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:
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.’
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.