Government schools in Karnataka have had little success with providing their students with English proficiency. Ravinarayan Chakrakodi addresses the issue.
Children have an innate ability to learn a language. They possess certain special characteristics that help them learn a language. Some of these characteristics, as Jayne Moon, educator at University of Leeds, points out include:
*Focusing on the meaning of utterances, rather than the form or rules of the language and the ability to interpret the meaning of a situation
*Talking; they have a great desire to express their ideas with whatever limited language available to them
*Doing activities, playing games and singing songs and rhymes
*Using ‘chunks’ (meaningful phrases) of language they have picked up from different sources
*Experimenting with language and using it creatively
Children are good at acquiring languages rather than learning one. Acquisition means developing an ability to pick up useful utterances, meaningful phrases and expressions and using such utterances in natural, communicative situations.
Keeping these principles in mind, English was introduced at Class I as a language of study in government schools (Karnataka) during the academic year 2007-2008. The decision to introduce English so early on was in response to the spread of English as a global language and the need to equip students with academic and communication skills in the language. This was also in response to the aspirations of parents to help their children have better employment opportunities and achieve economic mobility in society.
English was introduced simultaneously in three other Classes: II, III and IV. The objectives, as laid down in the Grade I book (Karnataka Textbook Society, 2007) for the first four years of teaching English were:
*To provide exposure so that students develop the interest required to acquire the target language
*To develop the ability to communicate using the target language in an environment that requires its use
*To develop basic language skills namely listening, speaking, reading and writing over the four years; and
*To facilitate the acquisition of English, to provide a broad level of vocabulary, 250 – 1000 items, and a set of structures and functions over four years of formal learning
The syllabus, when introduced, consisted of five main components: stories for narration, total physical response activities, dialogues for practice, rhymes and songs and language games.
The story segment was the core part of the syllabus.
It’s been almost five years since English was introduced in lower primary classes. However, it seems, not much has been achieved in this regard. In spite of the government’s efforts to implement systematic and continuing teacher training, the teaching and learning of English is yet to be successful in many government schools.
There are several reasons for this. Some of them were:
*Teachers themselves lacked proficiency in the language — to read and comprehend the teacher’s resource book and to narrate the stories laid out
*Teaching English had not been made compulsory in lower primary classes. As a result, in many schools, the language had been neglected
*There was no evaluation of a student’s progress in learning English
*There was a lack of effective monitoring of the teaching-learning process
*The teacher’s belief that English be taught the traditional way, beginning with the letters of alphabet, got in the way of delivering effective language learning practices
*Parents’ belief that children should be able to speak and write in English at an early stage, added pressure on the students
*Oral skills (listening and speaking) could not be taught by the teachers
It is important to understand that there is a difference in the way a first language is acquired from that of the second language.
Second language proficiency may not develop as fully as first language proficiency and teachers should create the right kind of learning environment in which students can draw on their natural abilities for language acquisition. Hence, providing exposure to varied and meaningful inputs in English, creating a real need and desire to use English and providing sufficient time for English become crucial at the early stages of learning the language. Ways to increase the effectiveness of teaching English at the lower primary classes include:
*Teaching of English should be made compulsory at Classes I, II, III and IV
*Student’s performance should be evaluated through the Nali-Kali method using the ladder system
*Additional material on developing basic literacy skills (reading and writing) may be used wherever required. It may be a good idea to use some of the materials prepared by the Regional Institute of English South India, Bangalore while teaching beginners. The material consists of picture cards, story cards, audio-video lessons, writing books that can be effectively used in classes I to IV.
More importantly, individual schools and head teachers should be made responsible for the successful implementation of the teaching of English at the primary level.