English medium or English version? Which one is best?

Education is very important for a person and it’s more important where we start from. Just 20 years ago the English Medium schools weren’t as prominent in Bangladesh. But today there are so many English medium schools. Besides English medium, there are English version schools as well. 

With so many options for education, the parents face a common dilemma “Where should I admit my child?” Many of us are also not quite sure what the SSC and HSC equivalent exams in English Medium schools are. In this article, we will try to explain what these educational sectors are and hopefully help you put your children’s careers on the right track.

What is an English Medium and English/Bangla Version school

To understand the difference between English medium and English Version we have to start from the beginning. Let’s start with the curriculum. Bangla medium follows the rules and curriculum set by the Bangladesh education board. While English medium follows the rules and curriculum of an International education board. Let’s dive a little deeper and understand the nature of these two mediums.

English Medium or English/Bangla Version

The reason why we are calling it the English/Bangla is that 2 of these mediums are the same in terms of governance and exams. The only difference between the English version and the Bangla version is that the English version follows the exact curriculum of the Bangla version but in English. That’s all.

Students in the English version will have the same book, but their book is written in English. The Board exams such as SSC and HSC are also in English and they answer in English. Of course, it goes without saying that the Bangla 1st paper and 2nd paper are in Bangla and it’s completely taken in Bangla. Another thing about the English version worth mentioning is that the books are a bit more expensive than the Bangla version. In many schools, the session fee is also a bit higher.

So to summarize the English/Bangla version:

  • English version follows the same curriculum as Bangla medium
  • All the books of English version are in English expect for Bangla 1st and 2nd paper
  • All exams (including Board exams JSC/SSC/HSC) are taken in English

English Medium

In terms of education, there aren’t many differences but English Medium follows the international curriculum. The international curriculum which is mostly followed in Bangladesh are of Edexcel and Cambridge. The syllabus and curriculum has a few changes but other than that, both are the same. Between the two, Edexcel is comparatively more popular.

The books in the English medium look a lot different than the Bangla/English version books. Although the contents and chapters of the books are the same, the English medium books use high quality pages, texts and images. The images in the Bangladeshi board are all in black and white while the English medium books have colorful images. These books have significant price differences compared to the Bangla/English version books.

That’s enough about the English curriculum but what about the Board exams? Well, just like SSC and HSC, English medium schools have O-Levels and A-Levels exams. If we want to compare between the Bangladesh Board and the International Boards, then we can say, O-Levels exams are like SSC and A-Levels Exams are like HSC. That is for the sake of comparison as these exams are very different from the SSC and HSC examinations. We will discuss the examinations in detail later but for now, that’s all you have to know.

So to summarize the English Medium schools:

  • English medium schools follow the International Boards like Edexcel and Cambridge
  • More expensive books with same lessons but the quality of the texts and images are higher
  • The exams are of International standard. O-Levels and A-Levels are the same in the entire world

The Exams of English Medium schools and English Version Schools

In the previous section, we discussed a little bit about the board examination of English medium and English version schools. Although there might be some similarities between these exams, there are still a lot of differences between them. In this section, we’ll learn all about the English medium exams and how they are conducted.

English Version exams

As we have explained before, the English version is the same as the Bangla medium. The only difference between these two is the language. The lessons that are taught in the Bangla medium are the same for the English version but in the English language (except for the Bangla subject). Therefore, the English version also follows the curriculum of Bangladesh Education Board.

The JSC, SSC and HSC exams of English version are taken at the same time as the Bangla medium but in a separate section. The question paper will be completely in English and the students must answer in English. But all the rules and regulations are as same as Bangla medium

English Medium Exams

From a previous discussion we’ve learned about the O-Levels and A-Levels exam. O-Levels is also known as IGCSE which stands for International General Certificate of Secondary Education. The A-Levels is also known as IAL which stands for International Advanced Levels. If compared to Bangladesh board exams then:

  • SSC = O-Levels (IGCSE)
  • HSC = A-Levels (IAL)

The O-Levels and A-Levels exams are taken under the governance of the International Boards. The most popular International education boards that are followed in Bangladesh are Edexcel and Cambridge. O-Levels and A-Levels exams are taken in 150 countries across the world.

