In Bangladesh, competition for spots in public universities is intense, with numerous talented individuals vying for the limited seats.
Different from their counterparts within the education system, students hailing from an English Medium background often encounter unique challenges, such as coping with the timeline, which usually aligns with the Bangla medium curriculum.
There are also stereotypical pressures for English Medium students to go abroad, among other issues.
All of these factors make public universities a distant destination for English Medium students, even if they really desire to pursue further education on home ground.
One of the most significant obstacles encountered by English Medium students is the mismatch between the conclusion of their 12th-grade examinations and the application deadlines for public universities in Bangladesh.
International boards typically conclude their examinations earlier in the academic year, leaving English Medium students with a substantial gap before they can apply for local universities.
"Though public entrances like Dhaka University exams aren't vastly different, it's the exam dates that don't align with the international exam schedule at all. I had many students who were interested in public universities, but this time disparity puts English Medium students at a dilemma and may lead to loss of motivation and focus." says a maths tutor at Mentors' who prepares students for public university admissions.
Also, parents don't want them to sit idle for a long period of time just for public universities. Instead, they opt for private universities as they take admission every three to four months.
In contrast, Bangla-medium students have a more aligned schedule, allowing them to begin their university application process promptly after completing their examinations.
"Think about medical universities. Their admission season is designed in favour of the national curriculum. Students from Bangla medium institutions finish at a time when public university and medical college admission dates are already near, making it easy for them," says Faiyaaz Hossain Labib, an A-level graduate, from Manarat School and College.
To resolve this issue, it is essential for universities and other stakeholders to coordinate application deadlines with the conclusion of international examinations, which tend to end around May.
Knowledge and information gap
English Medium students face another challenge stemming from their limited exposure to the procedures and requirements for public university admissions. Unlike Bangla Medium students who are well-versed in the local university admission process from an early age, English Medium students often find themselves in the dark about these requirements.
"Bangla Medium kids aim for the public universities and they know the process from an early age," says Faiyaaz.
"Many of my own students frequently ask me if they are even eligible to appear for these examinations," says Arian Mehjabin, an English Instructor at the Mentors'.
This lack of guidance and familiarity with the Bangladeshi education system can lead to confusion and anxiety during the application process.
English-medium schools follow curriculums like the Cambridge International Examinations, International Baccalaureate and Pearson Edexcel, which can differ significantly from the local curriculum.
Proactive steps should be taken to bridge the information gap for English Medium students by offering guidance on application procedures, study materials, and preparatory resources
The study abroad mentality
A prevailing mindset among English Medium students in Bangladesh encourages them to pursue higher education abroad rather than within the country.
"Even a 10 year old kid studying in an English medium school will say that he wants to fly abroad when he grows up. It's just the mentality, to be honest." says Faiyaaz.
They realise very early that the curriculum they are built on is only suitable for foreign universities and global locations. This mindset can divert attention away from local university admission exams, which require specific preparation.
This leads many parents and students to invest time and effort into preparing for standardised tests like the SAT or ACT.
"Why should I spend six months working really hard to get into a public university, which is extremely competitive, when I can easily get into a private university or go abroad with half the effort?" asked Faiyaaz.
According to Arian, this is a common query from students who consider applying to public universities but decide against it.
It is crucial to shift this mindset and emphasise the value of a quality education within Bangladesh's public universities. Encouraging English-medium students to consider local options and providing them with the necessary support can help make the current enrollment situations better for most students.
This is true in most cases, even though some specific public universities like Dhaka University have made several attempts to make their tests more friendly for English Medium graduates by standardising them in English and fewer Bangla parts.
The majority of public institutions in Bangladesh refrain from doing this because most of the applicants come each year from the national curriculum, and changing the exam pattern may be detrimental to them.
Mentors' English instructor Raisa Mehjabin says "we can try, but unfortunately the reality remains that it's not always the most common decision most A level graduates tend to take."
By offering guidance, changing mindsets, and aligning application timelines, Bangladesh can ensure that all its talented students have a fair chance to pursue higher education within the country's public universities.
Ultimately, a diverse student body enriched by individuals from various educational backgrounds will contribute to the growth and development of the nation.