SABINA MUSTAFA, HEAD OF ACADEMIC AFFAIRS, SCHOLASTICA, ON THE STEREOTYPES WHICH DENOUNCE THE ENGLISH MEDIUM STUDENTS LACKING EFFICIENCY IN BANGLA AND HOW THE SCHOOL IS TRYING TO EQUIP THEIR STUDENTS WITH THE RIGHT AMOUNT OF LANGUAGE PROFICIENCY. 

In English medium schools, the curriculum is mostly based on the UK education system. While Bangla as a subject exists in O Levels, English medium students feel discouraged to pursue it. What do you think is the underlying reason for this unease?
In Scholastica, Bangla is a core subject which is compulsory from Nursery to Class X and all our students have to appear in the O Level Bangla Exam.
The parents are informed about the importance we give to Bangla at the time of admission. In fact, we give so much importance to Bangla that not only is it compulsory for our Bangladeshi students, it is compulsory for the non-Bangladeshi students as well. Our students study the same Bangla books prescribed by the national curriculum.
In addition to that, our students are exposed to a wide variety of classic and contemporary Bangla Literature, for example, Rabindranath Tagore, Sharat Chandra Chattopaddhay, Syed Mujtaaba Ali to Sunil Ganguly, Jahanara Imam, Md Zafar Iqbal and many more. We also have our own publication “Moder Gorob Bangla Bhasha”- a collection of famous Bangla literary work which is also used to enhance the students’ comprehension and vocabulary skills in Bangla. Every year our Drama and Music clubs produce Bangla dramas along with English dramas. Tagore’s Tasher Desh, Daak Ghor, Achalayatan are a few examples of dramas produced by Scholastica.
We observe all our national events and important days through cultural programs and other appropriate activities. So I think that although we follow a UK curriculum, our students generally are quite proficient in Bangla and are encouraged to learn our culture and heritage.

English is lauded as the lingua franca and you hear parents/education institutions emphasize the importance of knowing the language. Why isn’t there a similar emphasis put on mastering the Bangla language?
We cannot deny the importance of English as the lingua franca in our country or all over the world for that matter. Bangla, on the other hand, is our mother language. We are expected to know Bangla as we speak it always at home and outside our homes with family and friends. I think that is the reason why there is less emphasis on mastering Bangla – the common perception is that since this is our national language, we will learn it easily without putting in as much effort as we need to for English.

An often unfair stereotype subjected to English medium students is that they boast a certain sense of superiority over their Bangla medium counterparts. How much do these stereotypes hold up?
Unfortunately, at times this may be true, however, the opposite is also true that the Bangla medium students think of their English medium counterparts as snobs who know nothing about their own heritage and culture. We at Scholastica, are always trying to bridge this gap by holding different inter-school events at our school which encourages participation of students of other schools both from Bangla and English medium. The Model United Nations (MUN) conferences, the Science Fairs, the Bangla Drama Festivals, Debate competitions, Bangla Essay Competitions hosted by Scholastica are examples of such events where both English and Bangla medium students of other schools have participated and this interaction has created a bond and better understanding between the students of both the mediums. In future, we plan on hosting more of similar events so that there is an even better friendship between the students of the 2 mediums.

What are some of the measures that English medium schools can undertake to promote the learning of Bangla language? And vice versa for Bangla medium schools in order to remove that perceptible divide between the two mediums?
As I have mentioned above Bangla needs to be taught as a compulsory subject in the English medium schools. Students should be exposed to reading a variety of texts in Bangla. Observance of all national events should be mandatory in schools.
Visits to sites of national and historical significance will enhance their knowledge regarding the history and culture of our country. More interaction between Bangla medium and English medium schools through various events such as the ones I have mentioned above will help in interaction and remove the divider between the two mediums.

In your words tell us if you think the promotion of Bangla literature among the masses will encourage better acquisition and stronghold of the language?
Absolutely. The more students are exposed to classics and good contemporary and age-appropriate Bangla literature, the more proficient and adept they will become in the language. However, the use of formal language in the media is also very important.

*Photographs by Eivan Sardar