It was during the time of Lord William Bentinck as a governor general that English was first introduced in this sub-continent. The proposal had then met with strong opposition from many influential quarters; but thanks to Raja Ram Mohan Roy and Lord Macaulay, it received Governor General's approval in 1835. More than a hundred and eighty years have passed since then. That the measure has done immense good to our country is now universally admitted.
In Bangladesh, students are required to read English for about twelve years as a compulsory subject. But the level of proficiency they reach is very low. No wonder that most of them fail in their English tests. People taking the Civil Service Examinations are also tested on their knowledge of English, but the results are equally disappointing although almost all the candidates have presumably master's degrees in various disciplines. Even those who pass or qualify are seldom able to write a free composition in acceptable English. Obviously, there is something seriously wrong with the teaching and learning of English in Bangladesh.
In the context of verbal English communication in Bangladesh, Bengali medium students always struggle due to their lack of exposure to communicative English language context. The rigid Grammar Translation curriculum at their secondary and higher secondary level hamper their learning and acquisition ability for verbal English. At the same time, the difference between the culture of learning and culture of classroom in both secondary and higher-secondary level also creates obstacles to their language learning. As a result, the sole purpose of oral communication course fails.
One can't learn English or any subject for that matter unless one is motivated to do so. Most students in this country feel a lack of motivation not only in their English courses but also in their subjects in general. There is hardly any subject they know or care to know really well. They are interested not in acquiring knowledge but in passing the exams either by copying or memorising the answers written for them in books variously known as Suggestions, Sure Success, Touch and Pass etc. Their lack of motivation and their tendency to use short cut suggestion erode their learning curiosity.
Besides, there is an acute shortage of competent English teachers. Most school teachers are normally graduates. They are hardly qualified to teach English .The situation at the college level is slightly better. College teachers have M.A degrees in English. But their courses are oriented towards literature rather than language and it is possible to get a degree in English without having reasonable proficiency in the language. What makes matters worse is that teachers are not trained for that matter. An untrained teacher cannot teach language effectively..
Language testing is very important because it affects teaching and learning. The testing methods used in Secondary Education Board are faulty and ineffective. The questions that are asked on the prescribed pieces do not call for close reading. In fact, most students do not read the pieces at all. The examination papers include a lot of grammatical questions but mere knowledge of grammar does not necessarily mean ability to use English. Students are required to write various types of composition. But as the text book does not provide any help and as the examiners do not insist on their writing the composition in their own language, the students come up with answers written for them by others. Vocabulary, sentence structure, discourse analysis, techniques of writing composition: these important aspects are never included in the test.
What is most unfortunate for Bengali medium students is that the so-called 'Communicative Language Learning/Teaching' at the school level focuses only on two particular skills of language- reading and writing. To learn a language effectively one must have to undergo the four skills i.e. reading, writing, speaking and listening without which one cannot get hold of language. Regrettably, in our education system, as far as learning English is concerned, sole emphasis is laid on the reading and writing skills. The other two elements i.e. speaking and listening, are completely neglected. As a result our students are not taught effectively. Above all, reading, writing, speaking and listening all must be practised simultaneously. Realising this unavoidable fact, the concerned authority should have started a mandatory practical mark in English on speaking and listening skills in their curriculum to make students familiar with verbal communication in English.
Md. Abu Abdullah is Chairman of the Department of English at Panchrukhi Begum Anowara Degree College, Araihazar, Narayanganj