Teaching-Learning

Does English Teaching Help Develop Skills of the Learners?

English teaching; Photo credit: Nomadic Matt
English teaching; Photo credit: Nomadic Matt
Masum Billah
Written by Masum Billah

Are we sure that we could have made our primary, secondary and higher secondary level students stand on the right track to acquire English? Does English teaching help develop the skills of the learners? Do they know that they need to acquire English? Can the entire education administration, including parents and teachers, convince them to acquire this language for their own sake, familial needs, stately and global needs that call for satisfying one common criterion of globalization?

Being in the 21st-century world, they must conform to the process of globalization. However, their struggle just to pass or obtain a good grade in the public examination convinces us that they try to cross the bar of examination at any cost. The schools, guardians, teachers all want to make them pass in the public examination with a high grade without giving a second thought that they will have to face the coming challenges of life and that can be faced well with the weapon of English.

Two of my recent experiences support the fact that they learn English, not acquire it just to overcome the hurdle of examination. I asked 67 students of class eight in a school at Kushtia adjacent to Kushtia Islamic University in Bengali to tell them in English, ‘we read in class eight’ or ‘we are in classes.’ Not a single student could answer. So, what should we say about English teaching?

I also asked 95 students of class ten in a school at Panchgarh who were going to sit for SSC examination in Bengali to make English, ‘I did not come to school yesterday.’ None could do it. I also asked them whether they could say ‘there are 95 students in our class’. Again, I received zero response. So, is this not providing proof about the lower quality of English teaching?

The teachers, including the headteacher of the school who accompanied me to the class told me, ‘Sir, translation is not included in their syllabus so they cannot answer these questions.’ This frustrating situation I experience while visiting from one corner of the country to another without writing a paper giving a series of references from foreign writes. This is my practical experience and what we need to bring about positive changes in English teaching is a question thrown to the readers. Again, I get frustrated to see nothing practical initiative, steps, or suggestions come out to address these woes.

The telecasting of English classes during this Coronavirus pandemic is deemed to represent the classes of the elitist teachers English teaching in the most effective and desired way to develop the base of English of the students as a technical skill. However, their very traditional way of teaching English really surprises me as training on CLT disseminated by both the government and non-government sectors has gone to dogs. CLT has become a known and buzz-word for the last several years. And these elitist teachers living in the capital city must have mastered the art of teaching English following the basic principles of CLT. That calls for a big question whether these teachers don’t believe in the CLT approach or hate it or ignorant of it.

Their teaching English shown on TV screen says that they have never heard about CLT. They just teach the grammatical rules standing far away from language teaching. If you have an interest, you can see what they do. They are seen just to clarify what is the preposition, how many kinds of prepositions are there. Similarly, what is direct speech, what is indirect speech and the rules of changing those speeches from one form into another just as guide books suggest? 

Traditionally they seem to remain busy with cramming the young brain of the learners with a lorry of rules without touching the principles of teaching a language. Who will give this answer? These students fail to express their own ideas, thoughts and experiences in English even though they have huge potentials to do it. This wrong way of teaching this global language is making them crippled and it is high time the conscious, educated section must come up with a sustainable solution.

Can we ignore the fact that English has become a core criterion in determining employability as some 1.75 billion people speak English worldwide? Two billion people will be using or learning to use English at the end of 2020. Research shows how a good command of English can not only enhance an individual’s economic prospects but also contribute to national growth and competitiveness. In a 2012 survey conducted by the Economist Intelligence Unit, nearly 70 percent of executives said their workforce will need to master English to realize corporate expansion plans, and a quarter said that more than 50 percent of their total workforce will need English ability.

This rate has undeniably increased further by this time. The impact of globalization and economic development has made English the language of opportunity and a vital means of improving an individual’s prospects for well-paid employment. While teaching English in our educational institutions and pupils who attend classes and do exercises on English don’t bother about these realities. The entire system of education can be held responsible for it.

The classes the teachers of Dhaka city conduct tells us of their being adamant not to use the classes on the basic principles of CLT to develop the linguistic competency of the learners. Quite traditionally, they have been giving classes to describe in detail the rules of ‘active voice, passive voice, kinds of adjectives, and different kinds of degrees etc. These grammatical items need to be taught contextually so that students’ linguistic ability gets enhanced and that will give them interest also to attend English classes.

Again, I struggle to understand why they do so. Are they not acquainted with the way how to deal with grammatical items communicatively or don’t they believe in it or they don’t want to apply any approach to teach English to the students avoiding the age-old traditions? When this happens in the classes conducted by the elitist teachers of the capital city, we wonder what’s really happening in rural schools. Of course, I have given two examples in the first para and a series of such examples I come across every year. Yes, grammar can be taught very much contextually that will develop the linguistic competency of the learners as well as they will be able to form the structural ideas of the language. Teachers have to be familiar with this theme. Teachers received training on CLT must be acquainted with this technique and those who are still not trained can gather the idea of teaching grammar communicatively from various sources available today.

Do these grammar classes contribute to developing the language of the learners to express themselves in English either in writing or speaking? Don’t we want that we need to enable our students to use English in their practical life situations? Do these rules allow the students to expand their horizon of ideas of language? Do they help the students to develop their communicative ability? Do they help anyway even the composition students have to write for examination by themselves? Do they play any role in developing the creativity of the learners? Can the learners relate the items of grammar they memorize or listen to in the classroom while they use language either in their spoken or written English? Then why do we put much emphasis on these items? Will they have to sit for only the public examination in the future?   

We forget that every relationship in our life is impacted by our ability — or inability — to communicate well. Good communication is so vital because it encourages better understanding, helps us resolve conflicts, inspires trust and respect and allows creative ideas to flourish. Our English classes need to be directed to that end.

About the author

Masum Billah

Masum Billah

Masum Billah works as a Program Manager in BRAC Education Program, BRAC, and Vice-President of Bangladesh English Language Teachers’ Association (BELTA), Dhaka, Bangladesh.

Leave a Comment