English medium students
Do They Do So Well?
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?
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.
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
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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?