English Speaking and Listening Assessment Project - Baseline. Bangladesh

Power, Tom; Cullen, Jane; Woodward, Clare; Mathew, Rama; Payler, Jane and McCormick, Robert (2016). English Speaking and Listening Assessment Project - Baseline. Bangladesh. The British Council, Dhaka.


This study seeks to understand the current practices of English Language Teaching (ELT) and assessment at the secondary school level in Bangladesh, with specific focus on speaking and listening skills. The study draws upon prior research on general ELT practices, English language proficiencies and exploration of assessment practices, in Bangladesh. The study aims to provide some baseline evidence about the way speaking and listening are taught currently, whether these skills are assessed informally, and if so, how this is done. The study addresses two research questions:

1. How ready are English Language Teachers in government-funded secondary schools in Bangladesh to implement continuous assessment of speaking and listening skills?
2. Are there identifiable contextual factors that promote or inhibit the development of effective assessment of listening and speaking in English?

These were assessed with a mixed-methods design, drawing upon prior quantitative research and new qualitative fieldwork in 22 secondary schools across three divisions (Dhaka, Sylhet and Chittagong). At the suggestion of DESHE, the sample also included 2 of the ‘highest performing’ schools from Dhaka city.

There are some signs of readiness for effective school-based assessment of speaking and listening skills: teachers, students and community members alike are enthusiastic for a greater emphasis on speaking and listening skills, which are highly valued. Teachers and students are now speaking mostly in English and most teachers also attempt to organise some student talk in pairs or groups, at least briefly. Yet several factors limit students’ opportunities to develop skills at the level of CEFR A1 or A2.

Firstly, teachers generally do not yet have sufficient confidence, understanding or competence to introduce effective teaching or assessment practices at CEFR A1-A2. In English lessons, students generally make short, predictable utterances or recite texts. No lessons were observed in which students had an opportunity to develop or demonstrate language functions at CEFR A1-A2. Secondly, teachers acknowledge a washback effect from final examinations, agreeing that inclusion of marks for speaking and listening would ensure teachers and students took these skills more seriously during lesson time. Thirdly, almost two thirds of secondary students achieve no CEFR level, suggesting many enter and some leave secondary education with limited communicative English language skills. One possible contributor to this may be that almost half (43%) of the ELT population are only at the target level for students (CEFR A2) themselves, whilst approximately one in ten teachers (12%) do not achieve the student target (being at A1 or below). Fourthly, the Bangladesh curriculum student competency statements are generic and broad, providing little support to the development of teaching or assessment practices.

The introduction and development of effective teaching and assessment strategies at CEFR A1-A2 requires a profound shift in teachers’ understanding and practice. We recommend that:

1. Future sector wide programmes provide sustained support to the develop teachers' competence in teaching and assessment of speaking and listening skills at CEFR A1-A2

2. Options are explored for introducing assessment of these skills in terminal examinations

3. Mechanisms are identified for improving teachers own speaking and listening skills

4. Student competency statements within the Bangladesh curriculum are revised to provide more guidance to teachers and students.

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