Friday, December 24, 2010

The Colonial Ghost - 8

What is at Stake

The profile of our English classrooms has started changing. Children have started loving the English teacher and the English classroom. They don’t bother about the errors they may make while speaking or writing. The teacher doesn’t criticize them for their mistakes and does not force them to write impositions. They have been liberated from the trauma of having to learn by heart the answers to the comprehension questions and vomit them on the answer sheets. Instead they are responding to certain social issues by way of writing a variety of discourses. In the classrooms they are indulged in creative writing. These are tangible changes. And these are positive signs of learning.

Nevertheless, there are some parents and teachers who cannot even imagine that changes are possible. They still believe that main stream schools cannot provide quality education to children and the solution is proposed in the form of English medium education. Who bothers about real concept attainment when you can score high grades by virtue of rote memorizing of facts and information? People who blindly believe that English Medium education is synonymous to quality education fail to look at what is happening in an English medium school critically. They may spit out volumes of vehement criticism against main stream English education but will be scared to utter even one syllable against English medium education. This is nothing but academic slavishness.

Let’s see how this point can be illustrated. Examine the following cases:
Case 1:
Ms. Asha is a primary teacher who teaches English in a Government school in Kerala. She has her own daughter studying in an English medium school.
‘Why don’t you get your child enrolled in your own school?’ One of her friends asked her.
‘She’s a bright child. I must give her quality education.’
‘Can’t it be done at your own school?’
‘I doubt. After all it’s an ordinary school. For choosing a good career children need English education.’
‘But you’re teaching English.’
‘That’s different.’
Case 2:
One of the international publishers recently released a set of course books in English. These are meant for the learners ranging from LKG to Class VIII. There are two primers for English. One of them begin with lessons in writing and the tiny tots have to strain themselves by drawing strokes of different kinds and then slowly switching over to writing the letters, words and sentences in conformity with certain standard norms.
The other primer begins with units that introduce quite a large number of isolated words naming familiar objects. These include the names of body parts such as an eye, a head, a nose... (of course with thumbnail pictures of these parts).
Pause and Reflect

Let’s address ourselves to a few questions:
1. Why is there a mushrooming of English medium schools in our country?
2. Why do most parents and policy makers too believe that by changing the medium of instruction from the mother tongue to English is a pre-requisite for ensuring quality education?
3. Why do people believe that without English there cannot be prosperity in life?
4. Why do celebrity publishers follow a linear, highly de-contextualized and fragmentary approach to introducing language elements?
5. Everyone in our own times knows that a child does not pick up language by writing the letters of the alphabet. Moreover, a 3-year old child is yet to accomplish neuro-muscular coordination. Then why do the textbook writers make her practice strokes and other primary lessons of copy-writing?
6. The 3-year old child’s perception is holistic. She cannot perceive a cut-out human head, the hand, or the other parts of the body alone. Asking her to do this is in fact the negation of the fundamental principles of child psychology. Aren’t the makers of the course book aware of this?
I refrain myself from asking further questions on a similar line. The point I want to make is very clear. Cases 1 and 2 reflect certain belief claims related to teaching and learning English in our own context.

There may be certain claims that appear as true. It is also possible that these claims can be substantiated given certain specific contexts. We must not miss the point that these are mere belief claims and not propositions with truth content. Nevertheless they get propagated in the society. How does this happen needs to be explained. Viewed through the lens of critical pedagogy these claims are discernible as parts of belief systems and actions defined by the power structures operating in the society.

Let's try to see what is happening around us critically. This is the need of our own times. If we fail to appreciate the positive changes happening in the classroom and the pedagogy that is responsible for these changes we will be doing a big harm to futurity. remember, today's children are not tomorrow's citizens. They are citizens right now. Let us acknowledge this and do whatever we can do to ensure quality education to our children. For this the pre-requisite is to safeguard ourselves from the Ghost of Colonialism.

