The institution has hardly anything to show for its existence in a decade since its inception
The Bangladesh government established the International Mother Language Institute (IMLI) 10 years ago with the aim of developing and preserving our mother tongue, Bangla, inside the country and promote the language in foreign lands as well.
However, the establishment has hardly anything to show for its existence in a decade since its inception.
The Category 2 institute, under the auspices of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco), was also built to collect languages of different countries and minorities, preserve them and conduct research and training activities on them.
Publishing and updating dictionaries of and encyclopedias on different languages are some of its other key responsibilities, but the IMLI has failed to make any visible progress in this regard as well.
The organization, which has the prime minister at its chief patron, is apparently unconcerned with doing anything of note other than some menial activities such as arranging seminars, publishing annual reports, newsletters, journals and memoranda.
Although the institute had listed “searching variety of dialects, its preservation and possibilities” of eight divisions as its main publication in different years, those were the outcomes of discussion workshops with local literary representatives — not root level studies.
The IMLI said it undertook a mega study by allocating Tk3.89 for a scientific survey of the ethnic languages of Bangladesh, “Bangladesher Nree-bhasha Boigganik Somikkha Kormoshuchi”.
Following its approval on April 21, 2014, the authorities set the deadline to complete the study to June 30, 2015. However, the IMLI extended the time limit twice for one and a half years after the research team failed to finish their work.
According to a document obtained by Dhaka Tribune on the study, the field-level work had been completed by November 30, 2015. But the reality is different.
Prof Md Safiul Muz Nabeen, director (Language, Research and Planning) of the IMLI, said field-level work of the research had been conducted between 2014 and 2017.
Even in 2021, only one of the 10 Bangla volumes on the study has been published so far, with 10 English volumes still on the cards.
Around Tk19 lakh has already been spent on printing and publishing the research book, while the total allocation for this segment is Tk65.4 lakh under the study budget, according to two IMLI annual reports. The budget expenditure for the study disappeared after the annual report of 2015-16.
Prof Safiul said: “Only one volume has been published until now. The rest will be printed accordingly.”
“We found that 40 mother tongues exist other than Bangla. We also discovered that there is a lack of teachers who can teach these languages at schools … we need people’s cooperation to preserve these languages,” he added.
Budget surplus at govt institution
Budget surplus (when income exceeds expenditures) is an unusual occurrence at government institutions, but the IMLI was able to achieve the rare feat.
Tk1.53 crore and TK1.23 crore remained in surplus in 2019-20 and 2018-19 fiscal years, respectively, in the operating budget (excluding infrastructural expansion budget).
In the 2017-18 financial year, the surplus stood highest at Tk2.52 crore, while the additional amount was Tk89.55 lakh (with an extra Tk11.09 lakh in internal income) in 2016-17 and Tk26 lakh in 2015-16.
Shaikh Shamim Islam, assistant director (Finance and Training) of the IMLI, said they had handed over every years’ surplus amount to the government.
But is the surplus actually something positive?
Reason behind surplus
A large sum of money, allocated to pay the officials of the IMLI, remained unused as many posts were vacant. This is the main reason behind the budget surpluses.
IMLI Assistant Director Shamim said they will recruit people soon as required by the institution.
Nearly half of the positions are vacant at the IMLI.
According to an IMLI brochure, the institute has 98 approved posts including 17 first-class officers. But in reality, Shamim said, only 11 high-ranking officials are currently employed at the establishment and in total, only 50 people are currently working at the IMLI.
Opting to remain anonymous, an eminent educationist of the country said: “This is embarrassing for me to comment on this issue. The lack of officials cannot bring about desired outcomes for such a research-based institute.”
He added: “The Education Ministry should look at the issue in a serious manner. Spare manpower of the government sector may be recruited at the IMLI instead of expert linguists.”
“Such an institute should be run by academia, not by bureaucrats. I fear the ministry might appoint an administrator as the next director general [at IMLI] instead of an educationist,” he remarked.
The educationist raised a question regarding the naming policy of the IMLI as well.
Why is the word “international” in its name even though there is no visible international collaboration, he asked, before adding: “As a Unesco Category 2 institute, the IMLI should take initiatives to work in the international arena and uphold its global status.”
Targeting the upcoming International Mother Language Day, the IMLI should undertake a project to set up a foreign language learning program, the noted educationist suggested.
He further recommended: “The IMLI has to teach colloquial Arabic to Bangladeshi workers going to Middle Eastern countries. In addition, it has to conduct a survey on the local dialects of Bangladesh, which may be lost in the mists of time.”
Dhaka Tribune could not reach Prof Jinnat Imtiaz Ali, director general of the IMLI, over the phone despite repeated attempts.
Meanwhile, Director Prof Safiul regarding the manpower crisis said: “Recruitments will be made gradually, the IMLI authorities are working on it.”
On the preservation of other languages, he said: “Malaysia does not have its own alphabet. Besides Malay, many other languages including English do not have their own alphabets either. They adopted Roman letters for writing — it is called the writing system. It is hard to preserve languages that do not have their own writing systems.
“It is a big area of research. Preserving other languages is impossible without enthusiastic researchers.”
Asked if bureaucratic complexities disrupt the IMLI from fulfilling its duties, Prof Safiul rejected the claim and said a certain amount of time is necessary for an institution to start functioning as intended.
Drawing a comparison, he said one cannot start taking big steps all of a sudden just as a first-grader cannot become a 10th-grader overnight. “We need time to reach our goals and we are doing the best we can.”
He added: “A guideline for conducting research is being formulated and we are awaiting approval from the Education Ministry.”
Category 2 institutes and centres are established and funded by member states to “extend the reach and effectiveness of Unesco’s programs and activities in the field of culture.”