Teaching of English and its productivity in public schools.
Tika Ram Regmi
Writer of the book: Art of Teaching
We are not satisfied with the academic outcome of our public schools mainly in English although we develop and apply modern text-books and launch various language teaching trainings, supervise classes and provide feedbacks. But, we ignore their application in the practical field. We do not really care the reasons causing this deterioration of the academic performance.
English, being the system of communication in speech and writing that is used by people of particular areas, is a means for expressing and acquiring feelings, thoughts and emotions in addition to social voluntary interactions; and is closely related to human behaviour. It is the means that leads one to get through one's heart and feel love or hatred, enjoy pleasure or discard it. It is the means to get into the heart of a society and have the taste of its characteristics that lures people to be involved in interactions. It is the means to learn one's origin and evolution. Being such a means, a language should have been learnt unknowingly, enjoyably, informally or say intrinsically without any hard effort.
In our context, English has been a matter of problem, although it is accepted as a major subject from pre-primary level to graduation level and a large number of personalities have been involved and done a great deal in the field. In most cases, it is a matter of a subject for which the students have to rub their elbows to get through an examination and for teachers to complete the course. While considering the public schools, although average private English medium schools cannot be exceptions, the situation is further serious. English is taken as a trouble among the students, and even for some teachers.
Teachers make monthly, quarterly, half yearly and annual lesson plans, means they divide the whole text book, not the curriculum, to be accomplished within the given time, and pretend to complete the course accordingly. But if we consider the result, a class five students' receptive skill e.g. listening and reading, we wonder getting him / her unable to follow a simple command or read a simple text, let alone productive skills e.g. speaking or writing. The division of the given components has been to be completed by the teachers, not by the students. Hence, English subject has been taken as a subject like mathematics or science. It's wonderful! What is the relationship between English language and completing course, like a subject?
Many trainings, workshops and seminars for teachers and policies have been launched; school supervisors, resource persons and subject specialists pass time on supervisions and feedbacks, but the rapidity of positive change does not seem even like a snail's pace. Even after these, if asked for the reasons the easy and ready-made answers are similar – students' guardians don't care their children; they are not regular to school; even if they are regular, they don't bring necessary materials like books, notebooks and pencils; they don't even do their homework; students don't have competence to cope up with the given course; we need to complete the given course in a scheduled time; we should prepare our students for the examinations; we must make our students familiar to the questions at least; if we follow the procedures like in the trainings, when will we be able to do these all in time?, and so on.
I recall a scene when we were talking of classroom teaching in a concurrent session during the 17th International Conference of NELTA organized at St Xavier School, Lalitpur. Elizabeth Muller, a full Bright Fellow, was taking a session on Communicative Teaching, a teacher from a Secondary Level teacher produced a question – How can we manage these type of communicative techniques since the class nine students cannot even understand basic commands and write even alphabets in proper ways? So, we are compelled to write some exam oriented notes for them and let them rote by heart. The next one was presenting a session on Inclusion of Critical Thinking in the classroom; next higher secondary level teacher produced his surprise – Oh! How can we do that? When will we complete our course if we keep up your idea?
One of my excellent friends, I had been involved in many ELT classes with and was keen on improving teaching, had just started teaching + 2 and bachelor classes in a newly established college. I asked while having lunch together, sir, you must have applied your skill in the class. He responded that he was not ready to quit the job being over smart. He said if he didn't explain every sentence in Nepali, he would find his students walk out of the class. This is the situation of teaching English in the schools or colleges.
Now we have to ask ourselves whether our trainings are defective. If the teachers are unable to apply the procedures in the classrooms, what's the use of trainings? If our trainings are really defective, why don't we revise them? If we are confident and believe our training packages and the contents they contain are suitable and they cover the necessary components and they are based on the modern approaches, why aren't these being applied? Why aren't the teachers asked of negligence? Why don't they apply in the classrooms? Where is the problem?