Monday, December 20, 2010

The Colonial Ghost - 7

The Findings

The first picure is one of the best products from the Malayalam medum division and the second one is the best product of the English medium division. What qualitative diffrence do you find between them?
We analyzed the written work done by the children both in the English and Malayalam medium divisions. Children following the State syllabus had no inhibition in writing their ideas in English. All of them had written something. Some of these writings were better than what the children in the English medium divisions wrote.
We found that children in IV B had performed better than those in IV C. The reason was obvious. The teacher in class IV B (a gentle man) had done some justice to the classroom processes whereas the teacher in Class IV C had ignored the classroom processes altogether and had taught in a manner that was convenient to him.
Interaction with the Staff
In the evening we got an opportunity to interact with the teachers of the school. The Head teacher told us that the teachers were willing to stay after the school hours. We consider this as an indicator for their concern for school matters.
We assembled in the conference hall. We were happy to share with them the good things we had observed. At the same time we expressed our anxiety about the children in the English medium division. We showed them what the learners had written about their morning assembly. It appeared that they were shocked.
‘We opened the English medium division a few years ago because of the insistence from the part of the PTA,’ said the Head teacher.
‘Don’t you think this is really unfortunate?’ I asked the teachers. ‘The children in class IV A have nearly four years of experience of learning English because they started it in the pre-primary classes.’
‘Do you discuss academic matters in the school SRG meetings?’ asked Kaladharan.
They explained the practical difficulty. Some amount of sharing takes place among the teachers handling the Malayalam medium divisions. But this does not take place with the teachers handling the English medium divisions.
‘What do you infer from the written work of the children? The children following the State syllabus and textbook were able to express their ideas in whatever English they were able to learn. This was possible because they were experiencing a process-bound learning programme. The NCERT textbook does not demand this.’
We felt the presence of an unpleasant silence spreading in the room.
‘We are sorry to tell you about this,’ said Kaladharan. We will not ask you to convene a PTA meeting and propose the immediate closure of the English medium divisions. It will not look nice. You may continue to retain the parallel divisions in English. But at the same time you will have to ensure that all children irrespective of their medium of learning should get quality education.’
‘All what you can do is strengthen the classroom process in the mother tongue medium divisions. If you can show the parents that children in classes 1 to 4 can read and write in English and above all, speak the language, the parents will be convinced. They will demand that their children should be taught in the mother tongue.

The Colonial Ghost - 6

The Difference
It was clear that the children in the English medium division were not able to write anything of their own. They themselves knew it. Some of them sat with their heads bent. The trauma they were undergoing was visible on their faces.
We asked them to write about the assembly in Malayalam. What they wrote again was not very promising.
This is an unfortunate state of affairs. Kaladharan and myself were terribly disppointed and disturbed too. Who will be held responsible for this? can we put the blame on the greedy parents who believed that their children would be getting 'quality education' by changing the medium of instruction to English? Or, can we put the blame on teachers? Either they themselves are not convinced that the new paradigm will take care of quality in English education. Or they were not able to convince the parents that main stream education focuses on quality education to all.
We assigned the same task to the children in Malayalam medium divisions of class IV. See the specimens of what they wrote:

The Colonial Ghost - 5

The Sky is not Blue

We observed the classroom processes in class IV. There are 3 divisions in this class with one of the divisions as English medium. Children in this class are following NCERT English textbook and textbooks in other subjects prepared by some private publishers who claim that they are made as per NCERT syllabus.
We saw portfolios kept in files which were disappointing. They contained imperfect write ups in Malayalam some of which reminded us of how beginners in class 1 or 2 would write. There wasn’t much evidence of written work undertaken by children.
‘This is very queer,’ I thought. My face must have communicated what was there in mind to Kala. Through his silence he endorsed my view.
There was hardly any evidence of creative writing in English.
Show me your English textbook. I asked one of the girls. She gave me her copy of Marigold English textbook, a book loaded with lots and lots of information.
‘Children, can’t you write conversations, poems and stories in English?
‘Yes, Sir!’
‘Then please write what happened in the morning assembly today.’
‘We found clouds shading their smiling faces.’
‘Do we have to write in English?’
Children found to be thoroughly disturbed and insecure.
‘Can’t you write about what happened in the morning assembly?’
Quite reluctantly they stared writing. The starting trouble was visible. Some of them tore a sheet of paper from the notebook and started drawing margins.
‘Don’t worry about the margin. Just start writing,’ said Kala
We waited for more than 6 minutes. Moving round the class we noticed that most of them had written only one word, ‘assembly’ that too with different spellings.
For a moment we stood perplexed. This was something that we didn’t expect. The releasing of the magazines and news papers in the morning had created in our minds very high expectations on their creative and linguistic abilities.
‘All right. You have written in English about the morning assembly, haven’t you. Now you may write about the same in Malayalam. You can use the other side of the sheet.
Children started writing again.
We collected all the written work. The class strength was around 50. Most of them wrote just one word (the word ‘assembly’ with all imaginable spellings); three of them wrote one sentence. There were only readable scripts which easily may be perceived as the best ones in the class. See the pictures below:

The pictures I have given above are of the best specimens I got from the children. Most of them wrote only the title (that too with various spellings). These children were learning English as their medium of instruction for the last six years 9starting from the LKG classes. They may be good at scoring marks because the NCERT books they have been learning do not demand anything else other than answering the 'comprehension' questions. Learning by heart in an alien language for six years has not taken them anywhere!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Colonial Ghost - 4

Releasing Learners’ Creative Work

‘Shall we go downstairs for the morning assembly? The teacher suggested.’
‘Of course!’
We all moved downstairs and reached the assembly ground. A few girls stood in the verandah of the staff room to make use of the amplified system.

