I found the following advertisement (it is one, isn’t it?) painted on the compound wall of a Government Lower Primary school which has been serving the society for more than five decades.
Quality Education to All
English Medium divisions in Class 1 in June 2010
Classes taken by expert teachers
Obviously, it is meant for inviting attention of the passersby, and of course the parent community, too. At the same time it is an open declaration that whoever has displayed it has no trust in the main stream education. If some teachers were involved in displaying it, they have exposed their distrust in themselves as teachers. This of course is not an isolated case. It is one of the several ways of exhibiting how we can surrender ourselves before the power structures that operate in the society and let ourselves play in their hands, thus allowing hegemony to survive in all walks of life. The display is an insult to our main stream education and the several thousands who depend on it. This is especially so in the context of the recent curriculum revision and the paradigm shift it has envisaged in second language pedagogy. But how many of us really perceive the advertisement made by the school as a danger in disguise? I will try to make my point clear.
English Language Teaching (ELT) across the world has been facing a crisis for the last few decades, a crisis caused by a better understanding about what language is and how it is acquired. Gone are the days when people believed that the human mind is a ‘tabula rasa’ and everything related to knowledge of language comes from outside, through experience. The credit goes to the insights the world has derived from Chomsky’s theory of innateness, the contributions of cognitive psychologists who follow the Vygotskyan and Brunerian schools of thought and the claims of critical pedagogy envisaged by Paulo Frère, Joe Kincheloe and others. Today, we can see that ELT has virtually split into two namely, the critical ELT and the non-critical ELT. The two hold belief systems that are diametrically opposite to one another. The non-critical ELT adopts a fragmentary approach to language and proposes the skill-based and linear mode of teaching. It is essentially an apolitical treatment of Language. The critical ELT on the other hand problematizes the whole context of language teaching and proposes a pedagogy placing it in the socio-political context. Consequently, it demands a shift from the skill-based and fragmentary approach to knowledge-based holistic approach to language. The birth of critical ELT is not just a coincidence; it is the culmination of years of research that had gone into topics such as language and language acquisition.
The revised curriculum in Kerala has had its impact on the achievement of learners. There are several hundreds of schools where children produce class magazines, school magazines, news bulletins and so on. In Alappuzha district alone children in primary classes developed about 15, 00,000 journals in English which include those developed by individual students, classes, schools and even Panchayats. We can feel proud of this creative achievement. Recall those earlier years when students even after completing SSLC were not able to write their ideas in English. The percentage of those students who were able to score an average of 10 marks (which was the minimum requirement for a pass) was 15 or less. Now children in primary classes are writing their own short stories and poems in English. There are several schools where children perform theatre in the class as part of classroom process. We cannot (and should not) miss to notice the shift in language pedagogy which has brought about this change. And we cannot accept the stance of those ELT experts who still advocate a fragmentary and skill-based approach to language. More importantly, we cannot endorse those additional activities (such as asking the learners to write letters of the alphabet, words or sentences several times ) carried out by some teachers and schools at the cost of the classroom processes envisaged in the curriculum and materials.
If the advertisement on English medium divisions and ‘off the track’ activities are meant for satisfying the parent community (that is what probably teachers and school authorities would say) they are unknowingly promoting linguistic hegemony. They do not realize that the net result will be the marginalizing of those children who belong to the unprivileged sectors of the society. In most schools where English medium divisions have started teachers tend to give more attention to the English medium learners. They tend to skip the classroom processes in the parallel Malayalam medium division arguing that the children cannot understand English. Therefore, it is necessary, they say, to teach at least the letters of the alphabet, words and insist on copying down the teacher versions. Learners of the Malayalam medium are induced to believe that they are inferior to their peers in the English medium divisions. This is nothing but government-sponsored marginalization of a considerable chunk of the student population. It is paradoxical that our State which as boldly revised the curriculum based on social constructivism and critical pedagogy also nurtures neo-colonial enterprises. How long can we ignore the social divide that has been brought in by the parallel English medium divisions?
Why do some of our schools work out disastrous decisions like opening parallel English medium divisions? The only answer is that they want to satisfy the greedy parent community, a community which believes in the assumed superiority of English medium education over education in mother tongue. It is just an assumption or belief which has never been tested for its veracity. If parents are not convinced about the potential of the revised curriculum and materials it only means that our schools did not take any efforts to convince them. This in turn can mean that either teachers themselves are not convinced about constructivist pedagogy as envisioned in the curriculum or they do not have sufficient know how of how to transact the revised curriculum. Whatever might be the situation that has led to the unhealthy situation, it needs to be addressed. Schools should have the sensibility to realize that the only way to convince the parent community is to provide quality English education to children by strengthening classroom processes and not by opening English medium divisions. Parents should get opportunities to know, and even learn, how their children learn English. Meetings of Class PTA can be made meaningful and dynamic by taking tryout lessons before the parents and by providing learning experience to the parents. Schools can exhibit student’s magazines and journals and provide opportunities for the public performance of the learners so that the parents’ attitude to language learning will be changed. This in a way, is the need of the hour. Moreover, by undertaking such initiatives teachers will be executing their intellectual and social responsibilities which will ultimately help us translate the dictum ‘liberation through education’ into meaningful and worth pursuing enterprises.