When we compare between O-Levels and SSC taking the subjects into consideration, if a student passes in minimum 5 subjects of O-Levels (English and Mathematics are mandatory subjects) then it will be equivalent to the SSC exam. If we do the same comparison with A-Levels and HSC exams, then if the student passes in minimum 2 subjects of A-Levels, it will be equivalent to HSC. So, if we summarize this paragraph:

  • Minimum 5 subjects (English and Mathematics compulsory) of O-Levels = SSC
  • Minimum 2 subjects of A-Levels = HSC

However, in Bangladesh, students generally take 7-8 subjects in O-Levels. We will talk more about subjects in English version schools, but before that, let’s talk a bit more about O-Levels and A-Levels

Time and session of O-Levels

SSC and HSC examinations are generally taken by the Bangladesh board at a fixed time of the month. Students who are studying in class 10 and class 12 register (fill up forms) for SSC and HSC examinations. Then according to the Board designated date, all the exams are taken. But for O-Levels things are a bit different. Let me explain.

O-Levels start from class 8 and it takes about 1-2 years to complete the O-Levels exam. Normally, the O-Levels candidates of Bangladesh take 8 subjects. They sit for 4 subjects in the 1st year and in the next year they sit for the other 4 subjects. That is, the exam is completed in 2 sittings.

O-Levels and A-Levels exams were previously taken in 2 sessions, May/June session and January session. But now, these exams are taken in 3 sessions. Now students may take the exams in January, May/June, and October if they want. So if a student wants to sit for 4 subjects in January and the other 4 subjects in May/June, he/she can do it.

Time and session of A-Levels

Like O-Levels, students complete A-Levels in 2 years. The 1st and 2nd year of A-Levels have a special name allotted:

  • 1st year of A-Levels is called AS
  • 2nd year of A-Levels is called A2

Most of the subjects of A-Levels have 6 papers, but there are subjects with 4 papers as well. So the first 3 papers are taken in the 1st year or in AS and the other 3 papers are taken in the 2nd year or A2.

Re-take examinations

O-Levels and A-Levels have great flexibility in terms of re-take examinations. Students may retake the exams of particular subjects if they want to improve their grades. For example, a student took exams on 6 subjects but in one subject their grade wasn’t satisfactory, that student can retake that particular exam. All they have to do is register for that subject and they can sit for the exam once again.

This method of retaking examination is applicable for both O-Levels and A-Levels. This is very useful and beneficial for students as it gives them the chance to achieve a higher grade.

O-Levels/A-Levels exam during holidays?

Another popular question among people is why the O-Levels/A-Levels exams are sometimes held during the holidays. This is true that sometimes exams are held during the holidays. The reason why this happens is that it is an international exam. The board wants to hold this exam on the same day worldwide.

You might remember, even a few years ago when there were strikes in the country, the O-Levels/A-Levels exams were held during the night time. Sometimes the exams are even held during Eid festivals also!

But this is the sacrifice the students have to make for gaining an international standard education.

Choosing subjects

Now let’s talk about subjects. For English versions, students are all given a choice to pick Science, Commerce, Arts, etc. Depending on what division the student picked, all the subjects will be aligned and the student cannot take a subject from another division. For example, a student who picked Commerce will not be able to pick any subjects from Science or any other division.

For English mediums this is different. A student can take subjects from science or commerce and sit for those exams as well. There are no restrictions when it comes to picking subjects for O-Levels or A-Levels. Some students even take 10-14 subjects so that they have wider opportunities or more options.

