Let me begin this write-up with an extract from a letter that I received from an award winning student. Nadia Rahman, a student of South Satkania Golam Bari Govt. Model High School, writes to me, “We have benefited in numerous ways from the exams that you have introduced. Earlier, I was confined to the four walls of my school. But thanks to the exams that you have taken, I got an opportunity to go beyond the four walls and compete with students of many other schools.”
Nadia, who is going to sit for SSC examinations this year, also writes, “In this way I could do self-assessment, revise almost all the subjects well ahead of SSC exams and identify my shortcomings. Overall, I’ve learned a lot of new things while preparing for these tests, which will hold me in good stead.”
After joining the post of Upazila Nirbahi Officer (UNO) at Lohagara in Chattogram, I hit the ground running with some innovative plans to fast-track the Covid-disrupted education system. The schemes I have initiated helped students to develop reading habits, keep themselves up-to-date, focus on their studies, make them confident, competent and hard-working, ready to face future challenges, dream of success and move forward to achieve their dreams.
Among the initiatives, the notable ones are ‘MOV Test’ or (Master of Vocabulary), ‘UNO Meritorious Student Award Competition 2022’ and ‘USET’ or UNO's Special Evaluation Test. A total of 60 meritorious students who excelled in these three competitions were awarded on December 29. In this article I’ll explain in detail why I have taken these exceptional and competitive tests and how it benefited the students.
This is mainly a vocabulary based contest. I gave five selected words every day to all the students from class six-ten of the upazila through a WhatsApp group named ‘Everyday Five Words’ with the help of their respective class teachers. I took this initiative so that students can improve their English skills by overcoming their fear, weakness and inertia which are inherent in many of our students. I know learning vocabulary is difficult and tedious to some extent. So, I tried my level best to make it enjoyable among the students.
I visited educational institutions regularly to motivate students to improve their English skills. I explained to them why it is important to learn vocabulary, organised impromptu competitions in the class and awarded ‘winners bag’ (containing books and educational materials) among good performers. It not only aroused keen interest among students about learning vocabulary, but also prompted educational institutions to actively cooperate in this endeavour. Besides, teachers and guardians have made concerted efforts to properly groom up the students.
Finally, the marks of 2nd, 3rd and 4th round were combined and 20 pupils, who obtained the highest marks in total, were selected for the award. Here it needs to be mentioned that the question patterns of 1st and 2nd rounds were made known before the exams, but students were not informed beforehand of the question pattern of 3rd and 4th rounds. The strategy was taken to find out the genuine meritorious students.
From first-hand experience of running this program for a couple of months in the previous academic year, I can firmly say that students’ vocabulary stock have increased significantly and English has become a lot easier to them thanks to the ‘Everyday Five Words’ and ‘MOV Test’ initiatives.
Moreover, as a result of this initiative, the students will be able to do well in future academic exams as well as in any competitive examination including university entrance tests.
A number of students said that the basic 300 words that I’ve provided to them through ‘Everyday Five Words’ group over the last three to four months have led them to learn about 3,000-3,500 new words, including synonyms and antonyms of the basic words. They claimed that since the question patterns of the first two rounds were made known in advance, they could take a good preparation, improving their vocabulary stock significantly.
UNO Meritorious student competition
This competition was mainly arranged for class ten students. In the 1st round of the test, an MCQ test of 50 marks was taken on the students’ academic subjects including Bengali, English, Mathematics, Science, ICT and General Knowledge (Bangladesh, Bangabandhu, Liberation War and Constitution). About 3,800 students of class 10 of all schools and madrasahs of the upazila participated in the 1st round of this competition.
In this regard, a school in each union was used as an exam center. Students of all the educational institutions of that union went to the center on the scheduled date and took the test. Gradually, the 1st round of the competition was held in all unions. Later, 363 successful students sat for another MCQ test of 50 marks in the 2nd round at a center in Upazila Sadar. This test was taken very strictly. Then a written test of 15 marks was conducted in the 3rd round in just 20 minutes for 55 students who passed the 2nd round. And then, an oral test of 5 marks was taken in the 4th phase.
It is worth mentioning that although the students were informed of question patterns of the 1st and 2nd rounds in advance, the question patterns of the 3rd and 4th rounds were kept secret. This strategy followed with the aim of identifying the real talent.
A total of 21 students of schools and madrasahs were finally nominated for the award on the basis of receiving the highest marks by combining the results of 2nd, 3rd and 4th rounds. The participants of this competition are going to appear in this year’s SSC, Dakhil and Equivalent exams. In each subject of this competition, students were asked questions from the textbook, making them read textbooks thoroughly. Thus they have taken good preparation for SSC, Dakhil and equivalent exams.
SSC, Dakhail and equivalent examinees who were in the top 25% merit list in the test exams of their respective institutions could participate in UNO’s Special Evaluation Test (USET). This rule has been followed in the 2nd USET where about 1100 students participated.
Here, a written test of 3 hours was taken on English 1st and 2nd papers. The question papers were set in accordance with SSC and Dakhil exams. Exams were conducted in two centers at upazila headquarters, where participants came from the entire upazila to take the test. After completing the examination, results were published by evaluating the papers properly, and prizes were distributed among those who obtained the highest marks. A total of 19 students were awarded in different categories on the basis of their merit position in the 2nd USET examination.
The question papers for this test were prepared and printed maintaining maximum security and confidentiality. Students were seen preparing themselves enthusiastically for these exams. Overall, it was observed that these tests have made students more focused on their studies and enabled them to find out their strengths and weaknesses in English. The answer sheets were handed back to the students so that they could identify the mistakes they have made and prepare accordingly.
Last but not least, since most of our students have inherent fear and weakness in English, if a competition like ‘MOV Test’ can be organized from upazila to national level in phases every year under government initiative, students will be hugely benefited. It will not only enrich their vocabulary, but also help them overcome English-phobia and make them proficient and confident in English.
SDG-4 calls for ensuring quality education for all by 2030, and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s Vision 2041 envisages a developed and Smart Bangladesh. If we are to achieve these goals, there is no alternative to emphasizing on improving students’ English skills. Otherwise, it will become a lot more difficult for us to keep pace with the developed world.
Many of us often blame students for failing to write a good sentence in English or speak English fluently. But I don’t think effective steps have ever been taken to remove their fear and weakness in English from school level by going beyond the traditional education system and introducing a concrete framework. I, therefore, humbly request the authorities concerned to spare a thought regarding the matter.
The writer is Upazila Nirbahi Officer (UNO), Lohagara, Chattogram