'Specialised testing is the way to go'

READER RESPONSE

'Specialised testing is the way to go'

This is in response to the article ‘Why is clearing UGC-NET so important?’ that was published in the Education supplement of Deccan Herald on April 22, 2010. The examination scheme for English, as for other subjects, has three papers: Paper I, Paper II and Paper III. Paper II and Paper III are mainly literature-oriented and test the candidate’s ability to memorise names, facts, figures, and the candidate’s knowledge of English literature. Paper III (Part A) which forms the ‘Core Group’ is on literature-related topics such as Chaucer to Shakespeare, Jacobean to Restoration periods, etc. The core group has 10 short essay type questions and is for 160 marks. On the other hand, Part B has one question from five different electives/optionals. Out of the five electives, four are again literature-based and only one is related to English Language Teaching. Above all, Part B carries only 40 marks.

There is apparently a bias towards Literature in the university academia, and UGC also seems to confirm this. We need to understand, in this context, that literature was a fundamental part of foreign language teaching in the ‘classical humanist’ tradition, where an understanding of the high culture and thought expressed through literature was important. However, today, English Language Teaching (ELT) profession has witnessed a paradigm shift.  The demand for English has shifted its focus from the small-scale production of scholarly elite to the mass production of large numbers of functionally competent users of the language.

When ELT has been established as a discipline in most of the other countries and is a vibrant research field, one wonders why the Indian education system is still literature-biased.

It is in this regard that the UGC needs to revise the examination scheme of UGC-NET for English. Also, English is not a content subject like History, Economics, Physics, etc. It is a skills-based subject. What is important in a skills-based subject is one’s ability to comprehend the inputs and construct meaningful discourses in a language that is appropriate and relevant to the context and the audience. Hence, in a language classroom, the teacher has to develop these skills and not impart knowledge about literature. The majority of the students pursuing B A, B Com, B Sc and B B M courses study English as a second language and not as a specialised major subject. Hence, English lecturers who teach at those levels should be aware of the approaches, methods and techniques of teaching English rather than store literary knowledge and impart them to the students. 

It is in this context that an eligibility test like UGC-NET for lectureship at the college-level for a subject like English should assess the candidate’s knowledge of ELT such as theories of second language acquisition, methodology of teaching English, discourse competence, knowledge of pragmatics and bilingualism, instead of assessing the knowledge of Modern British Literature or Literary Theory & Criticism.

In addition, some colleges and universities such as H M Patel Institute of English Training and Research, Vallabh Vidyanagar, Gujarat and The English and Foreign Languages University of Hyderabad (formerly known as CIEFL) have been offering M A in ELT for a long time now. This course helps students to specialise in the teaching of English at various levels. However, the students who complete this course find it strange that in UGC-NET, literature carries 210 marks whereas the ELT-related question carries only 40 marks, that too, as an optional one! “The emphasis on literature has become a hindrance in enhancing my professional growth,” says Pooja Giri, who trains teachers at the Regional Institute of English, Bangalore.

A lecturer who teaches English in a degree college says, “I have the perseverance, I can work hard but since literature is not my focus area, my interest level in writing the NET has gone down considerably.”

Acquiring specialisation in ELT seems to be the need of the hour as many teachers who have been trained in literature have thus far failed to develop English language competence of the majority of the second language learners. Also, because specialisation in ELT is one of the essential qualifications for recruitment at the English language teacher training centres across the country.

Presently there are about 14 English Language Teaching Institutes (ELTIs) in India, including RIEs where in-service teachers are rigorously trained in teaching English.
Unfortunately, many teacher educators who have the specialisation in English literature fail to deliver the goods in such contexts.

The UGC-NET examination body needs to recognise ELT as a separate subject and change the syllabus for the eligibility test accordingly.

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