CHANDRA MANI BIMOLI
It is needless to point out that English is not only a mandatory subject right from kindergarten to higher secondary level, but also the medium of instruction in all private schools where a significant chunk of students are enrolled. Nevertheless, the priority accorded to English in our schools and colleges notwithstanding, is disappointing, and the majority of the students, even those who pass from the so-called reputed private schools, fare very badly in the subject.
Having worked as an English teacher for over a decade, I have pondered and tried to identify the reasons for our students’ collective poor showing in the venerated language. Most of it has to do with the miserable quality of teaching and the faulty approach we have been emphasizing over the years. The curriculum our SLC and HSEB boards have prescribed are designed by experienced hands, but teaching inside the classroom does not live up to the goals envisioned.
A language is best learnt in a social situation. At an early age, students must be encouraged to speak but even in the English period it is not uncommon to find teachers and students speaking in languages other than English. Instead of following a holistic approach geared towards building a solid foundation, ridiculously and very impractically, we stress endlessly primarily raw grammatical lessons.
Teachers must share much of the blame for the students’ collective poor showing in English. All teachers do inside the classroom is encourage the students to cram, rehearse and vomit in the examination. Instead of teaching the students the skills to read between the lines and explore the nuances of the text, teachers summarize the lessons and dictate notes. Strange as it may sound, many teachers even do not bother to read the text themselves and instead rely on guides and guess papers.
Our two important board examinations at the school level: SLC and HSEB are also to be equally blamed. Whereas board examination questions must be designed to test a student’s intelligence, creativity and a broad range of skills, our English questions are so cheap that they leave no room for self-expression. The focus is on knowledge of rote instead of substance. Summaries, guides and guess papers are more than enough for the students to secure good marks in the examination without even going through the text. I understand that there are limitations, but we need to revamp and restructure the way English is taught at schools so that students who pass out of school are well equipped to pursue higher education effectively which is, almost in every part of the world, in the medium of English.