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Program to increase passes in English Language G.C.E. O/L exam

Test what you teach

Teach what you test

This is a saying which comes in testing and evaluation. When questions or testing tools are prepared, this important factor should be considered to make the testing tools valid.

Several feature articles appeared in newspapers highlighting that the results of some core-subjects at the G.C.E. (O/L) Examination 2008, have drastically gone down. Results of English language 2008 have declined by 8 percent. The percentage of failures in English language 2008 is 69.

What we should understand here is that 69 percent of students have come down in English language at the GCE (O/L) examination 2008. In 2007, this number is 61 percent.

Shortage of English teachers in rural schools, a problem

This is really a very alarming situation and everyone should pay attention to this grave problem. Having realised this big issue, Minister of Education Susil Premajayantha summoned all the Provincial and Zonal Subject Directors in charge of English education and briefed the situation and requested to submit their one year and three year plans with remedial measures to increase results in the coming years.

In fact, this is a very controversial topic that should be discussed in detail. The students who come to Grade 11, have been learning English for nine years. They start learning English formally in Grade 3.

They are provided with textbooks and work books for each grade and there are teachers to handle these books. In fact-there are some areas where we can see a shortage of English teachers.

In some areas lack of English teachers is very serious. For an example Monaragala, Bibile and Mahiyangana in the Uva Province and Wilgamuwa and Teldeniya in the Central Province. The schools with adequate number of English teachers have produced very low results at the GCE O/L exam. Low performance of students at the exam is a very common sight everywhere.

I am sure everyone should realize this grave situation and immediate remedial measures should be taken to find solutions to the problem. We may contribute our service in different ways depending on our capacity.

Regarding the results of 2008, when we talked to the teachers of English teaching English in Grades 10 and 11, they came out with their ideas saying the question paper. English language was bit difficult and marking was strict. In fact the English paper 2008 was the first paper which was supposed to be based on learning competencies. The students who sat the question paper learnt competency based approach in Grades 10 and 11. But was the that difficult to get at least an ordinary pass (S).

It is not reasonable to wash off our hands saying the paper was difficult. The standard of the paper should also be maintained.

What we have to consider is whether the students build up confidence in ensuring the English paper at the GCE (O/L) Exam. They should be properly guided with a lot of practice, exercises and papers.

In fact when considering Uva province, the situation is serious. Most students in Grades 10 and 11 are not in a position to use ‘is am and are’ properly. The text books are very difficult for them. Although the teachers of English put in great effort, the learning does not take place as expected. Sometimes text books are a burden to them.

Text books are a burden to teachers of English as well. Out of forty students in the class, only a few of them, may be less than ten can understand what is taught during the English period. In a few Maha Vidyalayas and model schools this situation is quite different.

I am sure not only in the Uva province, but also in other provinces even in Colombo district this situation can be seen. We should frankly accept the present standard of English in provinces especially in remote areas. Type 2 and 3 schools and the plantation sector.

In fact we never say passing an exam is complete learning. Some students who learn well, will not perform well at exams due to many reasons. When English language is concerned only reading, writing Grammar and Vocabulary are tested, students who can converse in English have no opportunity to use that skill. School Based Assessment (SBA) has been introduced in the school to help such children. But again we have a problem. Whether SBA is genuinely done in the school.

If majority of students can not understand the present teaching - may be competency based teaching - learning, the lessons or plans should be made student friendly so that they can understand, at least to get their attention. Otherwise most students in the class will get frustrated with the lesson and gradually give up learning English. They will perform very badly at the GCE (O/L) exam.

The following are some suggestions that could be implemented in schools in order to increase results of GCE (O/L) English language. As we discussed, if the majority of students can not understand we have to pay attention to them.

In fact my suggestion is to group them according to their performance at the previous test in the school. Students can be grouped when they come to Grade 10 considering the marks they have got in Grade 9 year end test.

Basic lessons based competency levels using other resources such as magazines, news papers. Story books can be planned for slow learners or the students who have got less marks. In fact, their errors in language should be identified some children say “He is go to school” some lessons can be done to correct this error.

This is not an easy task for the English teacher. They may need a lot of guidance, support and materials. It is the duty of the ‘In service advisors English’ to visit such teachers and extend constant support in a friendly way. ISAs should be in the classroom with English teachers working together.

Provincial Department of Education or the Zonal Education Office can take the responsibility in preparing special lessons for slow learners targeting the GCE O/L exam. Special modules based on competencies can be prepared with the participation of teachers.

These modules can be photocopied or printed and circulated among schools as a special project.

Module should consist of some interesting lessons with activities, illustrations, grammar activities and exercises at the end.

Marks of exercises can be maintained to see the progress of students. These modules should be of basic grammar, vocabulary and reading and writing activities although the students are in Grade 10 or 11, the basic competencies or competency levels like ‘use of simple and capital letters’ use of question mark, full stop ‘introducing nouns and verbs’ (In Grade 6) can be used to plan special lessons for them. One module may consist of two or three competency levels.

In order to increase the passes at the G.C.E. O/L exam, students should be given a lot of practice activities.

The more they answer the questions, the more they develop their confidence. Nowadays it is a very common thing happening in the system that everybody comes to help students with practice papers at the eleventh hour-Grade 11 third term.

In fact some students are tired of attending student support sessions everywhere.

This support should be given to them systematically so they can be planned throughout the year or some sessions can be done in Grade 10. As they are slow learners, they should first be provided with simple practice papers, simple activities or question based on the competency levels in Grade 6. Simple papers can be called ‘baby papers’.

Many baby papers should be practised in support sessions and their progress should be maintained. Later these students have to face many average papers and at last they should face a standard paper which is similar to English language question paper at the GCE (O/L) exam. Otherwise at the exam they might get confused.

The instructions which appear with the questions at the exam, should also be discussed regularly. Most students cannot understand the instructions (rubrics) and they write something else as the answers.

In this article what I want to point out is it is not fruitful doing many support sessions for students for the sake of doing. These support sessions should be well planned in advance with a good understanding of the needs of students.

If the students cannot understand how to use “is, am, are they has and have” - very basic things, no point of doing “passive voice, indirect speech or conditionals. First let’s try to give basic things for the majority of students to pass English to get an ordinary pass at least. Their score may be 20 or 25. Our support should be to make it 35 or more. If it is 35 or 40 we should help them to make it 50.

If we try to implement a special program of this nature, I am sure slow learners will open their eyes and do something within their reach.

Let the child beat the test

Let not the child be beaten by the test.



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