In an exclusive interview with the Dhaka Tribune’s Ibrahim Hossain Ovi, Search English founder and former president of e-Commerce Association of Bangladesh (e-CAB) Razib Ahmed discussed how he came to found the company, how it operates, and his future plans for it
Recently, Facebook has selected Razib as a fellow for its “Community Leadership Program” for his group "Search English" where members help each other to become more fluent in English. Search English is an open platform for Bangladeshi people to become more proficient in reading and writing.
Tell us about the story behind the creation of Search English.
There is a common saying in our country that graduates are not getting jobs in Bangladesh due to having poor command over the English language. Many students fail in English at their Secondary School Certificate (SSC) and Higher Secondary Certificate (HSC) exams despite their best efforts. I wanted to do something to help these people.
I first got the idea to create a platform to teach English to people after enrolling into the Department of English at Dhaka University. In the beginning, we tried to figure out the reason behind Bangladeshis being weak in English. Our research revealed that fear and hesitation to speak and practice writing were the major reasons impeding people from learning English properly.
In 2014, we formed the e-Commerce Association of Bangladesh (e-CAB) to promote emerging online businesses in the country. As a founding president of e-CAB, I ran their Facebook page, which inspired me to create the page for a group with the intention of teaching English more effectively. I finally created the Search English group on Facebook on July 2016. Our mission statement was: "Learn English to Change Life".
How can Search English help its members to improve their English?
Search English mainly focuses on helping the members to improve their reading and writing skills. In Bangladesh, most people are fond of memorizing as opposed to reading properly. If a book contains 100 pages, they try to find so-called suggestions and then memorize only 10% of the book. They do not read the rest of the 90 pages.
Moreover, people are habituated to writing only what they have memorized. They do not try to write in their own words. In Search English, we focus on building a habit of writing in your own words.
Who are eligible to be members of Search English?
People from all walks of life with an interest in learning English can join the group. Our members include students, job-seekers, service-holders and even housewives. We also have members from India and Africa. Currently, the group has more than 1.6 million members.
Tell us about a success story of one of your members.
Through our platform, we have been able to help hundreds of people improve their English skills and acquire jobs. Students in our group have also been able to score better in their exams.
Let me tell you the success story of one of our members who has been a member of our group since last year. He is a madrasa student who recently enrolled in Dhaka University. Initially, he was very weak in English, which made him anxious about his performance in the admission exam. However, our group helped him score well in the exam. Later, he wrote to me and thanked Search English for his success.
You have recently won a fellowship of $50,000 from Facebook. How do you think will this help to improve the group?
In order to reach the rural community, we need to create an awareness program. Not having a financier in the past made it difficult to reach them. This fellowship will provide us with the necessary technical and financial support to reach students in remote areas of the country.
We have plans to hold meetings and host small gatherings with teachers in rural areas across the country to inform students and other people about the group.
Do you have any plans to incorporate it with our education system?
No. Educational institutions will do their own jobs and teach as per their curriculum. My focus would be to act as a complementary learning service in addition to the formal education institutions. We want to erase the fear and hesitation people face in practicing English by encouraging them and providing them with a platform to do so.
We want to avoid any conflict with formal educational institutions. Rather, I would like to partner with them to make our group more popular and engage more students with it.
Why do you think Facebook selected Search English for its Community Leadership Program?
I am very grateful to the Facebook authority for recognizing my efforts. I believe they chose Search English because of our success in helping the community. On an average, there are about 250,000 members logging into our group every day. All our members actively participate in the group activities. After reviewing our page activity, the Facebook management chose me to represent Bangladesh as a community leader for their program.
What are your future plans for Search English?
From the beginning, Search English had a dream of providing an opportunity for the common people, students, job seekers, service holders and freelancers, especially those who have trouble due to their weakness in English language, most of who tend to be from rural areas.
Now, with the help of Facebook, we want to attract more people from rural areas to our group and help improve their English skills. We believe this will make them able-bodied for future challenges. Additionally, I would like to give special attention to IT freelancers and expatriates as having good command over English will help them to secure better jobs and better pay.
I also have a plan to work with the RMG sector people to teach English to their employees, since people working in this sector have to deal with global buyers and their only means of communication is English.