Bangladesh is ranked in a deplorable position in English Proficiency Index [EPL] in comparison to many countries in Asia through a survey conducted by Education First, a professional body in Switzerland who started working from 2011 with a noble purpose of determining the English Proficiency Level of 116 countries all over the globe. The Index 2019 that includes data from 100 countries on criteria such as read advanced texts with ease, negotiate a contract with a native English speaker, make presentation at work, read a newspaper, participate meetings in one’s areas of expertise, navigate in an English speaking country as tourist and understand simple e-mails are very objective by nature. The index clusters countries into five proficiency bands; Very High, High, Moderate, Low and Very Low.
Bangladesh is in the 71st position, in the very low category with score of only 48.11 with proximity to Nepal [66th position] with a score of 49.0. India is the 34th position and Pakistan is at the 54th position with score of 55.49 and 51.41 respectively. The criteria that bands the countries at the very low level are very banal such as introduce oneself simply to a group or understand a simple sign and give basic directions to a foreign visitor. The measurement is very competitive as you can infer from the relative position of Nepal and Bangladesh with a margin of 0.89. This represents the soundness of measurement. The Netherlands is in top position with a score of 70.27.Distinguished Emeritus Professor of the Department of English, University of Dhaka Dr. Serajul Islam Choudhury categorically pointed out two reasons for poor performance in English. Students’ poor performance at the very elementary level creates a snowball effect in subsequent stages which the students seldom manage to cope up. The prime reasons are the quality of teachers and the method of teaching. Communicative method of teaching, though appears to be scientific, is nowhere the way we were taught English. We learnt English by reading stories, good books, poems, newspapers and often by reading prose by illustrated authors in English literature.
Here I beg excuse to my readers for an illustration from my experience in learning English. Seven Inventions and Modern Adventure were the two rapid readers in our Secondary Education [1966/67] level in English with 40 marks; equally divided between the two books. Paul Guda, Headmaster Barishal Zilla School, an English teacher taught us this two books. I checked the Goggle Search this morning and I discovered that one of the themes from the Modern Adventure, Alone in the Atlantic Ocean is still in the reading list in standard academic pursuit. [https://edumantra.net/learn-english/passage-14-alone-in-the-atlantic-oc]. Mr. Guda also taught us the Seven Inventions, the two themes I still recall; one related to Thomas Alva Edison, and his experimental lab and the story of Wrights Brothers: Wilbur Wrights and Orville Wrights and their experiment at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina.
This allusion on our exposure in English literature almost 53 years back is very important for the educational planner in this country who have deviated from the correct track of educating the youth of this country to master a lingua franca; English and replaced by useless current style of learning English. This may be too harsh but it is apt to convey the message that almost 70-80 percent of our students cannot write English correctly. When I was Program Director of the MBA and EMBA program at the North South University, I had to edit most of the applications and advised the students to rewrite the applications with my corrections to let the students know that I cannot own an application with mistakes.
It is pertinent to know the way Paul Guda taught us English. He asked all the students to open the book and he then read from the book. Whenever he gets a new word, he asks the students to know the meaning and emphasized to note us the context how the word is used in the sentences. His attempt was to help us to make vocabulary with the advice that more you read, you can enrich your vocabulary. You do not need to memorize to learn English but you can write on any topics when you are very rich in vocabulary. He also emphasized us to learn the very basic rule of English grammar. Though it was time consuming and painstaking effort, one could definitely equip oneself with the versatile techniques to write on any topics in English. The only requirement is to understand the topics in Bangla. When a student can think logically and stitch the integral parts in a comprehensive framework and comprehends in Bangla, it is not difficult to express the idea in any language. Unfortunately, we are swayed by the Golden 5 grade mania even for English and thus we are now in a pit; otherwise how a student in teacher’s evaluation report writes, “the instructor tells us to read newspaper!”
The writer is a Professor of Economics, United International University. Email: [email protected] eco.uiu.ac.bd.