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Saturday, 18 December 2010

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Teachers of international schools

‘Life would be marvellous for teachers if all students wanted to learn’ (Biggs 1995:83). According to Biggs students are only motivated to learn things that are important and meaningful to them.

However, most students in Sri Lanka are demotivated by the emphasis placed on difficult and abstract declarative knowledge in school. As a result, they tend to find learning in school uninteresting, or irrelevant. So lack of attention, passivity, ‘off task’ attitude, and other disruptive forms of behaviour are predominant in the classroom.

Classroom English

The situation is particularly difficult in the English language classroom, where the learning activities are generally teacher-centered and form-accuracy-oriented. They are representing a type of ‘classroom English’ which does not help students to apply what they have learnt in real-life situations.

Since this form of English does not function like a language for meaningful and purposeful communication, most of the students see no need, and show little interest, in learning it.

Even the Government has made English language education in schools compulsory, since it is seen as the key to communication with the rest of the world; for future prospects. Most of the students have not yet grasp the reality of possessing a sound knowledge of English.

That could be the reason why most of them are not competent enough to express themselves in English even after 10 or 12 years of learning English at school. This is the eternal question many of us ask and kill ourselves to find remedial measures. But still we have not been successful in this regard.

English, a language that brings solutions to many social issues and boosts the learner to excel in society is quite successfully marketed in certain well established International Schools in the island.

When a child of about four years who does not belong to an English speaking family background is admitted to an international school he acquires the language easily within the first few years or less than that.

Even if a student who has studied in certain grades in a Government school in his mother tongue is admitted to an international school he too picks up English and competes with the other students in his class without any hesitation.

What is the secret behind this success? If the first child is admitted to an ordinary Government school or the second child remains in the same Government school would they acquire English as they do in the International school? Is the secret behind the teachers or learners themselves?

Are the teachers of Government schools useless or the teachers of international schools magicians? Is it the heredity or environment that matters? Is it the environment in the International schools that provoke students to acquire the language?

Language or Subject

First of all the teachers and the students should clarify whether English is a language or a subject. Though many innocent students seem to know the difference, when it comes to real classroom learning situation, they are forced to forget the real meaning and difference because the prevailing exam oriented system of our Government education does not leave room for the students to accept it as a language because the exam results that matters rather than their proficiency in their language.

Language is practical but our system of education and teaching learning process somehow has made it more theoretical where practical value is mostly nil in the classroom.

If English is learnt as a subject in the school, students limit their learning to their 40 minutes period. If English is learnt as a language with the subject matter, most of the problems like examinations and job opportunities will be answered. Unlike learning their mother tongue, the students force their teachers to teach grammar separate.

They learn the same lessons on grammar over and over again but still they do not realize that learning grammar and grammar rules do not strengthen their language proficiency.

The learners should be made aware of the difference between learning the language to use it and using the language to learn it. Further the learners should be encouraged to use the language to learn it. For that integrating the language competencies and components are a must in teaching and learning the language.

Government Vs International

How many English teachers use the language to teach the language? How many of them use English outside the classroom with the students? How many of them up date their knowledge with the present strategies or methodology of teaching English?

How many of them follow up their educational or professional trainings other than the compulsory Government teacher training program at a Teachers’ Training College or Distant Education Centre? How many of them are confident in teaching and handling any classroom situation? How many of the English teachers are fluent and accurate in English?

In answering those questions except some of the Government teachers in the leading schools in the cities and a handful of teachers in the outstations, others cannot give positive answers to all. The main reason is that they are on their own and there is no proper supervision.

Instead of cleaning the festered wound and keeping under medical attention the plasters are changed. On the other hand in international schools where efficiency and proficiency are more concerned active and innovative teachers are welcome.

If their performance is not satisfactory, the principal or the Board of Directors has the authority to decide the teacher’s further existence in the school. International schools unlike Government schools are private companies that should ensure their profits.

While satisfying the demands of their customers, they themselves should make profits for their strong footing in the world of mushrooming international schools. If the authority hastens to increase its income annually, without concerning the quality and productivity, cheap labour will be hired.

There are certain international schools that entertain cheap labour and hire teachers of poor quality and run the show. What ultimately happens is either the students find passage to some other quality international schools or such teachers become laughing stock before their students who know better.

Teacher becoming a puppet before the students for whatever the reason is a crime because the students would lose their confidence in their teacher and thereafter learning would not take place.

This can happen either in Government or international schools. In the Government schools even the Director of Education cannot issue a dismissal letter to a teacher for not teaching or satisfying the demands of the students during the school.

When such teachers either Government or international schools bluff, they are naturally ridiculed before the students who are well guided and facilitated by their private tutors. (Most of these private tutors could be Government teachers.) This situation is worse in international schools because the students are fluent when they are in upper grades and if a teacher of a poor quality in language is appointed, the students know better and the difficulty the teacher has to face is unmentionable.

On the other hand there are certain international schools where the students are encouraged to speak in English but they neither speak English nor Sinhala, for eg instead of using question tags most of the students even our adults including teachers use ‘no’- ‘You are coming, no?’ Poor parents who do not know English are quite proud of their children speaking such English. They do not know what the quality of English is. What is the quality of English? Where is the quality of English?

Quality of English

Whether it is the Government or the international schools there should be quality in English. The teachers or the students are not free to use the language as they please.

They are not supposed to violate rules of the language. If a learner has to use quality English, he has to acquire quality language from his teachers, friends, media etc. If teachers are to produce quality language they should learn first. Most of the teachers are not bothered to improve or learn the language for many reasons.

Therefore it is of no use of looking for quality English in our teaching learning process. If the ‘input’ of language and the ‘intake’ of language are of rich quality, the production of language of the learners is high quality. Teachers are mostly held responsible for this task. Curiosity and interest are the key components that should be created in the learners to acquire the language.

Curiosity can be one of the teacher’s best friends because it signals motivated students, eager to learn. The task of a teacher, then, is to capitalize on students’ interest by further stimulating them and maintaining an optimal level of curiosity.

The development of curiosity should be encouraged as soon as possible-during the pre-school and elementary years. Students not only acquire knowledge, but also learn about learning.

They become curious if their environment is stimulating. Similarly they go for quality.

Interest is similar and related to curiosity. Interest is an enduring characteristic expressed by a relationship between a person and a particular activity or object.

Interest occurs when a student’s needs, capacities and skills are a good match for the demands offered by a particular activity (Deci, 1992).

That is the task students find more interesting and the ones that provide opportunities to satisfy their needs, challenge, skills they have and care about developing and demand that they exercise capacities that are important to them.

If the teachers are able to do this whether they belong to government or international schools, their learners will be fluent and accurate in the use of the second language. It is the simple magic any teacher can perform.

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