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OP-ED: The cost of English

  • Published at 07:09 am January 23rd, 2021
English speaking

Is learning 'the international language' as beneficial as we think it is?

In the last few decades, the National Education Policy has undergone several revisions favouring English Language Education (ELE). As a result of these revisions, Bangladesh has acquired an all-pervasive and unregulated English language education system comprising the provision for the compulsory education of literacy English with an emphasis on the four skills: Reading, writing, listening, and speaking as well as an optional education in academic specialization in English medium schools. 

The advocates of ELE in Bangladesh provide these arguments: i) English is a colonial inheritance, ii) English is an international language, iii) English is a means for access to global knowledge, and iv) English is a means for access to the global job market. 

In Bangladesh, ELE is given as a part of compulsory basic education. It involves a cost of approximately one-fifth of the total education costs, which is financed mostly with the public money allocated in the national budget. The education cost of ELE is provided with the wish to develop human resources to bring impact on the economy.  

Therefore, ELE deserves an economic analysis. Policy-makers who are working with the economics of education have four types of economic analysis at their disposal: i) cost analysis, ii) fiscal impact analysis, iii) cost-effectiveness analysis, and iv) cost-benefit analysis, providing a picture of the i) complete accounts of the expenses associated with the ELE system, ii) governmental revenues, expenditures, and savings that result from the ELE policy, iii) effects of the policy on the budget, and iv) extent of costs.

In Bangladesh, policy-makers have not fully analyzed the financial costs of ELE. They depend only on the i) cost analysis and ii) fiscal impact analysis. They depend on the number of students enrolled in the school/ college every year in projecting the demand for ELE.  

However, ELE being a means of communication does not comprise basic education. 

A pilot survey shows that that prevalent ELE practices have continued to incur both implicit and explicit opportunity costs in various ways: i) the benefits foregone for an English-only foreign language policy,  ii) the benefits foregone for teaching contents of courses known as 1st paper which can alternatively be imparted with any of the academic subjects, eg, humanities, social sciences, and general sciences, iii) the turnover forgone for the dropouts of low-achieving students who never required to use English in their lifetime given that dropouts occur in phases of education steadily, iv) the turnover foregone for not requiring to use English in their official jobs but which still demand English competency as eligibility, v) the benefits foregone for the failure of the teachers in developing proficiency in English of the students due to the lack of their requisite level of English competency, and vi) the effectiveness foregone for the failure of imparting academic knowledge to the students due to the incompetency of the teachers in teaching assigned academic subjects in English. 

The above-mentioned six types of opportunity costs shed light on the extent and nature of wastages of the national budget on education yielded from ELE expenses. Hence, these wastages continue to hinder the sustainable development of the education sector in Bangladesh. 

Hence, Bangladesh requires a practical ELE policy that will address the issues of opportunity costs derived from ELE expenses and the measures to be undertaken in discarding the opportunity costs so that the actual benefit of ELE can be gained for the sustainable development of the education sector.

Dr ABM Razaul Karim Faquire is Professor, Department of Japanese Language and Culture and Director, Institute of Modern Languages, University of Dhaka.

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