Regressive Elt... in Gods Own Country?

By: Chandrasekharan Praveen

Regressive ELT... in God's Own Country?

(An article originally submitted for publication in the daily newspaper, The New Indian Express, under the title The Affluent Apathy vis -a-vis The New English Curriculum : A Recipe for Disaster in God's Own Country...? but was not published!
The following version save the first two paragraphs was submitted for publishing in the popular Indian weekly,
The Week ... and again was not published .. Thanks to free online publishing this article will now see light!!!)

Abstract

The south India state of Kerala, popular to tourists as God's Own Country has witnessed experiments in Education such as the District Primary Education Programme (DPEP). Then followed a revision of textbooks and these have gone a long way in overhauling the education system in the state.
The author, a former faculty of the Regional Institute of English South India, Bangalore, critically examines the introduction of the New English Curriculum with its excessive insistence on 'discourse-based language teaching'. The author believes that an apathy of sorts has crept in some where and in the article attempts to give a clear perspective of the problems the 'apathy' is likely to create for the people of God's Own Country.



Regressive ELT... in God's Own Country?

Background history
1986 saw the revision of syllabus in English in the South Indian state of Kerala , which tourists extol as "God's Own Country". The texts basically reflected the Communication Approach, with an admixture of cognitive approaches. The controlled gradation of vocabulary and structures were dropped. DR. N. Vedamani Manuel, the former Dean and Professor of Education of the University of Kerala and a scholar extraordinaire, who has no axe to grind, commented on the introduction thus: "When introduced a vast majority of teachers did not have the competency to transact these materials. Perhaps 5 to 10% of pupils in the superior schools profited by these . The examination system was traditional as before. So in practice communication materials were converted to a set of question answers (aided by bazaar notes) to prepare for the external exam objectives. The real objectives of the scheme were bypassed."

New Directions (or misdirection ?) in English Language teaching
Perhaps the most noticeable of all changes in the recently revised secondary curriculum in the state of Kerala, is the focus on communication, cognitive approaches, activity and child-centred approaches. This, no doubt is a welcome change and after all language is essentially meant for communication. But should the emphasis be on communication alone? What will come about if all activities are aimed at communication skills alone in the language classroom? These are questions that one cannot afford to ignore. But what exactly is now being transacted in the classroom ?. Let me once again quote Prof. Manuel who seriously studied the whole new ELT venture in Kerala: "The examination scheme has changed permitting more activity by the pupils. Under these conditions, the better pupils are likely to achieve far more than they did earlier. They are more free from the fetters of the teacher-controlled uniform rhythm, with a chance of achieving many of the expected objectives. But the ordinary and below average pupils pass through the motions of the activity without really realising the higher objectives. Since the evaluation procedures are liberalised, many of these glaring mistakes (and failure to really get a real control of English language even at SSLC level by most pupils) have not got focussed. The availability of bazaar notes written from the old perspectives, violating all the modern principles, and supplying material for satisfying the project assignments by copying from them has also been a factor in distorting the objectives. There is reason to believe that there are some high level resource persons behind the production of materials. But it would seem that the lower rungs of resource persons do not have these competencies and most teachers have not imbibed them. The new curriculum requires a high level of competency in English is several dimensions and in pedagogically transacting them in the spirit of the new scheme. It must be recorded that the highest level of pupils now really achieve English competencies - several times what they were attaining even five years ago - because of the higher visible targets and more freedom. But the ordinary and below average pupils have cumulative deficiencies in English competencies - which may be three to six years for most".


Struggle for survival...?
It is interesting to note the kind of individuals who end up as the new generation English language teachers in God's own country. Some have a bachelors degree in Functional or Communicative English . They are a breed of English teachers to whom the magnum opus of Joyce or Eliot are simply beyond their grasp and the intellectual masterpieces of FR Leavis or Walter Benjamin , shamefully unpalatable! After all, to pass the MA English correspondence course which over a dozen Universities in South India offers never requires a smattering of the literary sensibility of the stalwarts of English literature !...Baazar guides could always assure the acquiring of a PG degree in flying colours! Could this be the reason for advocating Communicative Language Teaching in the classroom?
New ... but ill conceived
A few other time tested approaches to English Language Teaching (ELT) is also being ignored in the teaching of English in Kerala . These include the use of TV , Film and the New media for language teaching . But the hitch is that today, English Curriculum developers in Kerala dub all other forms of English language teaching as something worth ignoring. The result is that Communicative Language Teaching and discourse- based teaching and testing continues to receive a privileged status. Unfortunately enough the trend is not likely to halt because many Indian Universities are avidly planning the introduction of PG courses in Communicative English!

