English medium doesn’t help

At a recent conference in Delhi, I had the opportunity to lead a group discussion on the theme ‘Child-centred learning: what, why and how?’ A group of delegates discussed the features of child-centred pedagogy and how appropriate it is in the Indian context. Child-centred learning is defined as “an approach in which children influence the content, activities, materials and pace of learning. This learning model places the student at the centre of the learning process. The teacher provides students with opportunities to learn independently and from one another and helps them in the skills they need to do so effectively”.

Collins and O’Brien (2003) state that the child-centred approach includes such techniques as substituting active learning experiences for lectures, assigning open-ended problems and problems requiring critical or creative thinking that cannot be solved by following textbook examples, involving students in simulations and role plays, and using self-paced and/or cooperative (team-based) learning. They argue that child-centred learning can lead to increased motivation to learn, greater retention of knowledge, deeper understanding and a more positive attitude toward the subject being taught.

Some of the features of a child-centred classroom are: classroom should be interactive, participatory and address the unique strengths and weaknesses of each child. Giving ‘control’ and ‘voice’ to students, promoting learner autonomy, facilitating learning process by using differentiated techniques are important. While developing learning materials and designing tasks and activities, students’ age, learning levels, knowledge and experience should be kept in mind. A child-centred classroom should be inclusive. The linguistic landscape of the classroom should be explored, students’ home languages should be accommodated and higher-level skills such as critical thinking, imagination, creativity, should be developed by reducing the time spent on memorisation and rote-learning.

The discussion on child-centred pedagogy becomes significant in the backdrop of the Karnataka government’s decision to introduce English Medium Instruction (EMI) on a pilot basis in 1,000 government schools. English is certainly the language of aspiration for majority of parents and a good command over the language opens multiple opportunities for students.

Several research studies reveal, however, that English should not be the medium of instruction at least until Grade 3. Evidence suggests that children learn better if home language is the medium of instruction.

In South Asian countries, including in India, majority of students complete primary school without having attained the levels of home language literacy, core subject knowledge and English language ability. In Ghana, recent studies (2013, 2015) suggest that many students do not have the levels of English for them to be able to learn through the language when it becomes the medium of instruction in primary Grade 4. It is found that higher learning outcomes are achieved when the local language is used as medium of instruction.

Introduction of EMI at the primary level will create anxiety for students as they lack necessary language ability and will hinder their classroom participation. Students coming from less socially and economically disadvantaged families have few resources to engage with English outside the classroom.

Child-centred learning

It is important to remember that children come from a variety of linguistic backgrounds. So, in schools where state language is the medium of instruction and which is not the language students speak at home, learning through the state language itself may be challenging.

It is important to adopt a multilingual approach, encourage teachers to make judicious and strategic use of code-switching. Students can understand concepts and participate actively during lessons only if teachers code-switch and if students are given opportunities for translanguaging to enhance learning.

Studies in India also suggest that in rural areas, where there is a shortage of qualified teachers, a lack of materials and very limited English available outside the school environment, English medium instruction does not guarantee social justice, equity and inclusion.

Several studies suggest that teachers’ lack of competence in English may lead to teachers resorting to traditional methods of teaching. Teachers who are not confident in English are likely to rely on drilling, memorisation and ‘chalk and talk’ methods. English medium can make it difficult for teachers to use student-centred pedagogic practices. Classrooms are most likely to become teacher-dominated and the focus will be on rote-learning for exams, as it is the case in many private English medium schools in India.

Research has shown that teaching and learning in a language in which teacher and learner are proficient is more conducive to learning. It is a myth that EMI offers higher quality education and academic success. Rather than the language of instruction, it is teacher competence, classroom strategies and pedagogic practices that help in achieving better learning outcomes.

(The writer is Professor, Regional Institute of English-South India, Bengaluru)

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English medium doesn’t help

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