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12 June, 2015 00:00 00 AM

In Conversation with Barbara Wickham

by Sheikh Iraj
In Conversation with Barbara Wickham

Barbara Wickham took on the position as the Director, British Council Bangladesh for little over five months now. She carries a lifelong passion for English and education as a foreign language teacher. She has also worked as a Country Director of Venezuela and Ethiopia. She says she having a pleasant time working here. Weekend Independent recently met with her for an exclusive interview.   

When was the British Council established and what was the reason behind its establishment?

The British Council is the UK’s international organisation for cultural relations and educational opportunities. Our purpose is to create international opportunities for the people of the UK and other countries and to build trust between them worldwide. We work in four key thematic areas: the Arts, English, Education and Society.

The British Council was established in the UK in 1934. At present we are working in 110 countries and territories across the world.  

We have been working in Dhaka since 1951. Since then we have expanded our presence to multiple locations in Bangladesh. We offer a wide range of services and activities across the country, through our offices in Dhaka, Chittagong and Sylhet.

We have been promoting cultural relations between the UK and Bangladesh for over 60 years, creating international opportunities for people in both our countries in order to meet their aspirations for a better life.

We work with the Government of Bangladesh and many local and UK partner organisations to deliver services and development projects in education, social action and the arts. Together, we have brought improvements in teaching and learning, in school and university management, in the attainment of a range of UK qualifications, in community development, in the provision of access to quality educational information through our libraries and resource centres, and in the teaching of English and professional skills training. We have also convened a number of important policy forums and staged a number of significant art events in both Bangladesh and the UK.

All this builds trust between the people of Bangladesh and the UK to understand each other better and work together to address global challenges.   

 Where have you worked before? Are you enjoying your work here in Bangladesh?

I have started my professional career in 1978, when I’ve embarked on a lifelong passion for English and education as a foreign language teacher in Cairo. I have also worked as a Country Director of Venezuela and Ethiopia.
Before coming to Bangladesh, I was Director of Sindh and Baluchistan (based in Karachi), Pakistan.

I joined the Dhaka office as the Director Bangladesh in January 2015. It has been fabulous five months in Bangladesh and I’m enjoying my work very much.

We have seen that library in Fuller Road has changed, what types of new books have you added?

Our libraries in Bangladesh provides cultural, convening, knowledge spaces that offer information opportunities for all. We have recently refurbished our libraries in Dhaka and Chittagong. We have plans to expand our library services to Sylhet.

Our collections reflect our core priority areas of English, Arts, Education and Society, and also bring the best of contemporary UK to Bangladeshi audience. We have collection of classical and contemporary English literature, authoritative guides on management, business, IT and the Arts, information about contemporary UK lifestyle and much more. We have a special section for GCSE and A level text books. We also offer a wide selection of films, documentaries and British TV series on DVD.

We also provide access to on-line information products, newspapers, journals and magazines. We have over 80,000 e-books and 14,000 e-journals in our online collection, which can be accessed from anywhere.

We are increasing our resources for Professional Development, including publications and new material on skills development, management and study skills.  

How do you select your members? How can anyone access the books?

We do not select our members. Anyone can become our library member and enjoy the wide range of our services. If they want to borrow a book they have to pay a fee.  

Is British Council becoming more business oriented? There are courses like IELTS course in offer. What are the benefits of such courses?

I don’t think we have become more commercial. On the one hand we receive money from the British tax prayers, so it is important we use that money wisely. On the contrary, our focus is mainly in the Education and Society sector development. English and Exams are our largest operation.  

We offer IELTS Preparation course which helps develop the right skills and knowledge that are needed to achieve optimal result and fulfill ones study and work ambitions.

Taking IELTS opens doors – it can help you live, study and work around the world. More than 8,000 organisations worldwide accept IELTS, including government, academic and employment institutions. IELTS is the only English language test accepted for immigration purposes by all countries that require one.

Are you offering any scholarships?

We are managing three types of scholarships:

Commonwealth Scholarship and Fellowship Plan
The Commonwealth Scholarship and Fellowship Plan is a scholarship scheme that enables students from Commonwealth countries to study in other Commonwealth countries. The scheme has been helping students develop their education since 1959 (over 21,000 Scholarships have been awarded during this time). The fund is managed by the Commonwealth Scholarship Commission, on behalf of the UK government.

The Charles Wallace Bangladesh Trust
The Charles Wallace Bangladesh Trust in partnership with the British Council in Bangladesh creates opportunities for Bangladeshi nationals to access educational and professional development programmes in the UK.

The objective of this initiative is to enhance the careers of the individuals concerned and, where possible, to establish productive, bi-lateral institutional relationships and ensure knowledge sharing between the UK and Bangladesh. A grant from the trust will enable successful applicants to achieve their artistic, academic and professional ambitions through affiliation with experts in the UK.

The Equity and Merit Scholarship – The University of Manchester

This scholarship scheme aims to support Bangladeshi students, specifically from disadvantaged background, who have no means of studying in the UK without financial support.

What about youth leadership programmes, is that programme still active?

Our ‘Active Citizens’ project enhances leadership and project-management skills of young people. The programme aims to develop their capacity to engage with decision makers and bring positive social change in their communities and beyond.

It links community leaders with civil society and other networks in Bangladesh. Participants work together through Social Action Projects, international exchanges with other Active Citizens’ communities in the South Asia Region and global civil society conferences. Participants also benefit from peer support via connections made within the global Active Citizens network.

Active Citizens in Bangladesh gives participants the opportunity to engage in cross-cultural communications and provide them a platform to gain global perspective on social development.

What are your future plans?

In near future -   
Library landscape research project
Next generation research 2015
GED Dhaka
Scaling up EITA project   
Connecting Classroom activities  
‘Shakespeare Lives’ and the ‘Different Shakespeare’ projects



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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman

Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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