Education Policy Teaching-Learning

Medium of Instruction at the Different Levels of Education in Bangladesh: Social, Cultural and Economic Division, and Inequality

Medium of instruction; Image source: Kaleela
Medium of instruction; Image source: Kaleela

Education is one kind of state of mind that facilitates learning, skills, belief, knowledge, and so on. According to Dictionary, “it is the act or process of imparting or acquiring general knowledge, developing the powers of reasoning and judgment and generally of preparing oneself or others intellectually for mature life” ( Aristotle stated that the system of schooling a person to fulfil goal by practising all faculties to the fullest extent as a member of society is called education. ( Education and language is an inseverable concept as education is promulgated through language (Owu-Ewie & Eshun, 2015). “Language is not everything, but without language, everything is nothing in education”, stated Wolff ((2015); as cited in Owu-Ewie & Eshun, 2015). Medium of instruction is also essential for this educational achievement and it refers to the language used by the teachers in case of teaching in the educational setting.

Education System in Bangladesh

To build a nation and teach the population of that nation, the education system is the most necessary component. Many countries have different education systems and the structure of the education system can be different. In Bangladesh, the educational system is mainly classified into three systematic ways. The divisions are: General Education, Madrasah Education, and Technical and Vocational Education

The general education system is divided into four types such as Primary Education, Secondary Education, Higher Secondary Education, and Tertiary Education.

Primary Education

Primary education is the initial stage of education and the foundation on which the nation’s edifice of education. It represents the cornerstone in the development process of any society and the key indicator of the people’s progress and prosperity (Haq, 2004). Classes 1-5, under the age of 6-11 are considered as primary level.

Secondary Education

Secondary education is the second stage of general education, starting at the age of 11 to 13 and usually finishing at 15 to 18, classes 6-10 are classified as secondary level. There are two divisions- junior secondary and secondary. This is the critical phase of life as students have to confirm educational choices that may dictate them in the future.

Higher Secondary Education

This is another division of secondary level. Classes 11-12 are categorized as higher secondary level.

Madrasah Education

Madrasah Education is also divided into two kinds – Aliya and Quaumi madrasah. There are also several independent madrasahs, maktabs, etc.

Technical-Vocational Education

Technical skills and practical skills are taught at this education level.

English Medium Education

It is an alternative education system in Bangladesh.

Defining Medium of Instruction

Medium of instruction is especially used by teaching in teaching. The use of language in the case of teaching students is considered a medium of instruction. Following several scholars, bilingual or multilingual education can include more than one language use as a medium of instruction. It can be possible that students’ first language is different from an official language; it also can be utilized as a medium of instruction for part or all of schooling.

The medium of instruction determined the academic success and language proficiency of an individual. Because of the inadequate proficiency level of the students, students face difficulties in adopting the subject matter; on the contrary, the students with adequate language proficiency understand the instructions very well. Bangla and English both languages are both the medium of instruction in Bangladesh. English medium school uses English as the medium of instruction. In Madrasah education, Bangla is the medium of education along with Arabic and English (Hamid & Erling, 2016). Medium of instruction serves as a critical variable in identity construction at the individual, social and national levels (Hamid, 2013). It includes equal access, cultural, social, and equality in education.

Language Policy and National Education Policy 2010

In National Education Policy (2010) stated which language will use for giving instruction. According to National Education Policy (2010), “in all level of education medium of instruction will be Bangla, but as per the competence of any educational institution, it may also be English. For foreigners, there will be provision for the teaching of simple Bangla lesson.” This use of Bangla for giving instruction will ensure the effective and correct acquisition of the Bangla language. Equal opportunities should be ensured for all sectors of education, including ethnicity, socio-economic conditions, physical, mental challenges. The instruction and teaching should be given in the mother tongue of the indigenous and ethnic people (National Education Policy, 2010). English medium school follows English as a medium of instruction (Hamid & Jahan, 2015) as government has no control over this system.

Capital by Pierre Bourdieu

Pierre Bourdieu, French sociologist, anthropologist, public intellectual, mostly focused on the sociology of language, the theory of sociology, and sociology of aesthetics. His work’s mostly based on the power dynamics of society. He focused on how the social classes preserve social privileges across generations.