The pace of development of anything depends on its foundation and primary level is the foundation of education. In this regard, as the standard of education is so crucial in primary level, we cannot hope a better production in the upper classes, and so we have to be contented with what we have produced. Since the majority of the manpower we have produced is like this; we have to be satisfied with the society they will form. It's true some of these public schools have been launching some positive activities to meet their goal, but the number is not larger than finger counts in comparison to the mass. The majority seems encircled within problems and the products compel us to nightmare. What are the main reasons behind this? We have a few major defects in our public school education system that have played a vital role to reduce its standards. We crush the reasoning potentials of our students in the very beginning of school life and let their learning walk on head. How can we get a better result when we have started with defective tools and behaviour ? So, the real problems behind this are as follows:
Our input method: Our input method is defective. It's general, as you sow so you reap. It is said well beginning is half done, but we begin with hopeless attitude in a wrong way.
How we begin teaching: Stage One:
The most affecting reason behind this situation is our teaching method. Let me present how we start teaching. In the very beginning of teaching in class one, we, as very active teachers, take sticks in the hands and enter the classroom, write Capital Letters of English alphabet, point to the alphabet with the stick and let the students follow us in chorus. After a while when a student is capable of naming the letters, we hand over the stick to the child and let her / him do the same as we have done. Hence, the students recite the English alphabets. Together we let our students write the alphabet in their exercise books.
How do we start destroying the students' potentials, first ?
a. First of all we show the students a stick. Now almost all the students will automatically feel the need to be in dead silence to be safe from possible punishment. Hence we kill the children's natural curiosity and active behaviour.
b. Second, we plant a concept in the students that they are in the classroom to follow the teachers. They have to recite the letters parrot-fashioned and have no thinking or understanding of what they are doing.
c. Instead of encouraging or inspiring the students to speak, play, be frank, enjoy freedom and present natural characteristic of the age group, we teach them that schools are the places to keep silence, follow and obey teachers, get ready for getting punished. The meaning of discipline is to follow seniors as blind followers.
d. From this we have planted a feeling of irritation towards the teachers and school as a whole. We have found, some children are not ready to go to school, and they fight with their parents while going to school.
e. The students have grown jealous with an aim to revenge. We can see this from the student's behaviour. When the teacher nominates a student to point to the alphabet on the board, his/her look seems different as if a superior fellow to others. If he / she thinks the listeners are not paying attention to him / her, he / she tries to punish.
f. We do not care the students' psychology. We go on continuing the same activity for a long time as much as we like. We do not care the students that age group needs change in activities to keep up their interest. So the students feel bored; even sometimes we find the kids get sleepy while following the teacher or the leader student.
g. Need not to point unscientific beginning with capital letter and making students recite A to Z as the first stage of learning.
These, seven points are very simple while looking in our common traditional sights; but can we imagine their results? Now, we have totally destroyed the sprouts of positive and critical thinking of the students. We have totally rooted out students' feeling that they have knowledge and they can do something. In this way we demoralize our students from the very beginning of the school day.
Later we lead them to the words, and write words and meanings in Nepali on the board and follow the teacher or a student nominated by the teacher or let them copy and recite. Even now, we follow the same procedure pointing to a word with a stick and controlling students under a strict discipline.
How do we continue destroying the students' potentials, second?
a. We do not let students learn the words in a context meaningfully. We let them depend on the teacher in an artificial manner e.g. translation method. Even when we are teaching the word meaning of a 'duster' or 'blackboard', we do not show the real object, we compel the students to learn through Nepali meanings.
b. Students miss a chance that they would learn a word in context with an informal listening to a contextual sentence. They miss a chance of listening to appropriate pronunciation. They miss the chance of listening to various informal classroom languages that would help them develop their communicative skills.
c. They do not get chance of leaning in student centered method. Now, the kinesthetic students remain totally unlearned. They miss the chance of participating in the learning process.In this way, we are killing students' creativeness and developing a passive listener, thus into lazy dependent fellows.
An advantage we can get even in this technique that a few gifted students grab chances of being leaders to substitute the teachers and learn little more than others. But together, a feeling of superiority is developed in them and ultimately, it is harmful for them because pride is badly planted within them and along with their growth, it spreads its roots and boughs that no teacher or parent can pull them back. It is because we do not allow all students play the roles like this.
