The open playground and groves of green trees make Nilganj High School, a beautiful and serene place for learning. But Fatima and her friends, students of class 8, are quite anxious about their school performance. They look tense and are discussing something serious. When asked why Fatima says, “Actually we are talking about our results. Most of our friends got very poor marks in English. This year we shall sit for the JSC exam. We won't get a scholarship without securing good marks in English. We are really afraid of this subject.”
The anxiety and fear of Fatima and her friends is almost universal for 90% of Bangladeshi secondary level students. Each year thousands of students drop out from their grade mainly because of their poor performance in this subject. The rate of literacy in English is less than one percent.
The future looks bleak; without this linguistic skill our youth will not be able to compete in this world unified that is by English language. To make matters worse, poor performance in English is increasing the dropout rate as English is a compulsory subject of primary, secondary and higher secondary level curriculum. To find an effective solution The Daily Star, the largest circulated English daily of Bangladesh and Robi Axiata Limited have come up with a huge project of reaching out to schools with innovative and joyful ways of learning English.
The project called 'englishinschools' (EIS) has reached one thousand secondary Bengali medium schools. In these schools the students from class six to ten are provided with a copy of The Daily Star where they also get a colourful page inserted in the newspaper for learning English. Jeesan Rahman, a student of class seven of Naohata Government High School says, “I eagerly wait for The Daily Star and its weekly EIS page. With my friends I work on this page. It's full of fun and also very helpful for my study as it has resemblance with our syllabus.”
Students and teachers of one thousand schools have been provided with the daily with the English learning content free of cost. The EIS page presents essential topics of learning English such as vocabulary, story writing, grammatical concepts through cartoons and captivating illustrations of juvenile interest. Besides this, Mahfuzul Bari Chowdhury, the training consultant points out to two other important features of the material. He says, “The EIS page involves students in learning English through group activities and peer learning. So the students can have fun while learning a foreign language. We have also designed the page according to the secondary level curriculum so that our students can learn English through familiar content.”
However, paper pencil work with the EIS page is only a part of this campaign. Saima Kabir, a student of Naohata Government High School says, “With the help of our teachers we have organized English clubs in each grade of our school to organize our study circle. With all the clubs we form a network of English learners.”
In every school these networks of students have organised a daylong session of learning English naming it as “English Fair.” During this daylong event the students practice the lingo through interactive ways such as debates, extempore speech, quiz competition etc. Samira Bari, a student of class X of Govt Coronation Girls' High School, Khulna says, “The English fair is the most effective practice I have ever participated in to learn English. It drives me to speak and write in English whereas even a few days ago I was really afraid of this language.”
However, this apparently smooth functioning programme of knowledge practice has required a series of preparatory steps. Detailed training has been arranged for the teachers of participant schools so that they can familiarise the students with the EIS page and about all the group activities of the students. A day -long English learning carnival will also be arranged in four divisions for the participants. Bari, the training consultant of the programme says, “In this carnival the students will participate in interactive and creative learning sessions such as quiz and story writing. After the sessions three best schools will be awarded with Ten Thousand taka worth of books for their libraries. Attractive rewards will also be conferred to the participants.”
In this time of globalisation a person does not belong to any single country or culture. As a global citizen English is an indispensable medium to know the world and to introduce oneself to the world. Thanks to the sponsors, 'englishinschools' has been enabling our students to adopt a better grip of the English language. We can hope that this programme will be continued to help our young people to acquire the language skill that can make them effective global citizens.