The following email has been sent out to most, but not all councillors, in Tower Hamlets. It was forwarded to me by someone whose family is not of Bangladeshi background.
I would like to invite you to a ‘Public Meeting’, as our Special Guest, that we are organising in support of and to invigorate our campaign for the delivery of ‘Bengali’, our Mother Tongue, as a Modern/Foreign Language in mainstream primary schools in England, in compliance with the Government’s Modern/Foreign Language Policy for primary schools.
This meeting will commence on Saturday, 11th of June 2011, at 3.00pm, at the Waterlilly Conference Hall, 89 Mile End Road, London E1 4US (entrance on the Mile End Road, next to Blockbuster).
You will appreciate that this is a common and rightful cause, thus we have to work together with absolute determination and unity of purpose, in order to establish ‘Bengali’ as a Modern/Foreign Language at key stage 2 (from year 3) in the curriculum of primary schools in the demographical areas of England, where there is a concentration of Bengali speaking communities. We have to conduct this campaign unceasingly until we achieve a successful outcome so that we can ensure that our children have the opportunity to learn their first language in primary schools, at key stage 2, and reap the immense benefits, that it will bring to them in terms of acquiring linguistic and multi-skills, improving educational attainment, developing the knowledge of our culture and roots and enhancing career and economical opportunities and to strengthening community cohesion.
As a Councillor of the London Borough of Tower Hamlets, your participation in this meeting will add immeasurable weight to this campaign and your support is vital for the achievement of our right.
A positive response from your good offices would be highly appreciated.
Muhammad Ghulam Mortuza
(Convenor, Campaign for Bangla in Mainstream Primary Schools in England)
Dr. M A Hannan
Director Tower Hamlets Parents Centre
Unit 1 Links Yard
29 Spelman Street
E1 5LX Tel
020 7650 8936
The Department for Education told me the following today: the teaching of a modern foreign language is not compulsory at primary school. At secondary level, between the ages of 11 and 14, it is. It used to be the case that a major European language had to be taught. That is no longer the case: today, the only requirement is that a “world language” must be taught. World languages are not defined, but the DfE spokesman confirmed that Bengali would fall into that category. He said it would be a matter for the school governors to assess their resources and decide what to offer.
The DfE spokesman said the decision of secondary schools in a particular area should be important in determining what is offered at primary level. He reiterated that it would again be a matter of resource: if the governors of a primary school wanted to offer Bengali, that would be up to them, but that might have an impact on their ability to teach other languages, such as Chinese or French.
In fact, here’s their response:
There’s isn’t a specific list of languages that can be taught at primary schools. It’s down to individual schools as to what they chose – however it is obviously dependent on the school having the relevant teachers, and good schools will usually discuss options with parents, and also with neighbouring secondary schools so that they offer the same languages.
Anyone familiar with the history of Bangladesh will know that the issue of the Bengali language is emotive. Personally, I’m a great believer in children learning a foreign language: done well, it can foster a broader outlook and it is a good discipline in itself. Languages are also important in helping the children of immigrant families learn about their history, culture and roots.
However, I do wonder about this campaign. Look at the language of the email: that Bengali is “our Mother Tongue”; that children will have the learn “their first language” in primary schools. I wonder whether it’s the older generation driving it. Are older Bengalis in denial about their kids and their grandchildren? Perhaps they don’t hear them speaking English as they hang out on streets or as they mess around in the playgrounds?
Should public money be used to fund such lessons? Are parents not better equipped to teach their kids Bengali at home (should they wish) and so allow their children the chance to learn another foreign language at school. Perhaps learning Bengali would be the better option. But why would teaching it “strengthen community cohesion”?
It’s a tricky subject: open to all for debate…