Saturday, May 25, 2013

published in the book "Innovations in English Language Teaching: Voices from the Indian Classroom Z. N. Patil, Anindya Syam Choudhury and S. P. Patil (Eds.)"

-A Short Note...
The phenomenon of innovations in teaching of English is not new. Innovation is an intrinsic part of the dynamics of life. Language being the medium of expression in this ever-changing environment is also therefore always evolving. English, being the second-Language in India (as in almost all the countries who have had a colonial past) has been perhaps evolving faster than in the country of its origin, because of the dynamics of inter-relationship with the vernaculars. This change in the language perforce requires change in the process of teaching it.
Innovation, as suggested by the historian Carl Schorske, is the end result of two converging forces – the felt need and, new research. The last two decades in the history of this country have seen more changes in its socio-economic - technical environment than ever. Since a language affects and is affected by its environment, the English Language has had a fair share of effects on it.
This short note has no programmes of innovation to present because innovation is an ongoing process. It however tries to explore the environmental changes in last couple of decades which should prompt newer ways of teaching and, the kind of innovations required.
When we were school/college students (in the 1980's) our English teacher told us to regularly read newspaper and, listen to the AIR/Doordarshan English news if we were to improve our English. This, alas, is not possible now. The national dailies have little space for kids and adolescents. The language also at times lacks the perfection it once had (Jug Suraiya's 'Subverse' article –'Angrezi? Maro goli! – in The Times of India mentioned quite a few lapses found in the newspaper's language). The English on FM Radio and T.V. Channels is preposterous. For instance, I have failed to convince many a youngster that there is no such word as 'anyways', because for them Radio/T.V. jockeys are better guides. In this era of short texting via cell phones and social sites on the internet, the spellings of the most common words and grammar are so twisted and changed that reading them seems similar to reading a Chaucerian passage and, the abbreviations like reading Morse code. Often teens tend to hide their ignorance of their language behind the veil of designer English.
There is another aspect too. The children when they come to school now are not unfamiliar with many words of English as they were two decades back. Amidst the all pervading media the kids today are not insulated from the English language as they once were. The children in the urban areas get a more English Language environment as compared to those in the rural areas.
The post - liberalization and globalisation era also has had on impact on the English Language teaching. English is being learnt more for the sake of its utility in professional fields than for its own sake. The mushrooming of English speaking private coachings are testimony to it. Earlier the students in higher classes preferred studying English literature but now they chose English language. The veering of students from humanities stream in senior school is also a reason that makes them language impoverished. They are weak in their regional language too besides English.
The English teaching has to innovate itself in the changed scenario. Innovations are broadly of two types – imposed from the top through major policy shifts and the other at the level of the teacher in the classroom. An example of the former is that quite some time back English teaching began from class VI, later it was introduced in class III and now it is being taught from class I in the government schools in most of the States. The practice of Continuous and comprehensive evaluation is another example of it. The examples of the latter are umpteen and depend on the teacher and the taught.
For the innovation from the top to succeed it is essential that they are comprehensive and take into account all related factors. For example in the case of continuous and comprehensive evaluation system it is more necessary to design the curriculum, texts, supplementary reading materials, time-table and work-sheets/books and, the size of the classroom than a complicated chart to trace the childs progress. It is also necessary to reorient the teachers to the new method of evaluation. Bab Adamson ( Queensland University , Australia ) and Chris Davison ( University of Hong Kong , Hong Kong) in the article "Innovation in English language teaching in Hong Kong primary schools: One step forward, too step sideways?" (Prospect vol 18 No 1 April 2003) examine the success of task – based learning introduced in Hong Kong in the 1990s. They show the incongruence between the intended, resourced, implemented and experienced curriculum because of clashing teacher-student beliefs, pedagogical constraints, and unclear expectations. One major problem identified by them was that the task based learning was not grounded in local experiences and educational realities and was more an imported package from the West.
Major innovations from the top to be successful have to ensure that each of the key players – the curriculum developers, the text book writers, the teachers, the students (and their parents) and, the inspectors- along with the process, and not just the product, have been taken into account while framing the policy and they are constantly monitored, evaluated and supported.
The innovations by a teacher in a classroom has an individual orientation. As Robert Oliphant pointed out in his article (The locus of change: some notes an Innovation in English Teaching' (California English Journal V3 n2 Spr. 1967), -" the innovative process should begin at the point at which a need for change coincides with the means of satisfying that need. The English teacher can update his instructional approach by examining, on the one hand, the student's felt need for articulate expression and a sympathetic listener, and on the other, the researches in counseling, programmed instruction, and the human use of language."
Generic teaching is ineffective in a class. The teacher has to create special methods for special cases. He has to see that the student is not good merely at learning concepts – what is a noun, verb - but at applying them. He has to make the language seem so amicable that the student is not afraid of it. It is the teacher and his classroom-ambience which can make his student learn English as naturally and unobtrusively as his mother tongue. And for this he requires, more than training, a will to perform and a support from his environment comprising policy-makers, policy implementers and parents.
English is increasingly becoming a source of anxiety, paranoia and despair in a world scenario where those who have 'English' are separated from those who don't. Its teaching needs urgent attention. We need policy reforms to provide enabling environment for teachers to produce not mere English-literates but, English knowledgeable students. But, before the major reforms, it is essential to find out how many English teachers are there at various levels in school education, how many more are required, what are the major points of weaknesses in learning, what books are being used and, what evaluation techniques are commonly used. It is high time that the school –leavers do not leave with an English disadvantage which not only gets accentuated further in life, but also gets perpetuated in the generations learning from them.
Skand Shukla

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