Fig: The Morning Assembly

The assembly started with the rituals like Morning Prayer and taking the pledge. This was followed by the releasing of news papers and magazines written by children both in English and Malayalam. Kaladharan and I were privileged with the releasing of the creative work of children. However, some of the themes appeared odd to us. For example there was a write up on religious festivals. The first sentence of the write up was ’Onam is a Hindu religious festival. The sentence constructions and the vocabulary used were of high linguistic standards. The justification came from us. Those children who presented write ups in English belong to English medium divisions running in the school. it appeared that the teachers of the school were taking pride in the performance of children studying in English medium divisions.
The duration of the assembly got prolonged because of the releasing of a number of magazines. But it may be pardonable because what was happened in the assembly was the celebration of what children were able to accomplish in the form of creative writing.

The Colonial Ghost -3

‘We will go inside, Sir,’ said the teacher, her face radiating with pride.
We climbed the neatly built staircase that was built exterior to the building to reach the first floor. Keeping our footwear outside, we entered the hall. What we saw inside was really breath taking.
A tiled floor, not a speck of dust anywhere

Fig : The Interior of the Library-cum with Multimedia Conference Room
A row of shelves at the rear side, carrying library books
The central space occupied by newly ought red plastic chairs
Wooden tables with their polished planks on the three sides of the room
A platform at the front side with a beautiful table and three chairs on it, the table carrying a metallic name plate of the school
A well-polished wooden rostrum
Multimedia facilities with computer, LCD projector, silver screen and home theatre
Red curtains for all windows
We sat in the hall enjoying the dream-like experience that the sight was giving us.
‘How did you get this building? Is it from the MLA fund or something like that?’ We enquired.
‘In fact I don’t know anything about the MLA fund,’ said the head teacher. ‘We, the staff and PTA of the school conducted a ganamela and raised the funds – that is about 5 lakhs - required for the construction of the building.’
The Choice of the Local Community
PTA - Staff Collaboration

Fig : Another View of the Interior of the Conference Hall
‘Our school has been selected for the reality show,’ said the teacher once again her face in full bloom. We realized that our admiration for the school was steadily increasing.
‘We have a tough competition with the adjacent English medium school. The teacher pointed to the school that was there just on the other side of the compound wall. But we have succeeded in retaining our roll strength. We have about 500 children here; the English medium school has strength of about 200 children.’
‘That is really interesting. How did you manage it?’
‘One important thing is that the children of teachers of this school are studying in this school itself. Therefore the local community here trusts us and enrolls.’
‘That’s great! This is something that must be shared across the State.’
‘Are you in good terms with the neighbor school?’
‘Of course we are. We co-operate in many areas. They are very co-operative. When Kalamela comes they are willing to take our children also in their school bus. We share what we get in HMs conference and other meetings with the HM and staff of that school. We are in good terms.’
Meanwhile the school bell rang.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

The Colonial Ghost - 2

Fig1: The school gate

We parked our vehicle before a gorgeous looking gate that was built in concrete and painted blue. The two pillars were arched by a concrete roof which gave the gate the appearance of a temple gate. The gate opened to a spacious ground which was free of dry leaves and paper bits. On the right side we saw an attractive two-storey building.

‘GLP School, …’ The sign board welcomed us.
The Bloom

Fig 2: The view of the school from outside the gate
‘This is really good looking,’ I said half to myself and half to Kaladharan.
‘Yes, it is,’ said Kala and started taking snapshots of the building, the school gate, and whatever else there were that would appear to an onlooker eye-capturing.
‘What do you have in this building?’ asked Kaladharan.
‘The first floor of the building is being used as a mini conference hall - cum library. The ground floor is shared by the Headmaster’s room and the staff room.’ The head teacher explained.

Fig 3: The building constructed by PTA and School Staff

The Colonial Ghost -1

Dr.K.N. Anandan

My friend Mr. Kaladharan and myself had the pleasant experience of visiting a Government school which had been selected for the reality show by virtue of a number of activities of excellence that it was able to carry out. At the same time the experience was equally unpleasant to us for a different reason. The visit gave us an opportunity to witness how a primary school managed by the government can carry out activities that can bring down the academic standards of the learners who are destined to learn there. What was more unfortunate was that the school authorities were not able to realize this. It won’t be academically honest on my part if I don’t share my experience with the parents and teachers of our State.
It may be noted that going by the most popular notions of a ‘good school’ this school will be easily rated as a place of excellence. This is testified by the fact that this school has a roll strength of about 500 students where as the adjacent unaided English medium school (which is there just on the other side of the compound wall) has only 200 students in it. This is commendable and the teachers of the school take pride in saying that even the children of teachers of this school are studying in the government school which has contributed in getting goodwill from the parents.
In the coming blogs I would like to tell my readers what we experienced at the school. I would prefer to serialize it under the title ‘Colonial Ghost’. The title calls for a wide range of predictions from the part of my readers, doesn’t it?