When picking subjects some other things are also considered. Universities have certain requirements when students want to pursue a certain discipline. For example, if a student wants to pursue Engineering, he/she should have science subjects like Physics, Mathematics, etc. Again, if he/she wants to become a doctor, he/she needs subjects like Biology and Chemistry.

What is a Private student and Public student?

This is a term used for English medium students. By reading the title it might be confusing as a question naturally arises, how does a private student sit for the official exams? Well, this is one of the biggest differences between SSC/HSC and O-Levels/A-Levels exams.

In order to sit for O-Levels and A-Levels exams, it isn’t necessary to be a part of any schools or institutions. You don’t have any age restrictions either. If you have taken proper preparations for the exams, you can register online, read the guidelines and sit for the exam whenever you’re ready!

Clearly, there are some great benefits of being a private student. For example, if there are no English medium schools nearby, or if someone wants to take their time and sit for exams with better preparations, being a private student is best. But for students who want to pursue a higher degree abroad, it’s better to be a school student.

Role of British Council

British Council is a third-party educational organization that connects the educational institutes of Bangladesh to Edexcel and Cambridge. So a private student must collect their required papers from the British Council.

My personal opinion

Although there weren’t many options a few years ago, education in Bangladesh is very diverse today. This diversity does have some benefits, but it also leaves many parents and guardians confused. Being an English medium and English version student myself, I’ve been asked by a number of parents which institution should they admit their child to. My answer is never direct.

I try my best to explain the scenarios of all three mediums (Bangla, English version, and English medium). But honestly, if I was asked which medium is the best for a child’s future in academics, my answer is English medium school. To me, I feel that the quality of English medium school is on another level, but it can get expensive for some families. Not only the session fees, but the books are also expensive.

Considering everything, there’s a handful of reasons why I think that English medium education can be better for a child if you think about international perspectives.

The English medium curriculum is determined by the International education board of Edexcel and Cambridge. This is followed in 150 countries in the entire world. So a student studying in an English medium school will receive International standard education.

For O-Levels and A-Levels exams, there’s no way a student can cheat or adopt unfair means. The exams are taken in a strict and systematic environment. After the papers are submitted, those papers are digitally scanned and sent to the UK and a secret committee board checks those answer papers. 

There’s no scope of foul play here. If the student was confident with their answers, he/she will receive good marks. There is no luck involved here.

Another great thing about O-Levels and A-’Levels exams is the retake. If a student is not satisfied with their result, he/she can retake the exams at their convenience. This gives the students an opportunity to achieve higher grades and produce better academic results.

This point might not be applicable for every individual, but personally, I’ve seen English medium students are very efficient in the English language. Since all the subjects are in English, students, read, write, and speak in English very often. As a result, they become more fluent and comfortable in English.

As the English language is the international language, the students with English medium background gain an added benefit when they want to go abroad to study. Even if he/she decides to study in Bangladesh, it will be beneficial for him/her because the books taught in Universities are in English as well.

But is also true that some students with Bangla medium and/or English version background have good English skills. With enough time and practice, it is possible to have a good command of the English language.

Final Words

There are so many educational institutions in Bangladesh right now that it is a challenge for the parents to decide where they want to admit their children. But we have to remember the importance of proper education in a person’s life. The future of the child rests on this vital decision.

Many parents don’t take enough time to consider this decision. Many parents even shift their children from one institution to another. They even change the Bangla medium to English medium or English version. This is very stressful for the child as he/she has to get accustomed to the new environment and make new friends. We also have to consider a child’s psychology and the amount of stress they have to endure when shifting or changing schools.

Therefore, before jumping into decisions thinking that our decision will not affect the child that much, I recommend thinking this through. What kind of future do you want for your child.

In this article, I tried my best to give you the proper introduction and definition of both mediums. Even though I prefer English medium schools, it doesn’t mean that the Bangla medium or English version is bad. And this is a no-brainer. No matter what educational institution you choose for your child, in order to achieve good knowledge, there is no alternative to discipline and study.

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