In this stage, we teach our students sentences, paragraphs or stories. While in this stage, we read the texts and translate them into Nepali. Or sometimes, we read the text and let the students follow us. Now the students have to read word to word translating into Nepali to understand the meaning of the sentence, paragraph and the whole text. While translating each word and sentences, they cannot match the interpretation of the whole paragraph to understand the core message of the text. The students shout for request-'sir bujhen', didn't understand, and we teachers explain the text in Nepali or the students' L1 with extra details to add fun. During the explanation time, the students look at us as if spellbound by a magician, attentive, silent and obedient. If the head teacher appears around, observes the activity happily and in the office speaks of the teacher with the impressive word- Sir, you are great! excellent! We are thus praised by the students and the head teachers, and even among the guardians for being excellent teachers. We feel proud of our excellence.
Together with these explanations, we sometimes point to a student to answer a comprehensive question. As the student begins her / his answer making a slight mistake, we show hand or stern eyes, a signal to stop. And promptly say - Hey, I explained the story so much clearly still you cannot answer such an easy question? An idiot! A foolish! A dull fellow! You can never progress in your life! And make a face.
In the next step, we write questions and answers on the board together and tell them to come tomorrow reciting by heart. Sometimes, we give them only questions and tell them to write answers. While checking their answers the next day, we thank the ones who are ready to vomit what they have swallowed or have brought correct answers, no matter how they have brought, whether copying a classmate or a readymade guide. But if any student tries his / her best to prepare the answer making a few mistakes, we scold them with harassment.
How did we continue destroying the students' potentials, third ?
a. First of all we ignored students' participation, and made them just a passive listener as if they didn't know anything.
b. We ignored their role in the classroom, and developed them into a parasite, always dependant creatures.
c. We made them lose the natural process of learning.
d. Our questioning had a fault that we didn't allow any interested student to answer; rather we nominated someone we liked.
e. We were discouraging the students so dangerously that they hardly thought 'They Can Do Something.'
f. We sought 100 percent correct answers, so killed their creativity ignoring the natural theory, Learning by Doing.
g. Our behaviours were making the students cheat even in classroom and at home while doing homework.
What is the major role of a teacher? Is it to paint a non-living object to polish with an artificial colour and make them dazzle or pour something concrete into an empty vessel; or stimulating students' inherent talent so as to make them hopeful in life and turn into a bright scholar? Is our role to trim the growing sprouts that would grow to be a large tree and provide shade to thousands of living things or tend them with care encouraging them to grow mentally, socially and academically healthy?
Lack of child-friendly atmosphere.
'Child-friendly Atmosphere' is a major Topic in training packages. Sometimes, it is taken as the most important issue to be discussed a whole day sessions. As we go to schools after trainings, we focus on building toilets, taps for drinking water, play ground, comfortable passage, well-ventilated classrooms, hanging black or white board at an appropriate height so as to make it well visible, painting school building, replacing chalk with board marker, etc. But, we do not interest in changing our behaviour towards the students.
Here, I would like to present my own example of a criticism that my student made nearly two months ago. She is now a student of bachelor level in Kathmandu. First she wrote as online-chat – "Sir, you were the best English teacher among those I was taught by". At my request for supporting me expressing her feeling for me as a teacher, she further wrote – "Sir, I was afraid of you as long as I was a student." When I wanted to know the reason, she refused to write a blunt answer. Perhaps she was still afraid of me and maybe that she didn't like to disappoint me, she blurred her writing. At last after my sincere request, she wrote – "Sir, one day I was sitting in the corner thinking you would not see my dirty book but unluckily, you called me to read a paragraph. To obey you, I snatched my friend's book and started reading. But you insisted me on getting my book out of my bag and I did. Your eyes were so sharp, you noticed my filthy book and took it from my hand and threw it to your podium. Then you told me to read taking my friend's book. But, I could not read a word. Later, you called my mom and told her everything what you had instructed us and what I had done. Since that day, perhaps in the midst of class nine, I could not have an eye contact with you and could not ask you any question. So, even today, I'm afraid of you". I thanked her heartily, and plunged into the memory of the day.
She messaged at last – "Sir, but that changed my habit and I learned more than before." It consoled me a little but I got hurt because of the remorse I realized.
