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OP-ED: Teaching English through children’s TV programs

  • Published at 02:30 am January 11th, 2021
education television
Entertainment and learning can go hand in hand BIGSTOCK

TV can be a language teaching tool, especially with schools on lockdown

Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, primary and secondary schools in Bangladesh have been closed for many months. In the absence of schools, the government has made a laudable effort to help students continue their education by broadcasting daily lessons on Sangsad TV, and has also undertaken various e-learning initiatives to reach children via smartphones and the internet. 

However, the subject of English language teaching and the possibility of addressing it via appropriate children’s TV programs has not received the attention it should have.

English is among the subjects that students frequently fail at SSC/HSC levels. This points to the fact that even when schools were running, the quality of English language education obtained by most students was not enough to give them any kind of competence. 

One critical link in this weak chain of English language learning is lack of exposure to English children’s TV programs.

The situation was very different going to school in Dhaka in the 1980s, as most children with access to TV used to watch at least an hour of English programs on BTV. In those days, a daily dose of Sesame Street, Brady Bunch, and Six Million Dollar Man helped to give school children a competence in English which is now lacking. 

I was reminded of TV’s power to teach language when my young children in Dhaka, surrounded by Motu Patlu and Oggy and the Cockroaches, suddenly started spouting Hindi phrases. 

It made me realize that we could potentially help students learn English simply by increasing the amount of English language children’s programming they are exposed to on TV.

Unfortunately, these days in Bangladesh it’s highly unlikely that any child would come across English TV shows. Indian channels flood the TV with Hindi cartoons (as witnessed by my own kids). 

Bangladeshi private TV channels are commercially unable to meet the educational need for English children’s programs; all shows on private channels have to be in Bangla, or they won’t attract advertiser funding and won’t be viable. 

Even when Deepto TV aired foreign cartoons like Ben 10 and Powerpuff Girls, they had to be dubbed in Bangla to attract audience and ad revenue.

There is a solution to this: The state-owned BTV is still around, having just celebrated its 56th birthday last December. Unlike the myriad of private channels, it is still funded by the government and not beholden to advertisers. 

The logical course of action is for BTV to meet the need for English language children’s TV shows by broadcasting a solid block of several hours of English programs every day, preferably in the late afternoon before adults take control of household TVs from 6pm onwards. 

The shows should be a mixture of educational content for younger children, such as Sesame Street, which is still around, to high quality kids’ entertainment like cartoons for older children who just need entertainment and exposure to English.

Virtually all children have the capacity to learn English in the course of 12 years of schooling. The main thing that kids need to learn a new language is exposure to it for a few hours every day. 

In the modern age, we should use TV as a language teaching tool, especially during these days when schools are locked down and many children in poorer households don’t have access to smartphones or internet. 

Surely meeting educational TV needs not feasible for private/commercial channels is one of the benefits of running a state-owned TV channel.

Zeeshan Hasan is a shareholder of Deepto TV.

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