A CRITICAL EXPLORATION OF PRIVATE UNIVERSITY STUDENTS’ APPROACH TOWARDS ENGLISH AS A MEDIUM OF INSTRUCTION IN BANGLADESH

Table of Contents:

Introduction

In Bangladesh, popularly perceived and accepted as a monolingual country, English is widely used as the language of trade, commerce, higher education, and international communication. It has perhaps penetrated other spheres as well in this former British colony since its permeation. It has been playing a decisive role in separating the insiders from the outsiders, the cultured from the unrefined, and the well-educated from the ill- or half-educated in the name of politics of ‘standard English' (cf. Crowley, 2003; Sultana, 2016). The purpose in the end is quite obvious: determine who should be allowed to climb to the top or kept hanging on the lowest rung of the ladder.

To use English as a means of segregation has become possible due to the fact that English is now a ‘desired’ commodity perceived both locally and globally (Tan & Ikubdy, 2008).The 2010 Education Policy, Bangladesh makes English a compulsory subject from Grade 1 (Education Policy Bangladesh, 2010). However, due to contextual realities, which include inadequate resources, untrained teachers, limited infrastructural facilities to mention a few (Imam, 2005), English appears as a commodity in Bangladesh which not everyone can obtain at the same level. Consequently, English has become even more desirable for many and gained ‘magical’ qualities.

The private universities (PUs) in Bangladesh, specifically those widely accepted as high-ranked, has made English the de facto medium of instruction (MOI), while there is no such clause in the Private University Act 1992, Bangladesh about it (Act 34, Private University Act, Bangladesh, 1992). The PU authorities often use a pretext by citing the name of an internationally renowned school or a country they model on. For instance, the website of an old and established PU writes that they are modelled based on the US universities and follows the semester system, credit hours, letter grades, and so on outlined by those universities. Many other established PUs in the country follow the same approach, that is, a North American Model. A reference to Bourdieu and Wacquant’s (2001) notion of ‘planetary vulgate’ can be useful here to explain the ‘Zeitgeist’ of the contemporary Bangladeshi tertiary institutions. According to them, the perceived values of the contemporary era have been translated into a certain set of vocabulary, which are ‘globalisation’ and flexibility’,‘governance’ and ‘employability’,‘underclass’ and ‘exclusion ,‘new economy’ and ‘zero tolerance’, and similar other cliches (Bourdieu & Wacquant, 2001). These items are also prominent features of today’s ‘risk society’ (Beck, 1992) in ‘late modernity’ (Giddens, 1991) in a manner like if we do not learn English we run the risk of... not being in the flow. The World Bank financed intellectuals, who in the name of quality assurance interfere in the running of private tertiary education along with others (e.g. Thomson Reuters, who create hegemonic discourses for entering global ranking competition), exaggerate the risk by equating English with the modern education system (Moosa, 2018).The participants in this study and individuals living in the countries where English is a ‘second’ or ‘foreign’ language, are not inattentive to these articulations. They see the necessities to establish a connection between ‘good English’ and ‘employability’,‘internationalisation of higher education and ‘mobility , and so on.

Against the above background, the chapter aims to explore three interconnected issues: (1) 1’U students’ opinion about the status of English in their life and its presence in Bangladesh, (2) how PU students negotiate their relationship with English at the institutional level, and (3) their attitude towards code-mixing, meshing, and translanguaging in the classroom in relation to only-English MOL

PUs in Bangladesh

There are about 106 PUs in the country (University Grants Commission of Bangladesh, 2019), which have grown in numbers over the last two decades to accommodate the students who either do not or cannot enter the public universities.These universities, in general, demand much higher tuition fees than public universities. The limitation of seats in the public universities is a key reason why most students cannot secure admission in those universities. Therefore, PUs, albeit demanding higher tuition fees, have drawn attention of the students irrespective of their socioeconomic backgrounds (Sultana, 2018). Due to the lack of logistically strong vocational or technical institutions in the country, in addition to certain ‘stigma’ associated with such education (Alam, 2008), the tertiary education industry has flourished markedly.

In the last three decades, the tertiary institutions have increased to accommodate as many as half a million students from various demographic locations (Bangladesh Education Statistics, 2017). It needs exploration whether the forms of capital, specifically the ‘symbolic’ and ‘cultural’ capital that these students from diverse backgrounds bring to the university, impact on their learning and socialisation on campus. Since English has attained the status of a commodity within a society, amidst a set of social practices, the concept of commodity needs to be explained against the logics of the specific ‘market place’ where it attains its ‘symbolic value’ (Bourdieu, 1991, p. 38).

In addition, while English as a medium of instruction (EMI) has widened its reach, Crystal (2003) suggests that a native speaker may feel ‘pride’ by looking at this expansion; by contrast, for the ones whose first language is not English, such an expansion may create possibilities for unequal competition in the marketplace of English. Similarly, students from the English-medium background in Bangladesh may also celebrate the English-medium education system. It should be noted here that as a commodity it too “appears at first sight an extremely obvious, trivial thing. But its analysis brings out that it is a very strange thing, abounding in metaphysical subtleties and theological niceties" (Marx, 1990, p. 163). In other words, English, apparently an innocent tool for social status and professional progression, may play a clandestine role in the society. However, apart from a handful of studies (e.g. Hamid, 2016; Hamid, Jahan, & Islam, 2013; Roshid, 2018; Sultana, 2014, 2016, 2018), there is a dearth in researching English language education practices

(or language-in-education policies) in Bangladesh via socioeconomic variable or through language as a capital a la Bourdieu (1984, 1986, 1991). In addition, with an unwritten language policy that promotes the use of English, 1’Us seem to determine who has access to social, political, or economic resources (Tollefson, 1991). Tollefson (2006) argues elsewhere that “policies often create and sustain various forms of social inequality and that policy-makers usually promote the interests of dominant social groups” (p. 42). Considering the above arguments, a discussion on the status of English and its use in the PU of Bangladesh where English has been endowed with the ‘magical quality’ is timely.

 
Source
< Prev   CONTENTS   Source   Next >