She was an average student like most other naughty ones in the sense that they would not follow instructions given in normal, friendly and polite words; neither would they follow the house rules prepared in collaboration with themselves in the class, and still stuck on the wall in front of them. I had strictly applied a rule to restrict them from cheating, cheating in the class, cheating at home while doing homework, but they would not like to follow. They would still use the second hand books in which almost all comprehensive questions were answered, almost all paragraphs made colourful with pronunciation marks and meanings in Nepali. As the final way out I started to collect all such dirty books and call their guardians and convince them why I used to do so. And I had been little successful so far, and the students' habits had improved a little; they had started to do their homework as much as they could, they made many mistakes though.
After reading her criticism, I considered whether I was wrong. I realized that I was, in the sense that, because of my behaviour, she had been detracted from me, she had missed the possible learning chances being friendlier to me, but most of other students' behaviour, hers too, a little, had changed. So I concluded, although I was not absolutely wrong, I should have been much friendlier and should have changed my behaviour, but I did not. It was my mistake.
Now, I realize she wouldn't have grown such a cheating student if we had been able to plant positive attitude in her mind, if she had a habit doing whatever she could, if she had realized learning is the outcome of practice, if she had learnt students can cheat nobody but themselves. This hostile behaviour we find in our students today, is the outcome our mis-behaviour, mis-guidance and carelessness.
As aforementioned, while talking about child-friendly atmosphere in school our interest goes on physical aspects but we ignore our behaviour. School, mainly primary school, is the place where we can plant such an undiluted impression in the students that determines the students' life, not merely academic performance. I recall the days when I was a student of class five. My teacher used to escape every Sunday, that he used to say in Hindi, - Main angreji dusare itbarko padhaenge.” (I will teach you English next Sunday.) It happened because of his incompetence, but today the situation is quite different i.e. we are afraid of changes or have been careless of the change although time has sought.
Here, it is necessary to think of how we call a student inside or outside class room, how we ask him / her a question; what we do when he/she makes a question; how we deal a student having abnormal behaviour; how we treat the students who remain absent or avoid classes; how we treat them when they perform some naughty activities; how we manage their time when they have a leisure period, etc.
Do we discuss with them and make them participate while preparing house rules for making them ready to follow what they promise? Do we ever talk to them friendly on any matter? Have we developed our students confident and ready to take part in any activities without any hesitation? Do we caress them when they feel nervous and show inability to perform? Do we encourage them and make them realize that they CAN DO?
Our polite behaviour to students is the LIFE inside or outside the class. Physical facilities are a must, but it will be a well decorated lifeless structure without favorable academic standard. They may add comfort, but a well decorated classroom does nothing if there is no life. What can a well clad healthy person without LIFE do?
So, let's follow:
Let's love children.
Let's let our students play.
Let's let our students learn through games.
Let's develop our classrooms funny and warm.
Let's provide students with chances to use their mind.
Let's use polite and soft words.
Let's find out the personal problems of the backward students so that they will feel we are their well wishers. Let's not forget that it will make them think in a positive way and will be positive towards us.
Let's encourage them to be hopeful.
Let's encourage them to present their idea no matter how wrong it is.
Let's reward a thank-node for their positive participation of the students.
Let's make them feel that we teachers are not to frighten them but to help them in their hard times.
Let's develop the classroom activities based on child centred methods.
Let's care them inside or outside the class and draw them nearer every time we feel they need some changes in behaviour. A close students to the teachers cannot go bad.
Let's develop natural learning atmosphere, i.e. listening, speaking, reading and writing; in an integrated way.
Let's use materials that will help students learn naturally.
Let's use language games so the students will learn while playing unknowingly.
Let's make students take part in practical activities i.e. let's make students Do rather than just LOOK or LISTEN.
In my experience, the students taught in a friendly atmosphere, are far better than the ones taught in a disciplinarian atmosphere. And, if we can make our students positive with our positive behaviour, and create a practical field for the students to act, we will get positive changes in no time. Let's hope, the change will take place with a great changes in academic standard.
साभार : आजको शिक्षा साप्ताहिक