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     Volume 4 Issue 51 | June 17, 2005 |

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Slipping off the Ladder

Mustahid Hossain

Bangladeshi nurses trained at the local nursing colleges qualify in the professional exams but fail the simple IELTS exams while applying for jobs in North American hospitals. In our private sector, the garment industry, that constitutes almost 70 percent exports of the country, employs most of their middle managers from neighbouring countries like Sri Lanka, India and Nepal. In addition, hardly any Bangladeshi is running the show in the donor agency community that operates in Bangladesh even though many have vast international experience, let alone PhDs. Likewise, the top-level positions in such organisations are filled up by the articulate professionals from the neighbouring countries.

These three are simple examples taken from the current institutional and corporate establishments in Bangladesh. What is common in all three situations? Is it because we are incompetent and lazy? Surely not. Is it then the lack of English fluency hindering Bangladesh from making the most of global opportunities? The answer is affirmative. Overall, the standard of English is quite sluggish, and this is a loss for Bangladesh. Bangladeshis could have done better globally if we had upscaled our English skills.

Let's take a look at the past. In the 50s to early 70s as a result of having tensions with West Pakistan, as a nation, we decided to establish Bangla as our first language. It was mainly to keep our Bangla identity and language, that we got liberated. In the 80s when we formed SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Co-operation), and started to share stronger collaboration with our regional neighbours, we failed again to observe that Sri Lanka, Maldives, Nepal and India took both their local languages and English up to a dynamic scale, and made sure that their citizens were educated in English. Our practice then was quite reactive, we still hesitated with the EITHER 'Bangla' OR 'English' concept. As a result, we simply failed to join the race with our neighbours.

Finally, now we have entered the age of globalisation where every day new opportunities are opening up with new forms of competition from all the countries of the world. English is equally important as Bangla for us to get into the global mainstream. As we did not prepare for it, we are now struggling. Interestingly Tagore can be called a 'global Bangali', long before globalisation became a catch word and English gave him that edge.

Countries like Singapore, have greatly benefited by using English in their mainstream practices. Being a tiny state, Singapore has become a global hub. Their entirely English-based education system has a lot to do with it. The Chinese are catching up in this regard. They have made English compulsory in their curriculum, and have hired a lot of English teachers for the purpose. I just wish we had some strong initiatives taken at home for the purpose.

Surprisingly, there is more emphasis on writing instead of spoken English in our classrooms. The skills learnt are not enough to make one an articulate English speaker for the future. It does not matter the number of years of studying English, what matters most is the quality. Having said that we need a lot of skilled and articulate English teachers in the country to overcome our shortages.

The situation is even worse in the schools outside the capital, Dhaka. Due to shortages of good English teachers outside Dhaka, the standard of the students suffer, as a result. Eventually, when a Bangla medium student from outside Dhaka enrols into a public or private university in Dhaka, it becomes almost impossible for that particular individual regardless to get a job at an international bank or multinational corporations that predominantly employs students with better English education.

The way things are going in almost five years time, hypothetically, we are going to have four different professional sub-societies in the country: professionals who studied in: (1.) English medium schools, (2.) Bangla medium schools from Dhaka, (3.) Bangla medium schools from the rest of the country, (4.) Madrasas. Such 'class conflicts' or 'differences' would adversely impact our professional life, and is bad for our society's advancement.

In order to standardise our English, Bangladesh needs to come up with 'phase wise' and 'region wise' English training methodologies and a greater number of professional English teachers both in the primary and secondary level. Moreover, we should overcome our shortages by reading more, thinking to be creative, writing in a way that influences people, and simultaneously combine and pursue these traits in English. In addition, presentation is an area where we need to increasingly pay more attention.

The untiring Bangladeshis all over the Middle East could have been much economically productive if their English fluency were like that of the expatriates from the Philippines, Sri Lankan, or even India. Since manpower is our biggest asset, let us make the best use of this priceless resource. Philippines, Korea, Sri Lanka, India, Eastern European countries are doing remarkably well following such thoughts into practices. It is about time that we get a piece of the cake.



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