<%-- Page Title--%> Cover Story <%-- End Page Title--%>

<%-- Volume Number --%> Vol 1 Num 128 <%-- End Volume Number --%>

October 31, 2003

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English medium students

How Do They Do So Well?


Some call them English-speaking brats. And to some they are a bunch of snobs, absolutely oblivious of the world around them. But lately English medium students have been bringing remarkably good results to a country otherwise famous for its question paper scams and corruption. In fact this year in the Ordinary Level Exam two Bangladeshi students have scored the highest marks in the world in two core subjects, and 454 more got more than six As. SWM takes a close look at the reasons behind their success: Are the schools doing their job properly? Or are there other factors at work?

Meet Rezwan Haque: young, energetic and restless. But make no mistake: behind that sixteen-year-old boyish smile--typical of any teen of his age--lies a unique story of success. This year in the O' level exam, held under the University of Cambridge, Rezwan bagged As in all the 12 subjects he sat for. But his achievement is different for another reason--this Bangladeshi student from the SFX Greenherald International School topped in English language in the world, beating even native speakers of the language.

Rezwan's success hasn't come alone; another Bangladeshi student Shammi Shawkat Quddus scored the highest in Mathematics in the world. Both Rezwan and Shammi have one thing in common--they didn't take help from any private tutor while preparing for the first public exam of their life. “When I see a problem, I want to think with it; I like challenges: private tuition doesn't permit that,” Rezwan says. Syed Fakruddin Ahmed, Principal of Master Mind School, where Rezwan is now doing his Advanced Level, agrees. “Private tuition stands as a hindrance rather than a supporting hand,” he says. He thinks insincerity among a handful of teaching staff is the prime reason for the mushrooming of “this so-called private tuition business.”

Enayet Mawla, a Sunbeams graduate, who topped in Commerce in the country, begs to differ. He believes “private tuition is necessary to a certain extent,” because “ the schools have been very 'commercial' and teachers are not teaching properly in the schools in order to attract more students to their home.” Interestingly though, Mawla's school does not permit its teachers giving private tuition, he went to a coaching centre for “extra help.”

Naheem Mahtab, another Sunbeams alumnus, who scored eight As two years ago and now studying at the North-South University doesn't buy Enayet's idea; he believes it is a “waste of time and energy.” “ It's more of fad,” Naheem says, “Just think of the time and money they spend on the road; they could have at least sat down with their books at home and studied.” Mahmuda Afrin, who will sit for her O' Level next year thinks, private tutors turn students into “cows.” “In the exam you have to use your own brain, because it is the only thing you can depend on in the end,” she believes.

Rubyyat-a-Hakim, who passed her O' Level in 2001 from Scholastica with 6 As, supports private tuition for a different reason altogether. “Some schools do not teach all the subjects well,” she says. Rubyyat thinks the weaker students get extra attention in private coaching. “You can't blame the students if they want to have the best teachers in town before they take the first public exam of their life,” she reasons.

But getting the “best teachers in town” for the exam has been costing the parents dearly. “It has become intolerably expensive,” says Nafisa Haque, a mother of two. “I have to pay Tk 12,000 every year to the school at the beginning of the academic session; and then Tk 4000 every month as tuition fees. Now, if the student is going to sit for the exam he has to pay nearly Tk 4000 for each subject; not only that, he has to go to private coaching and the teachers will ask for no less than Tk 2000 for each subject. My two sons are only in class four and seven; I don't know how I will manage the money by the time they sit for their O' Level exams,” she says. Nafisa's husband, Anwar al Haque, a mid-level officer in a multinational company, believes, “English medium education has become a business.” Rubyyat agrees; “Because of this, many families cannot send their kids to the English medium schools, even though they might have the merit, the potential to do well,” she says.

Syed Fakruddin Ahmed thinks there are other problems too. It is tough to get good teachers who will understand a student's psychology and mould him according to his or her aptitude, he says. “We have to make sure the best brains in the country come to teaching and, more importantly, we have to make sure they stay in the profession,” says Fakruddin Ahmed. To do that, a school has to maintain a good pay scale, he believes.

