Through history, Bangladesh has gone through various phases of education systems. From the time of the English rule to Pakistani regime and finally Bangladeshi system, education has evolved not only in methods but also in fundamental aspects like language and governance.
During the British rule, education was mainly reserved for the wealthy class. The language of pedagogy was English as schools were run by religious nuns and other British people. The few natives who were fortunate to receive education were either from wealthy families (Nawabs) or whose family had ties with the British governing body. For one to receive higher education, such as a university degree, to become a professional, one had to attend schools in England. Such was the case of the famous Indian Mahatma Gandhi who traveled to London to study law. As native people were treated as second-class citizens, education was largely deprived from the general population.
After the British had left the Indian Subcontinent, the territory presently known as Bangladesh came under Pakistani regime as the state of East Pakistan. Education during this period was still very scarce but those who had the means of acquiring it were no longer considered second-class citizens. The state language, however, was Urdu: the mother tongue of Pakistan. In the region of East Pakistan, the native language was Bengali and not Urdu. Hence, a conflict over language was eminent. School systems were still largely functioned in the English language as few schools, such as the Holy Cross and numerous Cadet Colleges, were still taught by the British and the nuns. However, in order to obtain government jobs, one had to know Urdu as it was the state language. Bengalis did not want to learn Urdu as the felt obliged to submit their rights to the Pakistanis. As such, after a long and bloody language movement, Bengalis were given the practice the language Bengali in their own homeland. So, to recap, during the Pakistani era, the educational system was mainly to indoctrinate students to the Urdu language.
After the liberation war of Bangladesh in 1971, the People's Republic of Bangladesh became an independent nation free to choose its own educational destiny. As Bangladesh was, and still is, a secular state, many forms of education were permitted to co-exist. The formidable British system was, and still is, largely practiced. In fact, presently, the Bangladeshi system of education is divided into three different branches. Students are free to choose anyone of them provided that they have the means. These branches are: a) The English Medium, b) The Bengali Medium, and c) The Religious Branch.
The English Medium
The British rule in the Indian Subcontinent is still very influential as the second official languages of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, etc. are still English. Students in Bangladesh have the right to attend schools in the English medium where courses are all taught in English using English books with the exception of the Bengali courses and the Religious course which are offered in Bengali and Arabic. However, English medium schools are mainly private and thus reserved for the wealthy class. After three years of pre-school, students must successfully pass through ten grades to be eligible for writing the Ordinary Level Exams, also called the O-Levels. Then after one more year of studies, students can write the Advanced Level (A-Level) Exams. Both these routines are offered for Arts students and to Science students. The O-Levels and A-Levels are both prepared in England and are common to every country in the world at the same time. To write these exams, students must go to the British Council in Dhaka (capital city of Bangladesh). Once the exams are written, they are sealed in envelopes and sent to England for corrections. After the A-Levels, students are free to choose their subjects in the Universities but most tend to leave the country to study abroad.
The Bengali Medium
Alternative to the English Medium is the Bengali Medium, which is offered by the government. In the Bengali Medium, all the courses are offered in Bengali with the exception of English courses and the Religious course. The tuition fee is minimal compared to English schools but they still vary largely between schools. For example, a government school for the children of Army officers is more likely to be more expensive than a government school in a poor village district. But everybody has the right to attend these schools provided that one meets the minimum criteria. After three years of pre-school, students in the Bengali medium do five years of primary school. Then they move to high school for grade five to grade ten. At the end of the tenth grade, one must write the Matriculation Examination, which is common to everybody graduating the same year in Bangladesh. These exams are divided in regional boards to be administered and students write the exams in different schools as indicated by their respective boards. Once finished, these exams are corrected by professors from all over the country and standings are published in the paper. There are three divisions for the results. The first division is comprised of students who received grades of 60 percent or above. The second division is for students with an average of 45 percent to 59 percent. And the third division is for students having an average of 33 percent to 44 percent. Below 33 percent is considered a failure and students in this category are forced to rewrite the exam the next year. Students obtaining 80 percent or higher are given special recognition.
The Religious Branch
Bangladesh is a very poor country with millions of homeless children. To educate these children, there are religious institutions called "Madrashas" where these children are sheltered, fed and taught the ways of Islam by priests. These children learn the scripts from the Koran and the regular prayers. Madrashas are generally linked to Mosques and the children usually serve the Mosque. As subsidies for these institutions are very low, often these establishments rely on public donations and donations to the Mosques. Higher studies for these establishments are close to non-existent and upon maturity, the children often become priests and other religious figures. Islam plays a very dominant role in the education systems of Bangladesh. In all the branches, it is required by the government since 1983 to teach Islamic studies. Hence, children learn to read Arabic from a very early age. Nevertheless, non-Moslem students are never forced to learn the Koran and can regularly be excused from Islamic courses.
The above are the main branches of the Bangladeshi system of education. Besides these, there are other disciplines such as cadet colleges and boarding schools where children are taught mainly under military regime to join the national Army upon graduation. Even then, the common exams are still required by the students under these systems.