Theories of social stratification were developed by Bourdieu based on aesthetic taste. He suggested different forms of capital- economic capital, social capital, symbolic capital, cultural capital, linguistic capital, and human capital, and so forth. Poverty can reduce through education. Human capital is the key to poverty reduction. Economic capital refers to material wealth in terms of money or properties. The knowledge, skills, educational and technical qualification are considered as cultural capital. Symbolic capital accumulated prestige or honour, and the competence in the prestigious variety of the language spoken by the powerful segment of the society is referred to as linguistic capital. Social capital refers to individuals’ property, status, and honour, not the collective one. This capital is slightly similar to symbolic capital.

Bengali as Medium of Instruction in Different Levels

Language is the way of communication with others. Bangladesh is a densely populated Muslim republic and slightly smaller than the state (Hossain) Winconsin in the United States. Over 160 million people live in inland areas. Language remains a big sentimental and sentimental issue in Bangladesh, and it has a history of sacrifices human lives for the national language. As a national or official language, Bangla got recognition in the first Constitution of Bangladesh in 1972. In Bangladesh, about 160 million or 98% of people speak in Bangla language.

Bangla has official status with several regional varieties of Bangla and minority languages such as Chakma (Corrupt form of Bengali), Marma (Mixture of Burmese and Rakhaine), Khashi (Austro-Asiatic), etc. (Faquire, 2010). Bangla is the de facto and de jure national language (Banu & Sussex, 2001).  Language is the way of building an individual’s identity culturally, socially, and so on. The use of Bangla identified Bengali people’s identity as Bangladeshi. Article 6, part 1 of the constitution, the people of Bangladesh were to be considered as Bengalis (Constitution of Bangladesh, 2018).

According to Faquire (2010), the standard variety of Bangla emerged by the literary scholars involving Rabindranath Tagore in Kolkata in the 19th century. Article 3 of the constitution stated Bangla will be the only official language in administrations, law, educations, society, etc., and Bangla is the only medium of education in all government educational institutions; however, no policy has been established to protect other languages in Bangladesh.

According to the constitution, every people of Bangladesh are Bengali people including minority groups. Article 17 clause A of the constitution, there will be a uniform education system (Constitution of Bangladesh, 2018), and the designed curriculum reflects the biases towards Bangla. The use of national language shows the power of identity. Bangladesh is an over-populated country, and most of the people still live in rural areas. For this reason, many children do not get the basic education as their living condition and economic status is low. They can hardly afford the livelihood.

The urban area’s educational institutions are well arranged and offer several facilities, but in the rural areas, the educational institutions are less in number, poor supply facilities. Urban teachers are well trained more than those rural teachers. Rural teachers have lower training; they have a weak proficiency level of pronunciation so that they cannot teach the students properly. When the rural students came to the rural institution, they have to face difficulties to get proficiency in standard Bangla. The literacy rate of Bangladesh is given in a chart below (Hossain)-

Table 1: Literacy Rates of the Population in Bangladesh (Source: M.M.Abdullah, Rural Development in Bangladesh: Problems and Prospects, (Dhaka, Bangladesh: Jahan Publications, 2006), 55, as cited in Hossain, (n.d.))


Bangla medium students have suffered in inferior complexity in order to the proficiency level of English medium students. Bangla medium students adopted the Bengali culture like Pohela Boishakh, Ekushey February, etc. In promoting Bangla after the independence of Bangladesh, the minority groups and their languages were ignored (Hamid & Erling, 20016). Most of the indigenous people use Bangla like other citizens of Bangladesh who has been educated officially by the social rules; nevertheless, ethnic people who do not have the educational knowledge; they can only use Bangla orally. They face problems in case of using this language. The government has designed books in their mother tongue but still, the books are not followed in the class because the teachers are not well-trained. The Bangla Academy made the policy to promote the Bengali language. The dropout rate from the education of these communities is also so high.

English as Medium of Instruction in Different Levels

English is an internationalized language and lingua franca in many countries; in Bangladesh, English is used as a second language in educational institutions and private sectors such as corporate offices, English medium schools. English is not a sort of stoppable linguistic juggernaut, which has increased social, cultural, and educational effects (Philipson, 1992, 1998, as cited in Sultana, 2014).  English is one of the mediums of instruction of the Bangladeshi education system and it was first emerged by the British East India Company and later by Colonial rules. English got retention at the end of colonial rules.

English education was introduced by Christian Missionaries. Later before the independence, Pakistan was divided into two parts- 1) East Pakistan; 2) West Pakistan. English teaching and learning outcomes are in no way comparable to those in English medium schools, in which English is the dominant language and Bangla is in a peripheral role (Hamid & Erling, 2016). After the independence of Bangladesh, Bangla-centric sentimentalists do not give attention to the English language. Now, English has the same status as the official language in secular education. English medium schools are now recognized for wealthy people and these schools are become mushroomed in Dhaka (Rahman, 2007).

