English is considered to be the most important and is given the most attention in state policy in Southeast Asian countries but it meets a number of setbacks due to ineffective pedagogical approaches, lack of appropriate materials, and shortage of competent teachers and these symptoms strongly appear in Bangladesh. Southeast Asia is a region of marvelous linguistic diversity, with over 1,200 languages spoken by 655 million people all across this large, geographically and culturally diverse area. The state of these languages has been highly dependent on how the different countries have approached them in terms of policy and educational support. In order to understand the future of language policy in the region, it is important to look at how historical forces have shaped it. The issue of language is inextricably entwined with the concept of the modern nation-state .Upon gaining independence, most countries rejected the use of these languages and English had already begun to consolidate itself as a global lingua franca. In recent decades the English language has become a point of convergence for language policy. It has a long history in the region on account of the historical factors of colonization, international trade, and religion. But among the different Southeast Asian countries, the role and status of the English has varied considerably. And in Bangladesh teachers’ belief and practice are not congruent to CLT. Their understanding the curriculum also differs. When National Curriculum and Textbook Board (NCTB) asked teachers to implement CLT curriculum, it was new to them without any well-planned contextual analysis on the probable complexities that may arise. Naturally, CLT implementation has become tough in such contexts. The pedagogic practice is still dominated by a teacher-centred approach. It hardly contributes to developing the communicative ability of the learners. Formal English language education takes place through state schooling, private sector bilingual and international schools, and commercial language schools.
English has been taught as a compulsory subject in Bangladesh from grade one to twelve. The role of English language is different in these three systems such as ‘mainstream’ education, madrasa education and English Medium education. In tertiary-level education Bangla and English are the medium of instruction. Most private universities use English as the medium of instruction and we also use English widely for international commerce and business purposes. However, in public universities, still we don’t see the medium of instruction absolutely in English; it is also both English and Bengali.
CLT was introduced in our education system when the second big reform was made in our national curriculum in the 1997-1998 and on the basis of this curriculum new textbook for all subjects including English was developed. Before the introduction of CLT, the Grammar Translation Method was followed to teach English in Bangladesh. CLT, we know, is one of the highly practiced language teaching approaches in the current world that has been the most reliable yardstick for lesson planning in developing the curriculum for the students of Bangladesh. CLT requires teachers to adopt not only an imported Westernized method, but also an entirely different culture of teaching and learning. However, our teachers are accustomed to a teacher-centred approach, with fewer student activities and a more formal and less friendly relationship between teachers and students, all of which inhibit CLT curriculum implementation. So, teachers quickly return to Grammar Translation Method the method employed by most English teachers in the classroom is not CLT at all in reality, it is instead a disguised version of the GTM that they have always used in the past.
Our English language teachers show their inability to create a positive atmosphere in the classroom because of the lack of proper training, intrinsic motivation and exposure to become familiar with the latest methods and technologies to teach language. They cannot make their classes friendly and safe for learners. As a result, still the culture of fear, shyness and anxiety prevail that stand as a great barrier to ELT practice in its truest sense. Using language committing mistakes has not established itself as a culture in our language classroom that means the engagement of the learners proves ineffective. Teachers usually feel reluctant to comprehend the language and practice for meaningful purpose. They only teach the students just grammatical rules and go through some passages in the book rather than talk about the pictures and do activities set in the textbooks. They still deal with grammatical mechanism instead of practicing language in the classroom that stands as an old practice.
Only a few teachers have proper training in CLT and motivation who try to implement CLT approaches in the classroom that proves extremely meagre in comparison with the vast field of CLT. Teachers teaching particularly in the secondary and higher secondary levels lack resources such as professional journals, periodicals, and training material. It’s also true that many teachers received training opportunities but their classroom practices have not changed significantly. In this context it is a matter of debate among the researchers whether English is Second Language or English as a Foreign Language in Bangladesh. According to Carter & Nunan, ESL refers to where English is widely used in public places and parliament, such as in India, along with the Indian state languages, or in Malaysia. EFL, on the other hand, implies use of English as a foreign language mostly confined to classrooms, and is used mainly for academic purposes, for example China or Pakistan where English is used as a medium of instruction and is not widely used in the community. McArthur) positions Bangladesh as ESL, but says that use of English is between a second and foreign language in the community.
The South Asian countries including Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore and Vietnam have progressed much in language learning during the last two decades. All these countries have adapted English as their second language although they have their own language. Bangladesh government has taken several steps to basically improve the skills of the teachers. Many teachers received many training as well. However, classroom teaching does not see its reflection. So, they need to employ their own effort to develop learners’ linguistic competency engaging them in various language activities.
Language experts express their opinion that the fundamental problem in Bangladesh, like many other developing countries, lies in its misplaced faith in imported Western methodology as a means of improving its ELT curriculum. Researchers and education say that curricular reform should be localized and based on social and classroom needs. ELT in Bangladesh has a great role to play in the goal of ‘Digital Bangladesh’ that the present government has declared. Again, Bangladesh is going to experience new curriculum from the next year I mean 2023 where the language teaching has further been emphasized. But the constraints to teach English have not been addressed properly. So, it’s a question who will make English classes effective, interesting and how. So, ELT has a long way to go to help Bangladesh advance in this field.
Writer: Lead-Education and Research Team, Dainikshiksha.com and Dainik Amader Barta