Friday, 18 November 2011

A plea for more practice in creative writing in the teaching of English in Schools!

Through my years as a teacher of English in an Aided school in Delhi, I have witnessed a steady veering away from the teaching of the essentials of English Grammar. Today the focus is not on the teaching of formal English Grammar, but rather on the “communicative” and “interactive” aspects of the language! Examiners are constantly told not to penalise students for grammatical errors in the short answer type answers in the literature section, and the same goes for the long answers. They are told give more weightage to the communication of ideas, and an understanding of what has been asked in the question. This has resulted in a deterioration of the quality of syntax and semantics used in the answers of the students. Moreover, there is a tendency to give very short answers, sometimes even single word answers, for which the student would be given one mark out of two in the short answer question.
Students have become lazy in answering long answer type questions in the board exams. Creativity is at a decline. Unfortunately,  a student who gets above ninety marks in English at the twelfth board exam in English might be at a loss when asked to write an essay in two hundred words for an entrance test! Very few of the students are confident about how to go about writing an essay in a logical and effective manner! The three tier format required the student to introduce the topic and then develop it in detail, and finally to develop the conclusion. In short, the essay should have a catchy introduction, followed by an in depth analysis of the topic followed by an appropriate conclusion. The same goes for the formal letter, whether it is a formal official letter, or even a business letter.
In a time when the student is exposed to micro-blogging sites like Twitter, or FB. or even SMS Texting, he is not willing to write a long essay of 400 words. The pattern of teaching English in schools has meant that the student writes very short answers, and he doesn’t get to play with a wider range of words, or an extended vocabulary. Cryptic, constricted, and short answers have meant that creativity has been done away with! An extended vocabulary comes into play only when the student is aware about complex grammatical structures, and semantics. The knowledge of the complex rules of grammar will help the student deal better with a wider knowledge of words.Unfortunately, today’s syllabus of English for any class from first to twelfth of the C.B.S.E. Board doesn’t give due importance to the learning of formal grammatical structures, and this in turn has meant that the student has limited creative skills in writing extended compositions. Students who have taken up English Elective in tenth class switch over to the English core in class eleven in order to get better marks. Today few students in the public schools in Delhi take English seriously. This is because they know that they can easily get eighty marks and above. Few students bother about creative writing, long answer essays, discursive essays, and descriptive essays because they know they will score in the short answer type questions.
The limited requirements of the examiner, increasing laziness, lack of a proper knowledge of vocabulary, limited knowledge of semantics, and poor syntax have made today’s students less creative and less effective writers. This weakness becomes evident when these students are made to appear in entrance exams to various courses after class twelve. They cannot write extended essays and don’t know how to develop their ideas. It makes good sense, therefore for the conscientious teacher of English from class nine onwards to give his or her students lots of practice in creative writing. He or she should mark these essays or articles according to the creativity of the students, grammatical accuracy, appropriate usage of vocabulary, knowledge of new words, and logical development of ideas and arguments. This should be done over and above the requirements of a constricted syllabus. It is only then that the students will be able to excel in creative writing!

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