The English medium schools create class stratification of access to English. English is not so much accepted as the public sector. English medium students have a high proficiency level of English, but Bangla medium students have a low proficiency level of English (Hossain). English medium students always adopt western cultures, they cannot know about Bengali culture.

Here is a chart of differences among English medium and Bangla medium students (Jahan & Hamid, 2019)-

Table 2: Dimension of EM Identity and Relation of EM with BM (Jahan & Hamid, 2019)

Markers of IdentityEnglish MediumBangla Medium
Communicative RepertoireFull command of the global language (English) Standard British/ American English functional proficiency in BanglaFull command of the local language (Bangla) Limited proficiency in English Bangladeshi English
Quality of education and educational outcomes, including values and worldviewsGlobal education of the highest quality Progressive values and worldviewsPoor quality local education Parochial and conservative view
Mobility and place in the worldOperates globally and competes with individuals from other nationsOperated only locally and nationally

Indigenous Ethnic Minority Education and Medium of Instruction

In post-independent Bangladesh, the new government formulated the first-ever constitution where the ethnic communities were unacknowledged according to their indigenous identities rather named as the Bengali nationalists in article 6 though later it has been amended. Such activity created a rage in the ethnic groups and impacted their education.

By the use of 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 at all levels of education. There is a recommendation from the Dr. Qudrat-e-Khuda education commission “We must use Bengali as the medium of instruction at all levels of education to make our educational schemes successful” (Bangladesh Education Report 1974). Therefore, most of the ethnic communities demanded the medium of instruction in their own languages.

Historically, there are different languages are spoken by different communities in Bangladesh. A table is given below.

Table 3: Languages Spoken in Bangladesh according to their Language Family [Source: Lewis (eds.) (2009) as cited in Faquire, 2010]

Language FamilyLanguages in Category                                Names of LanguagesPercentage of Speakers
Indo-EuropeanBanglaBangla and its dialects: Chittagonian and Shylheti98.74%
Other Indic languagesUrdu/Bihari, Rohingya0.33%
Languages spoken by ethnic peopleChakma, Tanchangya, Hajong, Bishnupuryia, Oraon Sadri, etc.0.25%
Sino-TibetanBaric languagesKoch, Garo, Tripura (Kokborok), Kachari, Usoi0.53%
Burmic languagesBom, Khyang, Khumi, Kuki, Lushei (Mizo), Pankhua, Arakanese (Marma), Chak, Meithei (Manipuri), Mikir, Mro (Mru)
Austro-Asiatic Khashi, Koda, Pnar, Santali,War Jaintia0.12%
Dravidian Kurux, Sauria Paharia0.03%

Though the medium of instruction ‘Bangla’ remains the same, the students of ethnic communities can promote themselves from the primary level of education to the secondary 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 as well. Still, the teaching method in Bangladesh is GTM in the rural and some urban and suburban areas. In consequence, students from the ethnic groups do not understand the English classes as the teacher translate in Bangla.

Other materials are also written in Bangla in secondary and higher secondary books which also create problems in the understandings of the students. “At the examination, most ethnic minority students were seen not writing answers 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 (n.d.) 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. Because of the dominance of the Bengali language, students from ethnic communities face inequalities in the cultural activities in their educational institutes.

Because of dominating by the Bengali language, they remain unknown to their cultures and native languages. They are part of our cultural heritage in Bangladesh. There is a dance that used to be performed at the death of pregnant women, and it focuses on the element of sadness and grief in the minority group; however, on television, this dance is performed with smiling faces. They take it for entertainment purposes. As a result, their language will become a dead language. The state has set up some institutes for ethnic people. But there are no trained teachers in those institutions.


Medium of instruction is an essential part of educational development and half of the education is based on the medium of instruction. Bangla and English both are equally important for education and should promote the use of both languages in every sector, including education and officials. Government should train the teacher as well. Government should focus on minority people and provide trained teachers to teach them their mother tongue. By then, equal rights will be ensured.


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About the author

Sanjida Abedin Rafha

Sanjida Abedin Rafha

Sanjida Abedin Rafha is a MA student in TESOL at the Department of English Language, Institute of Modern Languages, University of Dhaka, Dhaka, Bangladesh.

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