Materials Development in English
(as a second) language:
An Indian Experience
by Rama Meganathan
2. Teachers’ point of view (Teachers’ Needs and Wants)
Teachers worries are of varied kind. Teachers in various systems of schooling have varied needs and wants. The examination driven teaching can be seen everywhere in India, whatever system it be. So teachers’ worry is the examination even when they look at material or development of materials. The two members of our text book development committee were (chosen) from the schools of Delhi administration where most schools are run in regional medium, mostly Hindi or in some cases it is Punjabi or Urdu with a few English medium sections in the regional medium schools and students in these schools hail from lower socio-economics sections. The two teachers we chose from these schools were actually asking for a textbook their students would be able to understand and connect with their real life situations. We were happy that the teachers were in reality wanting to have what NCF- 2005 advocates as its one of the guiding principles, connecting life outside the classroom with the classroom experiences and recognizing learner as constructor of knowledge. What was not convincing us was that because their students did not have or posses the required proficiency in English, they want the textbook to be very lighter in terms of context, language content. Teachers needs and wants clash here in consonance with their understanding of learners and their needs. Hitomi (1996) categorizes needs of teachers into two
Teachers’ needs would consist of two general areas: one deriving from personal traits such as their age, sex, cultural and educational background and the other from their professional traits such as areas and levels of expertise, length and types of teaching experience.
Needs, Hitomi further classifies, (i) as self-perceived needs, (ii) needs perceived by others and (iii) objectively measured needs. One could sense the needs of the teachers here are self perceived needs, of course in their context and their understanding of the learner and language learning.
In our scrutiny and analysis of the ‘texts’ brought in by each member of the group and an analysis of the existing textbooks, the teachers were more apprehensive of relevance and use of almost each text saying, “This our children can not do” “The text is very tough.” This also made us to get into look at how a typical English language classroom operates in these schools. We were / are well aware that the situation would not be much different in most of the vernacular medium (government run) schools. There are data to show (Nag-Arulmani 2005) that 40 percent of children in small towns, 80 per cent of children in tribal areas, and 18 percent of children in urban schools can not read in their own language at the primary stage. From the mouths of the teachers we came to understand, though not so shockingly, how the materials are taught / used in classroom.
“Our children are from very poor background. Lower caste, some are slum dwellers. They do not understand even a single sentence spoken by us. We need to translate most part of the story. More than eighty percent can not even read the lessons you prescribe.”
“I explain the whole text line by line and give answers to the question that follow the text and children memorize or some understand and write the answers.”
“Leave alone English, they read almost nothing in their mother tongue except the textbook. Some may read newspapers, or short novels, stories, etc.
This tells us many a thing; prime among them is the belief, “Don’t expose them to any materials as they can not read or understand” The irony is that the teachers who believe their students can not read and understand do not want their students be troubled with anything above their level till they attain the level expected by the syllabus and textbook. Secondly, knowledge of the recent developments in language learning and second language acquisition and ELT, though they claim to have, is very limited. Teachers’ views from the other two centrally administered school systems – Kendriya Vidyalaya Sangathan (KVS) and Navodaya Vidyalaya Samiti (NVS) - are also the same. Most of the teachers’ arguments on having or not having a text, for that matter any text in English textbook could be summarized as,
“Our children do not know English. They can not even read the texts you prescribe.”
There is a gap between the teachers’ need and their want, results in a gap between teachers’ need and their want and learners’ needs. This we sensed not only in our discussions during the development of the materials, but also in our attempt to design model question papers for class X for the CBSE as also in the training sessions, both face-to-face and through teleconferencing mode. Teachers believe that the textbook is a major instrument in terms of content, language input, methods and also for evaluation. What they fail to recognize is that the ‘text’ or materials are major inputs for exposing children to natural or authentic language or contexts. This creates tension and anxiety. It is not only learners but also teachers who are anxious and tensed when it comes to English language learning in their situations. Krasen’s point that “effects of various forms of anxiety on acquisition are seen in the learner.” But “the less anxious the learner, the better language acquisition proceeds. Similarly, relaxed and comfortable students apparently can learn more in shorter periods of time.” (Krashen, Dubey, Burt 1982) is true.
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