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16 February, 2018 00:00 00 AM

Teaching Bangla

By Bipul K Debnath
Teaching Bangla

Bangla, our state language, is now experiencing many challenges. Many people nowadays can be heard mixing English words with Bangla, creating ‘Banglish’, when communicating with each other. Even people are not alert when making proper sentences in Bangla. Sometimes, they get confused with proper Bangla spellings. Many experts and learners blame the situation on our present teaching system.

“As my son Rubayet goes to an English-medium school, he started speaking English fluently from class 3, and his school always encourages students to speak in English at school. But we always speak in Bangla at home so my son can learn more. The school says students lack interest in learning Bangla, which can reflect in their results, too,” said Samia Islam, whose son is a student of Oxford International School. “The school does give the same importance to Bangla, as with other subjects, and follows the NCTB (National Curriculum and Textbook Board) syllabus, but students find it difficult to study.”

“Most schools just follow the NCTB syllabus to teach Bangla. Some schools make an extra effort, like forming Bangla language clubs, introducing students to higher levels of Bangla grammar and literature, giving them the opportunity to write in school magazines, arranging quiz competitions, etc, for stronger understanding of Bangla,” said Mohammad Zahidul Islam, a teacher at St Francis Xavier's Girls' High School and College.

“No matter what medium (Bangla or English) school you are from, the pressure of learning English is so high on students that they don’t have any space left in their minds for Bangla. They have zero interest in Bangla and they just study it as a subject they have to pass, as required by our education system,” Islam said. “As I teach Bangla, I always prefer to use proper Bangla words in my class. But every time I ask my students something in Bangla, I always get the answer with ‘Yes, sir...’ or ‘No sir...’ It is not their fault, it has become our habit. Not only in schools, even at home, children are not encouraged to learn proper Bangla. So, if we want to establish stronger knowledge of Bangla language, we have to work at the very root level.”

About the present state of Bangla teaching, Shyamoli Akbar, a language specialist at the Department of Language Education, Institute of Education and Research (IER) of Dhaka University, said: “It is sad that we neglect our mother tongue, whose dignity and status was once achieved through blood sacrifice. But we should not forget that Bangla is a scientific language and it can be learned through innovation and fun in the classroom. There is no need to memorise (the rules). Everything has proper explanation. The problem is we fail to make it interesting for our students. Then of course, there is the problem of colloquial language. But, we must follow a standard way of teaching and learning Bangla academically.”  

Mosamnat Kawshar Akter, a teacher at Willes Little Flower School and College, said, “As I teach in a English-medium school, I give more importance to teaching proper Bangla to the students, as we come across many who cannot speak properly in Bangla, or read Bangla at all. So, we have now stared to give more attention to Bangla from the very beginning. Though the students don’t show much interest in learning Bangla, we, the teachers, take it as our duty to ensure proper Bangla learning.”

After the recognition of February 21 as International Mother Language Day in 1999 by UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization), International Mother Language Institute (IMLI) was established as a centre of global languages at Segun Bagicha in Dhaka.

Giving importance to enhancing the use of Bangla language in our daily life, Jinnat Imtiaz Ali, director general of IMLI, said: “Bangla is our existence and identity. So, we have to increase its use and avoid the practice of distorting Bangla everywhere. It is better to use proper Bangla, rather than using wrong English when speaking.”

Shyamoli Akbar, however, is worried about the lack of consciousness among the people. “We are not very conscious of the status of our mother tongue. We always say February 21, but never say Falgun 8 (the date and month in the Bengali calendar) to refer to the historic day in 1952 during our language movement, which played a key role in liberating our country. So, Bangla is a language of our heart and we cannot ignore it.”

“We are now very busy with our worldly affairs and do not want to give importance to protect the future of our language. That is why every February we see concern over the condition of Bangla language, which is nothing but eyewash. Today, urban people, particularly the educated class, feel reluctant to speak in Bangla. Nobody thinks Bangla is a matter of honour now. It is no longer a language of pride. For this reason, other languages are creeping in to capture it rapidly,” the language researcher added. Nowadays, students are also not very keen to study Bangla at university: “They only go for Bangla when they fail to get a place in their desired subject. The academic studies of Bangla department are suffering due to the mindset and class discrimination of our economy and society.”

“It is very sad that the high court had to give an order to implement Bangla language in every sector. We, who are doing research on Bangla language, are helpless. We cannot make our people understand the importance of protecting our language. If we do not try to preserve it, one day it will be a dead language like Sanskrit and Pali,” Akbar added.

 On the other hand, errors in Bangla textbooks make students more confused about the language, too. Besides grammatical and spelling mistakes, wrong information is getting into the books.

“It is hard to explain that to children, so some teachers may stop correcting the mistakes or some students may just blindly go by the book and accept the errors as correct Bangla. These problems can become a big obstacle to learning the language, so the education ministry should take this matter seriously,” said Zahidul Islam, the teacher from St Francis Xavier's school.

About different Bangla spellings in textbooks and other official documents, Shyamoli Akbar said, “There is a debate on the correct usage of Bangla language in every government office. People even fail to understand the language used in land records and survey papers. It is my wish to do research on use of proper Bangla spellings in official documents.”

