Saturday, 15 September 2012

Emerging challenges in the teaching of English as a second Language in India

The teaching of English is witnessing changes and revisions at a rate never seen before! such. The removal of the teaching of formal grammar, and of course the removal of various teaching units by the C.B.S.E. such as the telegram, from class ten, and the removal of single sentence definitions from class twelve many years back were bound to happen what with  telegrams becoming obsolete, and the E-Mail becoming more popular! I wonder if the formal letter and informal letters might not soon be on their way out! As an English teacher however, one wonders if formal grammar really be done away with because, understanding the rules of grammar should forms an important basis of the understanding of any language, and this is more so important when you are talking about the teaching of English as a second language! A few days ago when this teacher began to teach a few grammar rules on transforming sentences into the indirect speech, and some rules about differentiating noun clauses from adverbial clauses and adjective clauses, the students observed that they already knew the rules. When their test papers were later checked, it was observed that a large number of errors were evident in the editing and omitting sections on grammar. It was evident that they had made these errors because they hadn’t paid proper attention to the teaching of rules of grammar! For example, they made errors while  writing sentences in the reported speech. They would put in the relative, ‘that’ where it was not required, and they forgot to chance the tense into its relevant past form! The question remains, how do you expect students to identify errors in the editing section, how do you expect them to identify omissions, and how do you expect them to transform sentences into the indirect speech without drumming or drilling into their minds important grammar rules?
Another challenge that English teachers face today is in the area of handwriting! Answer scripts are still handwritten and when the handwriting is bad then it becomes difficult to mark them! I goes the days of beautiful cursive and script writing have gone! One of a long running debates in one of my groups on LinkedIn is whether we need to concentrate on developing good handwriting in students, and surprisingly, many feel that there is no need to waste time on handwriting, because they believe it is more important to move ahead in the other subject areas than spend time in teaching students the formation of letters! Today, I observe that even students in class ten, eleven, and twelve have horrible handwriting with letters falling all over the place! The stance taken by most countries in the West is that, handwriting, paper and pen will soon be replaced by the keyboard in any case!
A few students and some teachers have begun to question the relevance and need to teach plays written by Shakespeare because they claim that students find it difficult to relate the culture, and language in Shakespearian plays at least at the school level. Some educators in my groups on LinkedIn argue that it is time we moved ‘beyond’ Shakespeare! This educator however would like to argue that what makes a work a classic is because of its lasting quality, its being a unique work of art, and appreciation of classics forms an important part of the teaching of English whether at the school level or the college level. No doubt, the teaching of contemporary literature should form an important part of the syllabus but, then we still shouldn’t forget that the classics have made English what it is! This also brings to mind how teaching of literature has begun to undergo a sea-change! The lecture method, the explanation methods are all frowned upon today! So then how do you teach literature to senior students in school? Traditionally it would include a loud reading of portions of the lesson followed by a discussion of salient themes, concerns, and issues. This would be followed by giving the students leading short questions. At the end of the lesson, students would be given essay type questions to analyse their understanding of themes, character traits, the message or moral of the lesson and so on! Where appreciation of poetry was concerned,  there would be a loud reading of the poem in class followed by examining each stanza, identifying various poetic devices used by the poet, learning  to appreciate the poetic style, discussing the various themes, and finally, the students would be given extracts on which various questions would be given in the Reference to Context pattern, or the Quote analysis pattern. Today it is less about the lesson and more about extended reading, reading literature with similar themes or concerns such as those in the prescribed text! While the focus today is about learning beyond the text, learning beyond the syllabus, it important not to lose track of what has been prescribed, lest we should wander off-track! While no doubt the context of ‘Thinking out of the Box’ is an ideal concept of progressive learning, it should however have some relevance to the syllabus which has been framed after considerable thought.
The internet has made it easier for students to prepare projects and so today projects have become popular among students. Unfortunately work that is often copy-pasted from different sources increases the risk of plagiarism. Often entire passages are copied and the same applies to ideas. Technology, it seems has made our learners incapable of thinking their own ideas and thoughts, making them dependent on others who have published their work on the internet. So today, even the good old essay or article that the teacher of English gives to his students might not be authentic after all! All this has made it a challenge for the teacher of English to teach his students the art of creative writing, descriptive writing and even discursive writing. Projects, long preparations, blue-prints and stat-cards might make the student lose interest in the whole activity. The good old practice of  writing repeatedly a large number of essays would be too tedious for the student today! The adage, ‘Practice makes a man perfect’ doesn’t seem to work very well today!
In the context of a rapidly changing world scenario, it becomes prudent to revise our syllabus and pedagogy according to the times. The syllabus for teaching of English in schools as framed by the N.C.E.R.T. and the C.B.S.E. is highly progressive today, and revisions have been taking place at a fast rate today. The introduction of C.C.A till class ten has increased the parameters of testing for students, and the introduction of one novel in class nine along with a listening and reading section have made the teaching of English more interesting in class eleven. However, improving spoken English and listening skills in English depend on having language laboratories in every school!

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