Secondary education reform for human capital development

Global policy discourses of development in education as manifested in the policy documents of the externally funded projects have also influenced education policies at the national level. For example, the latest education policy of Bangladesh has declared that an important goal of secondary education is “to develop a learner with competencies so that s/he can compete in the job market, especially in the economic sector of the country” (Ministry of Education, 2010, p. 13).This goal marks a change in the educational paradigm in the country — while not many years ago education was considered as a means of social and moral development, not explicitly associated with economic growth, the impact of globalisation and the country’s current strategy for accelerating economic growth have integrated education with the discourses of development. In terms of ELE, the country's education policy recognised English “as [an] essential tool to building knowledge based society” (Chowdhury & Kabir, 2014, p. 10).The education policy considers English as a key tool for Bangladeshi citizens to have access to the globalised economy.

In pursuing this market-oriented goal in education, Bangladesh has been working in collaboration with donor agencies such as the WB, ADB, and DFID since the 1990s (Asian Development Bank, 2015). Of note is the recent curriculum reform to be achieved through a project called Secondary Education Sector Development Project (SESDP). Jointly funded by Asian Development Bank (85 million USD) and the Bangladesh government (28 million USD), SESDP (2007—2013) worked towards making the secondary curricula relevant to the employment market and enhancing the quality of education by training teachers and reforming the examination system. This reform was introduced while the country’s economic sector was undergoing significant transformation. As mentioned in ‘Introduction’ section, due to the integration of Bangladesh’s economy into the global economy, the country has experienced sustained GDP growth. This has been possible because of the increased business and trade and economic migration in the context of globalisation. In keeping with the changes in the economic sector of the country, public policies have emphasised the importance of skilled human resources for the country’s sustainable development. This is how changing the goal of education was justified. The secondary education reform aimed at “revising the curriculum to make it more relevant to 21st century workplace skills” (Asian Development Bank, 2015, p. iii). SESDP produced subjectwise curricula, which prioritised human capital development. The Chairman of the National Curriculum and Textbook Board (NCTB) explained why reforming the curricula was necessary:

Skilled human resources are preconditions to fulfil the pledges of change and turning the country to a middle income one. From the realization that only quality education can produce skilled human resources, the Government adopts the epoch-making and commonly accepted Education Policy 2010. The most important measure to implement this education policy is to bring about qualitative changes in education in line with the education policy. This is why. National Curriculum and Textbook Board (NCTB) initiates developing the new national curriculum.

(National Curriculum, 2012a, p. i)

To a large extent, the new curricula were informed by the discourses of development (see, e.g. National Curriculum, 2012a). Development discourses in global education policies and the policy discourses of international projects such as EIA have started to be accommodated in national-level policies. This can be explained as the effect of continuing globalising process of Bangladeshi education. Funding bodies have played an important role in shifting the goal of education to human capital development. These funding bodies have their own agenda, which prioritise human capital development to support the neoliberal market in a globalising world (Spring,2015). At the same time, development is now a key theme, which pervades public policies and political agenda in Bangladesh.This has influenced education including ELE. Discourses of national development and economic growth have become much stronger in the new curricula. Communication skills in English are considered critical for the country’s vision to gain the status of a middle-income country by 2021.

The curricula recognised English language skills as the necessary skill-sets required for individual mobility and economic growth. As mentioned above, the logic of development underpins the curricula, which emphasise human capital development in ELE by teaching all four skills of reading, writing, listening, and speaking through CLT The main objectives of the current ELE initiatives can be understood from the following extract in the national curriculum document:

The curriculum focuses on teaching-learning English as a skill-based subject so that learners can use English in their real-life situations by acquiring necessary language skills as well as knowledge, learning about cultures and values, developing positive attitudes, pursuing higher education and having better access to local and global employment.

(National Curriculum, 2012l>, p. 2)

Human capital development in ELE has been institutionalised in the current Bangladeshi education policies by referring to the logic of competition. It is argued that communication skills in English are important for the new generation to compete at local as well as global contexts of the globalised economic system. The logic of competition in ELE is visible at the national level policy. It is argued that “to help prepare the country’s younger generation for the competitive globalised world of the 21st century, this curriculum for secondary English has been developed” (National Curriculum, 2012b, p. 73). Competition is at the heart of neoliberalism, which considers language skills as a commodity (Block et al., 2012).The importance of English for surviving in a knowledge-based society has also been reported in the Bangladeshi media (see Naik, 2018; Zamir, 2009). Naik (2018, n. p.) argued that “after all, English is the currency through which knowledge is traded these days. Good English will directly link Bangladeshis with the world of knowledge enabling youngsters to imbibe and contribute to society”.

Following the new curricula, official textbooks for secondary education were revised by NCTB in 2015. The revised textbooks, called 'English for Today' series, came “with a new focus on communicative language teaching incorporating tasks and activities providing opportunities for language skills practice in order to develop communicative competence" (Rahman, 2015, p. 88). It is claimed that “the main aim of the textbook is to provide ample opportunities for students to use English for a variety of purposes in interesting situations” (Billah et al., 2015, p. iii). Rahman, Pandian, and Kaur (2018) argue that the revised textbooks are more comprehensive than the old ones in that the former focus on the four language skills of reading, writing, listening, and speaking, together with cultural elements needed for developing learners’ real-life communication skills.

Higher education reform for human capital development

Higher education sector in Bangladesh has also been restructured through a Bangladesh—World Bank jointly funded project called Higher Education Quality Enhancement Project (HEQEP). HEQEP is a 91.50 million USD project which was commenced in 2009 and ended in 2018.

Underpinned by the principles of HCT, this project emphasised the need for skill-based education at the tertiary level for human capital development. Accordingly, outcome-based education was suggested to make higher education relevant to the globalised market. This led Bangladeshi universities to revise their curricula by focusing on skills and learning outcomes. In line with the changing paradigm in the higher education sector, ELE at the tertiary level is also experiencing a shift from its earlier grammar-translation—based language teaching to a competence-based pedagogy for developing learners' linguistic capital. For example, BRAC University has a residential campus in Savar where all undergraduate students need to spend one semester learning the English language and other soft skills required for success in higher education and post-education competitive employment market. This initiative is an example of how higher education in the private sector is fast responding to the neoliberal market in a globalised world. As in the secondary education, global agencies, notably the WB, are playing an important role in the transition.

A human capital focus of ELE can also be associated with the medium of instruction policy in higher education. Over two-thirds of all universities in Bangladesh and all in the private sector have adopted English as a medium of instruction (EMI) (Naik, 2018). For the private sector higher education, EMI was a response to the globalisation of higher education. Under the influence of neoliberalism, higher education has been significantly expanded in the private sector with EMI (Hamid & Rahman, 2019). Using EMI, these universities try to align higher education with the globalised employment market in which English has been commodified (Anwaruddin, 2013).Thus, higher education is ‘driven by the open market economy’ (Hamid & Baldauf, 2014 as cited in Hamid & Rahman, 2019, p.390), which is characterised by competition between people at the micro level and between institutions, and between countries at the macro level.

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