Education: Weighing the odds between English medium and English version

Students at Viqarunnisa Noon School & College after the government has withdrawn restrictions on educational institutions following a decrease in the number of cases of coronavirus disease (Covid-19) in Dhaka, Bangladesh, 12 September 2021.

The world today is extremely competitive and there is no alternative without English. It may be English medium or English version, but English knowledge is essential.

English medium follows the British curriculum (Edexcel or Cambridge International Examinations). Most of the books have been published and printed abroad. Our students are in the same race as we are following the British curriculum. St. Francis Xavier’s Green Herald International School, one of the first English medium schools in Bangladesh, was established in 1912.

According to Dhaka Secondary and Higher Secondary Education Board, before independence of Bangladesh in 1971 and during Pakistani rule, the medium of education was English. After the independence of Bangladesh teaching methods turned to Bangla. But after a few years, it was found that our knowledge and everything related to English nosedived.

Growing demand from all sectors especially from parents, the public and others made the government rethink the matter seriously. As the parents were unable to create an atmosphere at home to practice English with their children and the children themselves also could not learn English by themselves and could not speak in English fluently the demand for English version from school level increased day by day.

English version follows the National Curriculum based on textbooks translated from the Bangla into English. The first English version school under the Directorate of Secondary and Higher Education was started in cadet colleges in the late 1990s. St. Francis Xavier’s Girls High School & College and St. Joseph High School & College, Notre Dame College started education in English version in 1999. St. Gregory’s High School & College started education in English version from 2016.

Some parents would like to send their children to English medium schools, understandably. Obviously expense matters. English version schools are also maintaining standards but compared to English medium their changes are less. They take exams under the National Board for Exams whereas English medium students take their exams under the British Council. Answer scripts are sent to the United Kingdom for checking. Hence, it is more expensive than the English version exams.

Spoken English is completely a matter of practice. By reading story books, English newspapers and magazines, listening to audio clips, everyone can develop their English.

It may be interesting to note here that some of the schools during COVID-19 took tuition fees and annual charges into consideration. Dhanmondi Tutorial is one of them. Despite so many factors, especially in the COVID situation, Dhanmondi Tutorial stood beside parents.

Parents should not be disheartened for not being able to send their children to English medium school. The National and international curriculum may be different but the rules of grammar are the same everywhere, whether in English medium schools or English version schools. It depends on teachers and students -- the way the teacher explains and the way a student understands.

Spoken English depends on practice. A student may be good at grammar but may be shy and have a lack of practice and lack of confidence in speaking in English. English medium students talk in English at school from a very tender age and sometimes even at home. Spoken English is completely a matter of practice. By reading story books, English newspapers and magazines, listening to audio clips, everyone can develop their English. A child cannot blame their parents for not providing them English medium education rather than English version education. In the University of Dhaka, medical colleges, engineering universities, most of the students are from Bengali medium.

It is time to wake up. In days to come only certificate-based education won’t work in the long run. Skills will win the race. At the same time English in the workplace would be mandatory. Be it English medium or English version, one should try to focus on self-development. Parents should not feel bad for not being able to send their children to English medium school. Under the National Board a student has to sit and complete the whole exam at a time whereas the British Curriculum is divided. A student may appear for half of the exams in the May-June Session and the rest in the January Session (Edexcel/Cambridge).

There are some English version schools in Dhaka which are really doing great such as Viqarunnisa Noon School & College, Ideal School & College, and Willes Little Flower School & College. They compete in various English related competitions and win. They have won on merit. So students should concentrate and move on, forgetting about the medium or version and believe in themselves.

* Sharda Zaman works as an Invigilator at the British Council in Dhaka