McIlwraith Education’s involvement in Bangladesh goes back to 2005 when Hamish was asked by the British Council in Dhaka to evaluate the impact of two major UK Department for International Development (DFID) interventions: the Primary Education Resource Centre (PERC) and the English Language Teaching Improvement Project (ELTIP). He was then contracted by DFID to review and finalise a draft project concept note for a proposed English Language for Education and Employment (BELEE) project.
The background to this work was a request to DFID by the Government of Bangladesh to assist with improving the English Language capability of the workforce, in line with Government economic objectives, to enable Bangladesh to increase employment, encourage investment opportunities and compete in the regional and global market. The aim was to help the (then) current generation of school children acquire the necessary skills to become proficient in English. The perception was that after Bangla became the official language in the 1970s, there was a lack of visual, spoken and written English available in Bangladesh to reinforce learning with the result there was a generation whose grasp of English was incomplete. DFID wanted a multi-faceted response, which was to include face-to-face teaching, interactive learning through radio, and the use of other relevant media, such as television, radio and newspapers. The main focus was the initial training and long-term support for teachers with the aim of delivering a national English language teaching programme for Bangladesh through the Ministry of Education in co-operation with the British High Commission in Dhaka.
Using this information, Hamish developed an initial concept for the professional development and social inclusion of teachers and students in remote areas (where some schools can only be reached by boat during the monsoons) and for the marginalised tribes of the Chittagong Hill Tracts. One year later, he worked with a team gathered by DFID to draw up a plan for the £50 million 10 year English in Action (EIA) project. The project started in 2008 and is a major initiative designed to raise the language skills of 25,000,000 people in Bangladesh by 2017. The aim is to contribute to the economic growth of Bangladesh through delivering English language courses via mobile phones, the internet, print media and television. The project has been very successful. Its many honours have included a Microsoft Education Award, a WISE Award through the Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Community Development and a British Council ELTon Award.
EIA involved significant English language test development, through these media, led by BBC Media Action. From 2012-13, Alistair and Hamish reviewed existing tests for BBC ‘Janala’ (‘Window’ in Bengali), designed new tests (linked to the Common European Framework of Reference [CEFR]), trained trainers for conducting the tests and provided comprehensive specifications, assessment criteria and marking schemes, which were included as part of a training manual for test developers and trainers. This work was extremely important not only considering the huge financial investments, but also the ambition that by 2017 some 51,000 teachers and 7,000,000 students will have been reached through it mainly through mobile and Internet platforms; television programmes are intended for a wider, less formal audience.
Claire has also carried out important work in Bangladesh on behalf of the British Council. In 2014 she conducted an initial scoping study into Aliyah madrasa education. Aliya madrasas, unlike independent Quomi madrasas, are registered with the Ministry of Education. Most of them operate as co-educational schools and follow the national curriculum; students are given lessons in Mathematics, English, and Science as well as religious education.
The aim of the study was to determine what the key players were doing and to explore the ways in which the British Council could contribute to the madrasa reform agenda through teacher training, ICT training and English language training. The drive for reform had been triggered by the publication of a National Education Policy (NEP) in 2010 that aims ‘to achieve quality, modern and updated education’ in the three educational systems: General, Madrasa and Technical-Vocational. In the madrasa system the key policy elements are the establishment of mandatory core subjects from primary level, which include English and information technology. The NEP states that ‘importance will be given to the subjects such as English (…) Information Technology (… ) in the syllabus and curriculum (…) so that the students get equal opportunities and find them competent for the demand and needs of the national and international job market’ (2010:28).
Through interviews with the main stakeholders in Aliya madrasa education, visits to madrasas, and a review of the relevant empirical studies on madrasa education in Bangladesh a number of areas were identified in which contributions could be made to the reform agenda with regard to teacher training, ICT training and English language training. However, given the aim and scale of the initial scoping study we recommended further investigation to determine the scope, impact and feasibility of all possible options.