The prevalent English Language Education (ELE) practices have escalated opportunity costs due to flaws in the Education Policy. Though an ELE provision requires a backup of Language Policy (LP), Bangladesh does not have any LP. In the absence of such an LP, the ELE is run as a part of compulsory basic education.
The ELE, according to the Bangladesh Bureau of Educational Information and Statistics (BANBEIS), involves a cost of approximately one-fifth of the total education expenses, amounting to Tk 794.86 billion (Tk 79,486 crore) allocated for the fiscal year 2019-20, and is financed mostly with public money earmarked in the national budget.
The money fuelled as expenses in the education of ELE is provided to develop human resources capable of contributing to the national economy. So, the expenses of ELE practices owe an economic analysis (EA), which is customarily done as part of the fiscal policy. As the policymakers consider it to be an impact investment, they, therefore, exempt it from the analysis of its outcomes.
In fact, the outcomes of education are too complex, too holistic, too subjective to adequately measure, most often associated with a general belief that ELE is having an overall positive impact. Thus, the expenses made in the education from the budget are often exempted from any full-scale EA.
A critical analysis of the ELE practices in the purview of LP, however, shows that a kind of flaw rooted in the concept of 'Basic Education' has pervaded the prevalent ELE.
The flaw of ELE has surfaced at the revision of the National Education Policy in favour of the ELE. As a result of these revisions, Bangladesh has now acquired an all-pervasive unregulated ELE system comprising the provision for compulsory education of 'Literacy English' with an emphasis on the four skills -- reading, writing, listening and speaking -- as well as the one for an optional education of academic subjects in English medium at all phases of education.
The advocates of the ELE in Bangladesh give some arguments in favour of the compulsory provision for ELE. They include i) English is a colonial inheritance, ii) English is an international language, iii) English is a means for access to the global knowledge, and iv) English is a means for access to the global job market.
However, these advocacies do not favour the compulsory or obligatory provision for the ELE. Because, the ELE as a system is required to be established and run, based on a language planning in compliance with a language policy underpinned by an appropriate ideology.
Hence, Bangladesh needs an appropriate ideology to provide a basis for an ELE system in the country.
There are three different types of ideologies available in backing the provision for language education. These are i) Educational Ideology, ii) National ideology and iii) Sociolinguistic ideology. Of the three different types of ideologies, the Educational Ideology provides a basis for an education policy supporting a basic education comprising literacy, numeracy, and social skills in the medium of Bangla, but not in Arabic or English.
Again, the remaining two ideologies -- National Ideology and Sociolinguistic Ideology -- do not also provide the basis for the compulsory ELE in Bangladesh. The national ideology of Bangalee nationalism provides a basis for formulation of a language policy conducive to the promotion of Bangla.
Globalisation being a sociolinguistic ideology, on the other hand, provides a basis for the provision of foreign language education but does not supplement the English-only Compulsory Education.
Despite the fact that none of the above ideologies favours the current compulsory ELE practices, it is run as a part of the basic education. Since the ELE does not comprise the basic education, it owes a kind of EA, which is different from the EA usually made for the basic education. The policymakers consider the ELE to be part of the basic education, for which they exempt the expenses of the ELE from the full-scale EA.
A full-scale EA involves four types of analyses (cf. Allen and Tommasi, 2001). They are: i) Cost analysis, ii) Fiscal impact analysis, iii) Cost-effectiveness analysis and iv) Cost-benefit analysis, which respectively provides the picture of i) a complete accounts of the expenses associated with the ELE system, ii) governmental revenues, expenditures, and savings that result from the proposed ELE policy, iii) effect of the ELE policy on the budget, and iv) extent of costs of ELE that outweigh the benefits of it.
However, the policymakers conduct only cost analysis and fiscal impact analysis in assessing the outcomes of the allocated budget in the ELE. To undertake these EA, they take into account the number of students enrolled in the school/college every year in projecting the outcomes of ELE. The number of enrolment of students being an explicit means of the EA, suggests a negative impact of expenses fuelled in the ELE.
The government's statistics from BANBEIS for the year 2017 show that a great number of the national dropouts, at a rate 18.8 per cent and 37.81 per cent respectively at primary and secondary levels, incur wastage of fund of the national budget.
The amount of loss incurred only in the past year due to dropout approximates Tk 40 billion (Tk 4,000 crore), given that the allocation for the primary, mass education and secondary education sector was Tk 500 billion (Tk 50,000 crore). The allocation is Tk 550 billion (Tk 55,000 crore) in the year 2019-2020.
An advocate of compulsory provision for the ELE argues to justify the loss incurred from the ELE in connection with the expenses of the compulsory Bangla literacy and numeracy education. However, the wastages incurred from the compulsory ELE practices cannot be justified with the expenses made in basic education, because the expenses in the basic education is considered to be an impact investment for the reason that the basic education catalyses the process of socialisation and assimilation conducive to growth of children as social beings.
The fund of national budget spent on the ELE practices does not yield any economic impact until the skills of EL is utilised in a practical situation, e.g. the job market.
A study [conducted by this author `Reconsidering the Prevalent English Language Education System in Bangladesh`. and published in Journal of the International Mother Language Institute. Vol. 1, No. 1 December 2017.] finds that the current ELE practices have continued to incur both implicit and explicit opportunity costs, i.e. wastage of funds, in six different forms. They are: i) The benefits forgone for English-only FL policy by rejecting the provision for education of other FLs; ii) the benefits forgone for teaching contents of courses known as 1st paper which can alternatively be imparted with any of the academic subjects, e.g., humanities, social sciences, and general sciences; iii) the turnover forgone for the dropouts of low achieving students who never require to use English in their lifetime given that dropout occurs in phases of education steadily; iv) the turnover forgone for not required to use English in their official jobs who require English competency as eligibility at the entry to their jobs; v) the benefits forgone for the failure of the teachers in developing proficiency in English of the students due to the lack of their requisite level of English competency, and vi) the effectiveness forgone for the failure of imparting academic knowledge to the students due to incompetence of the teachers in teaching assigned academic subjects in English medium.
The said six types of opportunity costs shed light on the extent and nature of wastages of the national budget on education yielded from the ELE expenses. Hence, the aforementioned wastages have continued to hinder the sustainable development of the education sector in the country.
Now, Bangladesh is in need of a practical ELE policy capable of addressing the issues of opportunity costs derived from the ELE expenses and the measures to be undertaken in discarding the opportunity costs so that the actual benefit of the ELE can be gained for sustainable development of the education sector.
Dr. ABM Razaul Karim Faquire is a professor of Japanese linguistics and Culture at the Institute of Modern Languages, University of Dhaka.