What ultimately?...Covert Strangulation?
Those new generation teachers who are engaged in applying the Philosophy of the New curriculum, in Kerala are more or less in an inebriated condition. The improvement in pass percentage in English in recent times in secondary schools have made them blind to the lowering of linguistic competence. Perhaps the best reference we have in literature to this is, 'Newspeak' of Nineteen Eighty Four by George Orwell. 'Newspeak' we know was designed to diminish the range of thoughts and this purpose is helped by reducing the choice of words to a minimum. ELT in Kerala too has pathetically reduced itself to the Newspeak-type language acquisition! The emphasis on Communicative Language Teaching, the decision to drop the direct teaching of grammar and the shunning of purely Literature - based textbooks in the Government schools where the common man sends his child and where the New Curriculum is vigorously introduced, results in the common man's child developing a limited perspective of language! But language, we know is actually intended to serve as ones food for thought! Could this insistence on Communicative Language teaching be a covert attempt to paralyze the development of intellect of those attending Government schools ?
Lesson for 'communikats' from History
Its worth recalling how a wrong approach to grammar resulted in the emergence of 'grammarian' a term of reproach as Chambers Cyclopedia (1727-41,1779-86) puts it. The term meant 'a person wholly inattentive to the minutiae of language, industriously employed about words and phrases; and incapable of perceiving the beauties, the delicacy, finesse, ...etc of a sentiment'. Can we use the term 'communikats' to describe those insisting on communication as the only objective of ELT? A derogatory term of the kind is likely to be used sooner or later for the sheer fact that those new generation teachers are assiduously engaged in introducing a 'diarrohea of discourses' in the English language classroom as the one and only language learning activity and ignoring the teaching of literary texts that actually help in developing a fine literary sensibility.
Dogs tell tales too!!
It is common knowledge that one can often come across very intelligent and talented children even in families of the common man. Analogically speaking we can come across pet dogs, some with traits of pedigree breeds in families of ordinary folks. Such families may not have the financial resources to feed this pet dog, the kind of good quality meat and milk normally given to pedigree dogs like the Alsatian. So they serve it the leftovers of the family or perhaps rationed rice. This dog will not complain nor bite the hand that feeds it. It gobbles up whatever is given, to satisfy its hunger and has a famished existence. If this be so, imagine what happens to those intelligent and talented children who are given only a poor exposure to the English language ? Dogs grow and perish usually within the compound wall of the family...but not necessarily human beings. Its frightening to conjure up the kind of existence the child is likely to have once it enters the world of adults! Well, educationists have drawn several insights from the Pavlovian dog... and might go on to justify the kind of stuff being delivered today in the language classrooms. But dear reader , you and I know that the human mind never works like that of an animal. If you are sensible, and if rotten food is served, you will say 'No'... You will shun the person who serves such food and turn to those that serve better quality food. The point I am trying to make is that one may know, that one has every right to get better quality education but one may fail to get it , if one has a slavish existence!
Are Malayalees really aiming to tick smart?
The greatest harm all this does to education is that Malayalees do not realize the kind of intellectually impoverished citizens for the global world which they will be nurturing in Government run schools where the new English Currriculum is diligently being implemented. Some of them are likely to lack a sense of grace in language use and are most likely to be thoroughly ignorant of literary classics. It is a flaw which would be apparently poignant when the learner of the present system attempts to communicate as a votary of the arteries that the Techno Park or the Smart city of the little state of Kerala. And who knows, these 'lesser mortals' may one day directly or indirectly serve all sections of our society!
What Malayalees need today is the concerted efforts of experienced educationists especially of the older generation, the civil servants, elected representatives, and of course the affluent class who can be willing sponsors to chalk out a meaningful programme for English language teaching in God's Own Country . Failing to do so could result in Malayalees failing to effectively utilize the products of their 'Smart City' or Techno Park which is striving to make Malayalees the Children of a Greater God !

Conclusion
Experienced teachers of the older generation see the kind of English language teaching given in God's Own Country a kind of trivialization of English language teaching (ELT). The over emphasis on teaching 'language functions' and 'discourses' as part of Communicative Language Teaching and the neglect of English literature, the older generation of teachers believe , impoverishes English language education and makes literary sense which gives grace to ones use of language, difficult to cultivate in learners.
If we don't guide and help the common man who sends his child to a Government run school, to see the flaws in the kind of English language education their children receive, we will one day regret the kind of products this system is likely to generate .Much water would in the next few days flow under the magnificent Bharatha Puzha rail bridge and what will be will be for English Language Teaching in Kerala unless something concrete and constructive is done soon.

For more author details view: http://cpraveeneltconsultant.blogspot.com/

For other articles by the author view: http://cpraveenpublications.blogspot.com/

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