When this correspondent drew her attention to the wrong Bangla spelling of ‘buddhijibi’ on a watermark of the martyred intellectuals’ memorial on page 23 of the new Bangladeshi passport, Akbar said: “If we follow the rules of the Promito Bangla Ovidhan (standard Bangla dictionary) of Bangla Academy, the spelling is not right. The relevant authorities need to correct it. We also see different types of spellings in textbooks. Proper monitoring must be increased so people become aware of using the correct Bangla words.”

Regarding the spelling mistake in the passport, Major General Mohammad Masud Rezwan, director general of the Department of Immigration and Passports (DIP), said: “Since 2009, we have already issued two crore (20 million) passports to the public. But this is the first time we have received a complaint regarding the Bangla spelling mistake in the passport. I will arrange a meeting with Bangla language experts soon to fix it.”

Akbar, meanwhile, gave importance on publicising newly added words to the language timely, so people can know about them instantly. “We, the experts, sometimes do not clarify or explain spellings of new words in Bangla. The Bangla Academy has the responsibility to ensure the publicity of any new additions to Bangla. We need more research on every spelling printed in the textbooks. I took part in an evaluation of the use of proper spellings in textbooks in 2003. But this type of research has not been done again till the date,” she added.  

In response, Jalal Ahmed, director of sales, marketing and print department of Bangla Academy, said: “Our Bangla dictionary is well-known and widely used among learners of the language. We arrange regular programmes to make people aware about new addition of any spelling or words. We have already taken initiatives to increase publicity. People come from different corners of the country to buy our dictionary and we reach remote learners through them.”

“When we were children, we never saw any mistakes in our textbooks. But now things have changed so much, we must accept that something is really going wrong, and it is the duty to the education ministry to check it. We are already aware about the problems and mistakes regarding Bangla teaching in schools and colleges. What we can do now is talk about fixing them,” Ferdousi Begum, a teacher at Viqarunnisa Noon School and College, said.

“As per NCTB syllabus, a student learns Bangla pronunciation, spelling, grammar, writing and speech up to HSC (higher secondary) level. But my question is if a student practises wrong pronunciation and spellings for at least 10 years of their school life, then how can they learn proper Bangla?  In my experience, I have seen most students study the language just to pass their exams, and they go back to incorrect usage in their daily life. I feel we should teach them to at least speak Bangla fluently, with correct usage, from the very beginning as young minds can absorb easily. More experienced teachers usually teach higher grades, but to create a stronger base, better teachers should be appointed at the primary level,” she added.

Shyamoli Akbar also expressed concerns about Bangla reading and writing: “The condition of reading fluency is very bad in our country. Even the teachers face trouble when reading any script before an audience. At a recent meeting with NTCB, we proposed ensuring four language skills for Bangla academic syllabus. It is true we have so many problems regarding the implementation of our proposal. The media has a great responsibility, too. Above all, our mentality towards Bangla should be changed.”

In reply, M Moshiuzzaman, member (curriculum) of National Curriculum and Textbook Board (NCTB), said: “Our language teaching system was not scientific from the beginning. So, we added four skills in language teaching in the curriculum of 2012. In the past, listening and speaking skills were absent. That is why many of our graduates cannot speak Bangla properly. They also have difficulty with composing proper sentences, pronunciation and presentation. Now, our students from pre-primary to higher secondary get competency and language skills to build sentences and pronounce them correctly.”

The NCTB has taken the initiative to digitalise textbooks of all classes soon: “Our teachers are not always conscious of pronouncing Bangla words correctly, so we fail to realise the importance of it. We have completed an interactive digital book for class 6 and will launch it soon. The book has been converted into an audio version, which will also help visually-impaired students. We have marked some words with links, so they can get an explanation. The children can listen to the words and record them accordingly. They can also compare their pronunciation with the correct one,” Moshiuzzaman said.

“We have also started preparing similar books for classes 7 and 8. We will convert every book into digital content. So, we will get more positive outcome from our students in 2024. When those graduates become teachers, their students will be better equipped to learn the language. We cannot do it overnight. But we believe we can develop over time,” he added.

National Academy for Educational Management (NAEM) is the apex training institute under the education ministry that is working for the development of quality education in the country.

Regarding its contribution to modernising Bangla pedagogy, Hamidul Haque, director general of NAEM, said, “At present, we do not have any exclusive training course for Bangla teachers or teaching methodology. But there are training modules in many of our courses on Bangla language development. The objective of these modules is to develop Bangla language skills of the participants.”

“We have included the books, ‘Promito Bangla Banan Riti’ (standard Bangla spelling usage), ‘Bananer Sadharon Bhul o Sangsodhon’ (common mistakes in Bangla spelling and correction), ‘Shudho Uchchharon Riti’ (techniques of correct pronunciation), and “Bachik Kola’ (art of speaking), published by Bangla Academy, so our trained teachers can use Bangla correctly in real life,” Haque added.

Jannatul Ferdous, a student of Viqarunnisa Noon School and College (English Version), prefers Bangla: “English version is more confusing and difficult for us as we read the same books as the Bangla medium, but they are just translated into English. Bangla is the only subject that we can study as it is.”  n


Maria Mohsin contributed to this report.

Photos: Nazmul Islam, Internet.


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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.
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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.

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