Bangladeshi third-graders' English reading skill is poor – with just 8 percent of the students able to read the sentence, "Kaniz reads in a primary school, she goes to school every day," from a book that is not in their syllabus.
A recent study found that 52 percent of the participants were able to read, "Hello, I am Riya Islam," aloud, from their textbooks.
According to the findings of the National Academy for Primary Education (NAPE), 24 percent of them were able to properly speak in English.
The findings highlight that teachers' lack of English knowledge, and their inability to properly teach, are to blame for the students' poor academic performance.
In NAPE'S study, most teachers claimed they struggle to pronounce English words and have a limited stock of vocabulary – so they are unable to conduct classes in fluent English.
The findings added that teachers are unable to apply appropriate techniques to assess students' learning because they do not follow the methods outlined in the "Teachers' Edition" – a manual provided by the education ministry. Teachers neither introduce new words in the class nor apply the chain-drill technique when teaching reading.
The report continued that, during the observation period, teachers did not use peer assessment, or engage good students, to check others' learning achievements in the classroom. Most of the teachers were unable to control students in the classroom.
The NAPE study "Weakness of Grade Three Students in English: Causes and Remedies" assessed eight upazilas in eight districts: Dhaka, Chattogram, Rajshahi, Khulna, Barishal, Sylhet, Rangpur, and Mymensingh.
Students obtained a score of around 80 percent in both writing tests they were given. The tests included the following questions – "Write your name," and, "Write the numbers 3, 4, 5, 6, 7," and students were better at answering the first question.
A member of the research team said the students provided poor-quality answers, so, "That is why we changed the question pattern and asked the students easy questions. As a result, they secured good writing scores."
A 2018 NAPE report on "Identifying the Reading Ability of Class Four Students of English in Government Primary Schools in Bangladesh" found that less than 40 percent of students of all divisions could read textbook sentences intelligibly.
The report said most students could not read English sentences as they had passed the third grade with insufficient skills.
Another NAPE report titled "Present Status of Using Lesson Plan for Ensuring Quality Education in Primary School of Bangladesh done in 2016-2017" also finds weaknesses in the English competency of fourth-graders.
It also found some teachers were incapable of teaching certain subjects they had been assigned. The study recommended recruiting subject-based teachers – especially for maths, English and science – to teach their respective subjects.
Professor Emeritus Serajul Islam Chowdhury of Dhaka University said qualified teachers are necessary to build a quality generation.
"However, unfortunately, governments in Bangladesh have destroyed the education system in order to take the credit for good results in public examinations," he said. "As a result, students study just to pass examinations, not to learn."
BRAC University Professor Emeritus Manzoor Ahmed, who was involved in the national school assessment, said the assessments of the primary school children's skills and competencies – carried out in 2011, 2013, 2015, and 2017 – show a declining trend in their performance.
"Contrarily, the results of the PEC, JSC, SSC and HSC public examinations show outstanding pass rates with a significant number of examinees obtaining GPA-5," he remarked.
Meanwhile, Education First – a Switzerland-based international organisation – has found that Bangladeshi students have a very poor grasp of English. Among 100 countries, Bangladesh ranked 71st with a score of 48.11 in the 2019 "EF English Proficiency Index".
India stood at 34 with a score of 55.49 and Nepal secured 66th position with a score of 49.
In 2018, Bangladesh attained a score of 48.72.
Professor Manzoor Ahmed said Bangladesh could have achieved better scores if the government had properly cared for primary level education.
NAPE'S 2019 report made a series of recommendations to improve the country's results.
One is that to effectively teach English, the country must deploy a good number of specialist teachers at schools; and because English teachers are limited, it would be better to recruit subject-based teachers.
The report suggested teachers undergo training to boost their English proficiency, and that students be focused on more than learning solely exams. Students should be actively engaged in classrooms and different levels of students should be mixed together.
Secretary to the primary and mass education ministry Md Akram-al-Hossain told The Business Standard that the ministry is trying to boost the language skills of primary school students.
"I think the state of primary school students is better than what the research findings show. I have visited many schools and found that the students are doing better than before," he said.