Is English language education heading in the right direction in Bangladesh?
English language instruction as an important area of the Bangladeshi education sector, has been long suffering from the inappropriate recruitment of English teachers
It is reasonable to expect effective English instruction when the teachers are equipped with appropriate pedagogical literacy. In other words, sound instructional knowledge in English teaching and assessment literacy is indispensable to helping students learn the language.
Recruiting competent English teachers is a serious policy issue, and negligence towards it by the policymakers often prevents the learners from achieving the intended learning outcomes since the pedagogical literacy of the teachers has a significant impact on the students' performance in language learning. Suitable academic qualifications and professional credentials are essential requirements for the teachers in the complex education systems of the modern world.
English language instruction, an important area of the Bangladeshi education sector, has been long suffering from the inappropriate recruitment of English teachers. Students are unfairly blamed for their poor performance in English proficiency even though underlying policy issues have not been substantially addressed.
The students are invariably at the mercy of those who lack pedagogical literacy in English language teaching. Many teachers who do not have appropriate academic qualifications and training are recruited to teach English in Bangladesh.
It was reasonable in the past to do so when there was only a single English literature stream in the English departments of public universities to produce graduates for teaching English. However, things began to change when the Department of English of the University of Dhaka started to offer MA in Applied Linguistics and ELT (English Language Teaching) in the mid-1980s to produce English language teachers in Bangladesh.
The Applied Linguistics and ELT program later became as popular as TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages). The goal of this program was to supply professionally trained English teachers to teach English at various levels of education.
Other public universities and their institutes also joined this teacher development initiative. The emergence of private universities in the early 1990s added momentum to this effort since many private universities began to offer both undergraduate and graduate programs in ELT/TESOL. All these endeavours created a formidable supply of ELT/TESOL graduates in Bangladesh. Additionally, a host of aspiring graduates were going abroad to obtain professional degrees in English teaching.
However, the perceptions of the policymakers have not changed. Teachers without relevant qualifications and training still outnumber those who have relevant qualifications and training. This approach of the authorities in recruiting English teachers can be blamed for the persistent failure of the students in acquiring proficiency in English.
Why are teachers with ELT/TESOL degrees preferable? Firstly, education in ELT/TESOL arms the teachers with pedagogical competence, knowledge and skills that enable them to support students to learn English.
Moreover, there are specific academic courses in the ELT/TESOL program that are integrated into the curriculum to provide the graduates with fundamental pedagogical training. One such course is the methods and approaches course in ELT or the TESOL Methods course. This course introduces the graduates to the theories of language and learning in order to expand their knowledge and understanding of how languages operate in a complex manner, and how students can approach learning the language.
Additionally, the course specifically trains the graduates on how they can implement diverse pedagogical approaches, strategies, and techniques to engage students through meaningful learning. Moreover, the course trains the graduates on how to develop a pedagogical plan for specific language system (grammar, or vocabulary), and specific language skill (listening, speaking, reading, and writing). They also acquire knowledge and competence in lesson planning, a fundamental tool for the effective implementation of English language programs.
Secondly, the ELT/TESOL program also offers courses on second language acquisition that deals with linguistic or grammatical properties of the learner's language (psycholinguistic in orientation), pragmatic aspects of learner's language, and sociolinguistic perspectives. A teacher's knowledge about these aspects of second language acquisition is essential to help the learners become aware of the skills necessary to process the second language data and learn how ultimately they can use the data to acquire proficiency in the target language.
Thirdly, the graduates acquire extensive knowledge on the dynamics involved in developing an ELT/TESOL curriculum and designing syllabi on a plethora of English language courses for both general and specific purposes. While doing so, the graduates receive training on the needs analysis of the learners, setting curriculum and syllabus goals and objectives, developing contents and materials, designing instructional methods and classroom activities, and constructing assessment procedures. Knowledge of these processes is a hallmark of competent English language teachers.
Fourthly, the ELT/TESOL program stresses assessment literacy as an important element of a teacher's capacity building. Research on assessment in education has identified 'assessment' as the most powerful process in transforming learners. Many educators go further and claim that assessment shapes learning.
In today's world of education, assessment literacy is one of the most desirable teaching skills. Assessment literacy refers to a range of knowledge, skills, and abilities expected of teachers to design and develop assessment instruments, implement them on the learners, interpret the results and use the results for the improvement of instruction and learning.
The lack of assessment literacy among ESL (English as a Second Language)/EFL (English as a Foreign Language) teachers often results in destroying the morale of the learners and making them victims of assessment side effects.
ELT/TESOL graduates are also knowledgeable of the fact that the unitary native-English approach to English teaching has taken a new turn towards a non-native approach to English teaching since the English language is no longer considered as 'English' but 'Englishes'. For a long time, native speakerism was desirable but now English is taught to help students develop communicative competence in English that enables them to communicate in the real world.
Various models of communicative competence exist. ELT/TESOL graduates use these models of communicative competence while helping students acquire communicative competence in English. However, teachers joining English teaching with academic qualifications obtained in other fields of study lack such literacy which affect the English learning of the students. What is scarier is that such practices can put learners at the risk of learning inaccurate and inappropriate English.
While ELT/TESOL graduates develop a deep and expanded understanding of the complex phenomena of language learning and teaching by completing the necessary courses and receiving relevant training, a few lessons from a teacher training program are unable to adequately prepare the teachers with sufficient pedagogical competence.
Therefore, the authorities should be concerned about adopting a professional approach to recruit subject experts (teachers who are knowledgeable about what they teach, are proficient in the target language, can design lessons that cater to the curriculum goals, and are capable to develop effective assessment methods) as English teachers at all levels of education in Bangladesh to help students attain their goals, objectives, and the intended learning outcomes of the English courses they pursue in the academic institutions.
Only graduates with ELT/TESOL degrees should be recruited to teach English at all levels of English language learning. Considering the advanced level of the English language courses offered to the students and the practice of EMI (English Medium Instruction) ideology at the tertiary level, the suggested teacher recruitment policy is essential at this level.
Given that teachers play a significant role in a value-laden society like ours in influencing learners, it is indispensable for the policymakers to recruit teachers wisely and pragmatically. Otherwise, the current pitfalls of English learning will make it difficult for future generations who might be required to communicate in an English only environment to succeed in the Industry 4.0 era.
Mohammad Shaiful Islam teaches English at Independent University Bangladesh (IUB). He can be reached at [email protected].