Tuesday, January 27, 2009

IT in Bangladesh Will Suffer Without English

BASIS (Bangladesh Association of Software and Information Services) is the national trade body representing the software and IT sectors in Bangladesh, and is holdings its annual event, the BASIS Soft Expo 2009 over the next few days.

They hope to capture 1% of the USD 300 billion software outsourcing market in 5 years.

Bangladesh is very firmly behind most of the outsourcing powerhouses of Asia: India, the Philippines, and Pakistan.

The main reason is the most important language in IT. Not Java, C++ or Perl, but English.

Barring Bangladesh and Nepal, most of the SAARC countries (India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka) have outstanding level of English education.

Apart from the select private schools in the major cities, which in all fairness produce students with excellent levels of English, most education in Bangladesh is in Bangla, and English language training is grossly insufficient for international standards. Many Higher-Secondary students with high grades in English have trouble putting together a complete sentence in the language. Testing in the country-wide standardized tests is based on rote memorization.

The domestic market is very well-versed in IT, though. I needed to fax some documents when I went to Bangladesh in the summer of 2007, and went to a store in Mohammedpur, in a grimy, grungy back-alley, with piles of garbage by the roadside, open drains, and walls that had long seen any paint.

I saw a young man very adeptly using Adobe Photoshop to forge what looked like tax documents. I dare say he did a very good job of fudging those numbers.

The market in Bangladesh is poised to produce and consume very high level IT services.

This remarkably deep and broad pool of talent, though, will remain stinted if quality education in the English language is not made more broadly available.

Strides are being made, and most of the men and women of my generation are catching on, and making the effort to learn and master the language. Some of them are arguably competitive with the Indians, Pakistanis and Filipinos, seeing as how the Bengali English accent (in my biased opinion) is not as strongly inflected as the Indian accent.

But government intervention and good policies would go a long way in giving our enterprising youth a leg-up in competing internationally.

More specifically, the government could:
  1. Begin general reforms within the Ministry of Education (increase teachers' salaries to retain quality staff, more progressive and accountable human resource management, retraining teachers and principles in education)
  2. Directly train teachers in the English language. Many of them are simply not comfortable with the language. I know firsthand graduates of government universities with Masters Degrees in English Language & Literature who could not for the life of them write a coherent paragraph in English. Their entire degrees have revolved around rote memorization.
  3. Reform of English language testing in the government board exams (strides have already been made on this front under the BNP government with the reform of the SSC and HSC examination system) to de-emphasize rote memorization
  4. Improve two vital infrastructural needs of the country: energy and connectivity, so that more people have ready access to computers, can go online and interact with other people worldwide informally in English
  5. Repeal archaic laws demanding all government paperwork be in Bangla and move to a bilingual system. This will encourage foreign businesses to operate since the language barrier to engaging in commerce is much lowered, and will require all government employees to be adept in English to process said paperwork, while not compromising on the use of Bangla
  6. Slowly enact laws and bring into practice the system of making public signboards and vehicle license plates have both English and Bengali rather than the current setup of consistent inconsistency: some highways have signs in English and Bengali while some streets in Dhaka and smaller highways don't, and some license plates are in English and some aren't
Maybe then we could think of a lot more than just 1% of the global market.


About Me

My photo
I write essays in my spare time on things that are important to me. The ones that I feel are any good, or make any sense, I put them up here. :)