some urban and suburban areas.

Consequently, students from ethnic groups do not understand the English class as the teacher translates in Bangla. Other registers are also written in Bangla in secondary and higher secondary books, which also creates problems in the students’ understandings. “At examination, most ethnic minority students were seen not writing answer promptly. Teachers reported that students in secondary level were still weak in clear understanding and writing of Bangla language” (Kabir & Nath, n.d.).

Kabir & Nath also found in their research that students from indigenous communities also face challenges while communicating in higher education in Bangladesh as they are not exposed to Bangla that much until higher secondary education. They also discovered the cultural inequalities in their research as both of the communities’ (Bengali and Ethnic Groups) students participate in academic, cultural activities and the indigenous one faces problems in accommodating Bengali culture. So, all these issues were found throughout the researches in this existing field.


The medium of instruction in education has always been a hot topic in Bangladeshi education. Many scholars conducted researches on this issue and raised their arguments on this favor and vice-versa. Many terms and materials are yet to be developed in Bangla to implement Bangla as a medium of instruction in education across our educational sector. A teacher should be well trained to teach in the preferred language so that nobody feels to be marginalized. Employment of more teachers from the minority would also work better for the students.


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About the author

Md. Jahid Hasan

Md. Jahid Hasan

Md. Jahid Hasan is a MA in TESOL student of the Department of English Language, Institute of Modern Languages, University of Dhaka, Bangladesh.

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