Not everyone follows the same principle--unlike a few exceptions, most of the English medium schools do not pay much. “I have been teaching for nearly two years, and the school is paying me Tk 5000 per month,” says a senior teacher who wants to remain anonymous. “What am I supposed to do other than teaching at home?” he asks.

But, when teachers themselves are properly motivated, they can become the primary cause of a student's success. Take Shammi; like most teens of the country, Maths was the subject she dreaded most in class eight and nine, even failing in tests. It was in the 10th grade that Shammi, a student of Master Mind international School, Chittagong, decided to start afresh and work on her handicap. So she started working hard mastering the basics of the subject with her school's Chemistry and Math teacher Huma Zaman. Soon, Math became a favourite subject and she ended up getting the highest score in the subject all over the world.

Shammi's is not the only example we have. “In the beginning I used to hate Biology, because I didn't find it interesting,” says Dipro Kaiser Chowdhury. But it was his Bio teachers' “way of teaching” that had attracted him most to the subject. “I started liking it,” Dipro says; his affection for the subject earned him an A in Biology. The story does not end here; Dipro, who has always wanted to be a businessman, has taken Biology in his Advanced Level only because of the inspiration he received from his Bio teachers.

Unlike Dipro, who got an A in the subject, most English medium students face problems with English language. Dipro's English teacher, Syeda Fauzia Raza, thinks the basic problem an English teacher faces is the students' reluctance to read books. “I advise my students to read newspapers, magazines and story books, because I consider that as half of the preparation for the exam,” she says. “But to my utter dismay,” she continues, “I have found neither the parents nor my students take my words seriously.”

The Language syllabus has something to do with the students' failure to grapple with English, says Naheem. “They fail to understand what the subject demands. It's not just about knowing English, it is about knowing how to respond correctly to the questions asked,” the student who did well in Language gives an insider's tip.

Most of the subject teachers, other than English Language, however, teach in Bangla. Rubyyat believes, “It hampers a student's progress in Language when the other teachers give their class lectures in Bangla.” But the science teachers, in particular, are quick to defend their way of teaching. “When I teach in English I have found most of my students struggling to understand my class lecture. On the other hand, when I go for Bangla they understand it quite easily,” says Akram Hossain, a Human Biology teacher. “I am here to teach Human Bio, my job is not to help the students improve their English,” he continues.

As in English, students face problems with another core subject. Most of the students fail to get a good grade in Bangla, primarily because, believes Anindita Das, a senior Bangla teacher, “they take the subject for granted.” Another reason for the students' failure in their mother tongue is, she believes, “they think, it is absolutely useless to learn Bangla.” Snigta Chowdhury, who got an A in Bangla says, “You have to prepare for Bangla as you prepare for any other subject.” Miraj Hossain, who got a B in Bangla, believes he could have done better if he had been serious enough. “If you have to live in Bangladesh, you have to learn Bangla, otherwise you are absolutely nobody,” he says.

Another student Orko Momin thinks, “Giving importance to Bangla depends on the family.” “Unlike my friends, we have been keeping a Bangla newspaper at home for years. My parents have been providing me with Bangla story books,” Orko says explaining his strong foundation in the language. But Anindita thinks every parent isn't like Orko's. “Most of them discourage their children reading Bangla books,” she says; some go further; “I know parents who regularly beat up the students for reading Bangla books.”

Anindita believes, “This step-motherly attitude towards the subject” spells disaster. If they don't know their mother tongue, how can you expect them to know the vast cultural heritage we have, she says, to which Syeda Fauzia Raza agrees. “Most of the students do not know about the world around them, if you ask them anything out of their syllabi, they won't be able to answer it,' she says.

Another popular belief is that most of English medium students, once they go for higher studies abroad do not come back. Being asked about what he wants to be in life, Orko says, “I want to be a Cosmologist; there isn't any school in Bangladesh that teaches the subject; if it's not developed within two years, I will certainly go abroad for further studies,” he says. Orko then explains, “I don't think within 10 years or so the Bangladesh government will start sending people to the Moon; I certainly won't come back…and you call it brain drain.” Anyone listening?


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