Department or Program

Political Science

Primary Wellesley Thesis Advisor

Professor Nadya Hajj

Additional Advisor(s)

Professor Christopher Candland


There are a wide variety of schooling options available to parents in Dhaka city. Classes are primarily taught in two languages: Bengali and English. Public schools provide only Bengali medium education. Choosing to enroll your child in a public school is associated with a range of sociocultural benefits and economic incentives, such as free textbooks and network externalities. Nevertheless, there is a persistent demand for English medium education as well. Unfortunately, high-quality English medium education is accessible only to the elite classes. This thesis aims to understand how parents make choices about their child’s education. Key factors include the impact of British imperial policy on Bangladeshi institutions and culture, as well as economic returns to English versus Bengali language-based education systems. Analysis of historical shifts in policy, interviews and survey data shows that the two competing hypothesis— economic returns, and imperial legacy— cannot be fully disentangled. There is no compelling evidence that English medium education has greater returns to the labor market. The fact that parents and students still perceive English medium education to be superior, and express a preference towards it indicates that the imperialist hypothesis may be the leading explanation for disparity in enrollment between English and Bengali medium schooling systems.

Available for download on Friday, May 20, 2022