If we cannot enhance competence of English teachers at government schools, we probably can’t enhance English learning of students
While in home district few months back I visited a community primary school in which I had taught in its initial year. I’m an English language enthusiast and lover of teaching English, but I still consider myself a student of this foreign language. I enjoy watching English teachers teaching English and I welcome such teachers to observe my style of teaching. I believe in the proverb ‘iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.’
In that school, I asked the subject teacher of grade four if I could take the class in his presence and he happily gave me the permission. All students had English books. Just to warm up the class, I tried to communicate little in English but they could hardly understand me nor would be able to communicate with me. I put the book aside and taught very basic vocabulary and very basic conversation.
What ails teaching?
A number of English teachers at government schools can’t properly communicate in English. They feel shy to speak in English with other teachers. They don’t even feel comfortable to speak in English with their students outside of their classrooms. There is a lack of English speaking environment. Further, these teachers seem to be quite far from the digital world—they don’t have access to internet or they simply lack knowledge to access related materials online. Most teachers are like horses with blinkers—they don’t see anything except the prescribed course books. Their teaching method is almost always ‘lecture method’.
They don’t use their creativity and children are not given many opportunities to be creative. As a result, English classes are both boring and intimidating for students. But this situation can be and should be changed.
For that English teachers at government schools should be trained well. They can be trained to impart skills of speaking, reading, writing and listening to the students by using locally available materials.
If we cannot enhance competence of English teachers at government schools, we probably can’t enhance English learning of students. For those English teachers whose English is very poor, they could be trained bilingually.
There are some who believe that English should be taught only in English. That should not be the case all the time. Sometimes teaching bilingually is more effective. After they improve their levels of language, the medium could be made only English. Further, teachers should be encouraged to speak English among themselves and with the students. Needless to say, they need to have wide exposure to English language. For this, they should read English books, bilingual books written in English and Nepali, listen to English radio programs such as BBC, watch English movies and documentaries and read English newspapers and magazines. Apart from this, they should also seek opportunities to speak with native English speakers or with those who speak English very well.
Encourage the students
Most of the students enrolled at government schools come from poor or uneducated families. In most cases, these students can’t get much help from their family members as they either don’t have time, or they lack the knowledge to help them. As there are not many students and teachers speaking English, the ones that would like to improve their English don’t get opportunities. Even if these students try to speak, there is a fear that other students may make fun of them. Due to this, they prefer not speaking English than being mocked at. To make the matters worse, these students don’t get to read English storybooks at home as their parents can’t afford to buy one, or their parents may deem unnecessary.
Government schools should start setting up children’s library with lots of books on different subjects written in English. While purchasing books, school should consider students’ levels and their ages. Schools could also show children’s cartoons, movies and other items during school hours. If the schools lack funds, they could raise funds locally. For this, if permission is needed, they could approach concerned authorities. Next, students should be given opportunities to show what they have learned and their attempts to speak English should be encouraged. As making mistakes is simply a part of learning, more emphasis should not be given on perfection and corrections. In the initial stages, it is simply not possible to speak or write English correctly. As children grow learning, they will correct the mistakes themselves and their English language skills will get better. Further, schools could start English clubs with their schools names and organize different programs to enhance their English language skills.
Needless to say, there are lots of challenges to upgrade English language skills of government school teachers at par with teachers of private schools. But there are lots of opportunities as well. But we should not give up. We have to prepare our students to meet the challenges of future. It should start with effective English Language Teaching (ELT) in government schools.
The author is a life member of Nepal English Language Teachers’ Association (NELTA)