Employers find it hard to hire graduates with required English skills in Bangladesh despite the fact that students study the language since the grade I. Concerns over the level of English language proficiency played out at an international conference co-organised by the University of Liberal Arts (ULAB) and bdnews24.com on Friday. Toufique Imrose Khalidi, editor-in-chief of bdnews24.com, shared the story of his own struggle to hire the right people to run a newsroom that never sleeps. The bilingual newsroom needs quite a few editors and reporters with special skills in that language. Finding graduates with strong bilingual aptitude is a constant struggle. Skills are in short supply.
“Its been quite a task, for quite some time now,” Khalidi said at the conference on English for Specific Purposes, first of its kind in Bangladesh. “Something is wrong somewhere.”
“I hear similar stories from entrepreneur friends; there are plenty of anecdotes from schools, managers and parents,” Khalidi said.
“There are those that run call centres and would like to compete with other countries; they find it quite hard to get the manpower needed to run the show,” he said.
“Our tourism and hospitality industry is growing pretty fast. We hear there is a problem there, too. I could go on and on. The point is, there is a problem that needs fixing. And that is why we are having this conference.”
The daylong conference brought together academics, employers, employees and other stakeholders to discuss how to bridge the existing gap in English needs.
Foreign Minister AH Mahmood Ali inaugurating the conference said learning English is now more significant than ever before as Bangladesh is marching ahead with an economic transformation.
“Without mastering the English language it will be very difficult for people to avail themselves of the opportunities created by the demographic dividend,” he said, referring to a change in the age structure of the population now mostly young – under 35.
So, he said, younger generations “increasingly need to learn English in order to avail themselves of the tremendous job opportunities in diverse sectors for proficient users of the English language”.
Prof Imran Rahman, special adviser to ULABs Board of Trustees, sought “massive” government support and right policy to enhance the level of English skills among students to take advantage of the demographic dividend.
“The biggest challenge we face is the language skills,” he said, citing his own experience of teaching in universities.
Rahman said he found it among private university students that “the effectiveness of English falls short of standards” even after studying the language for 10 years to the HSC level.
So the universities re-teach them the English language for the first two or three years, which he said is a “waste of time”.
ATM Sajedul Huq, director of the Center for Language Studies at ULAB, said: “We always emphasise the necessity of learning English, but how much thought have we given to the idea that everyone might not need the same kind of English?”
“Language needs of a diplomat are not the same as that of a pilot, or a scientist. Every occupation requires a form of English with distinct characteristics,” he said.
“If our graduates are to become successful professionals, this gap between what is required and what is taught must be addressed.”