The prevalent English Language Education (ELE) practices have continued to yield numerous opportunity costs (the cost incurs due to misuse of the fund) due to the flaw of the education policy. Though a provision for the ELE requires a backup of Language Policy (LP), Bangladesh does not have any LP. In the absence of such an LP, the ELE is now run as a part of compulsory basic education.
According to the Bangladesh Bureau of Educational Information and Statistics (BANBEIS), the ELE involves a cost of approximately one-fifth of the total education expenses (which account for the sum of Tk79,486 crore allocated for the fiscal year 2019-20) and is financed mostly with the public money allocated in the national budget.
The money fueled as expenses in the education of ELE is provided to develop human resources capable of contributing to the economy of Bangladesh. Therefore, the expenses of ELE practices owe an economic analysis (EA), which is customarily conducted as a part of fiscal policy. As policymakers consider it to be an impact investment, they exempt from the analysis of its outcomes.
In fact, the outcomes of education are too complex, too holistic, too subjective to adequately measure, most often associated with a general belief that ELE is having an overall positive impact. Therefore, the expenses fueled in the education with the budget are often exempted from full-scale EA.
A critical analysis of the ELE practices in the purview of LP, however, shows that the prevalent ELE pervaded by a kind of flaw rooted in the misapprehension of the concept of 'Basic Education'.
The flaw of ELE has surfaced at the revision of the National Education Policy in favor of the ELE. As a result of these revisions, Bangladesh has now acquired an all-pervasive unregulated ELE 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 that for an optional education of academic subjects in English medium at all phases of education.
The advocates of the ELE in Bangladesh give some arguments in favor of the compulsory provision for ELE. They are i) English is a colonial inheritance, ii) English is an international language, iii) English is a means for the access to the global knowledge, and iv) English is a means for the access to the global job market.
However, these advocacies do not favor the compulsory or obligatory provision for the ELE in Bangladesh. Because the ELE as a system is required to be established and run based on a language planning in compliance with a language policy underpinned by an appropriate ideology. Hence, Bangladesh needs an appropriate ideology to provide a basis for an ELE system in Bangladesh.
There are three different types of ideologies available in backing the provision for language education. These include i) Educational Ideology, ii) National ideology and iii) Sociolinguistic ideology. Of the three different types of ideologies, the Educational ideology provides a basis for an education policy backing a basic education comprising literacy, numeracy, and social skills in the medium of Bangla (but not in Arabic or English).
Again, the remaining two ideologies: National ideology and Sociolinguistic ideology also do not provide the basis for the compulsory ELE in Bangladesh. The national ideology of Bangalee nationalism provides a basis for the formulation of a language policy conducive to the promotion of Bangla. One the other hand, globalization being a sociolinguistic ideology provides a basis for the provision of foreign language education but does not back the prevalent English-only Compulsory Education.
Despite none of the above ideologies favors the prevalent compulsory ELE practices, it is run as a part of the basic education. Since the ELE does not comprise the basic education, it owes a kind of EA, which is different from the EA usually conducted for the basic education.
The policymakers consider the ELE to be part of basic education, for which they exempt the expenses of ELE from the full-scale EA. It is to be mentioned that a full-scale EA involves four types of analyses (cf. Allen and Tommasi, 2001).
They are i) cost analysis, ii) fiscal impact analysis, iii) cost-effectiveness analysis and iv) cost-benefit analysis, which respectively provides the picture of i) a complete accounts of the expenses associated with the ELE system, ii) governmental revenues, expenditures, and savings that result from the proposed ELE policy, iii) effect of the ELE policy on the budget, and iv) extent of costs of ELE that outweigh the benefits of it.
However, the policymakers conduct only i) cost analysis, and ii) fiscal impact analysis in assessing the outcomes of the allocated budget in the ELE. To undertake these EA, they take the number of students enrolled in the school/college every year in projecting the outcomes of ELE.
The number of enrollment of students being an explicit means of the EA shows the negative impact of expenses fueled in the ELE. Statistics (in the year 2017) from BANBEIS show that a great number of the national dropouts (at the rate 18.8% and 37.81% respectively in the primary level and secondary level) of students causes wastage of fund from the national exchequer.
The amount of loss it incurred only in the last year due to the dropout approximates Tk4,000 crore, given that allocation for the primary, mass education and secondary education sector was Tk50,000 crore (being Tk55,000 crore in the 2019-2020 fiscal year).
The advocate of compulsory provision for the ELE argues to justify the loss incurred from the ELE in connection with the expenses of the compulsory Bangla literacy and numeracy education.
However, the wastages incurred from the compulsory ELE practices cannot be justified with the expenses made in basic education, because the expenses fueled in the basic education is considered to be an impact investment for the reason that the basic education catalyzes the process of socialization and assimilation conducive to grow children as social being.
On the other hand, the fund of national budget fueled in the ELE practices does not yield any economic impact until the skills of EL is utilized in a practical situation, e.g. job market. Being different from impact investment, the fund fueled as expenses in the ELE owes extra-ordinary EA including cost-effectiveness analysis and cost-benefit analysis which respectively provide the effect of ELE policy on the budget (cost-effectiveness analysis) as well as the extent of costs of ELE that outweigh the benefits (cost-benefit analysis).
A study [conducted by the author of the article `Reconsidering the Prevalent English Language Education System in Bangladesh'. Journal of the International Mother Language Institute [Vol. 1, No. 1 December 2017.] shows that the prevalent ELE practices have continued to incur both implicit and explicit opportunity costs (i.e. wastage of funds) in six different forms.
They include i) the benefits forgone for English-only FL policy by rejecting the provision for education of other FLs; ii) the benefits forgone for teaching contents of courses known as 1st paper which can alternatively be imparted with any of the academic subjects, e.g. humanities, social sciences, and general sciences; iii) the turnover forgone for the dropouts of low achieving students who never require to use English in their lifetime given that the dropout occurs in phases of education steadily; iv) the turnover forgone for not required to use English in their official jobs who require English competency as eligibility at the entry to their jobs; v) the benefits forgone 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 forgone for the failure of imparting academic knowledge to the students due to the incompetence of the teachers in teaching assigned academic subjects in English medium.
The above-mentioned six types of opportunity costs shed light on the extent and nature on wastages of the national budget on education yielded from the ELE expenses. Hence, these above-mentioned wastages have continued to hinder the sustainable development of the education sector in Bangladesh.
Therefore, Bangladesh is now in need of a practical ELE policy capable of addressing the issues of opportunities costs derived from the ELE expenses and the measures to be undertaken in discarding the opportunity costs so that the actual benefit of the ELE can be gained for the sustainable development of education sector in Bangladesh.
The writer is a professor of Japanese linguistics and culture at the Institute of Modern Languages, University of Dhaka.
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