The Text book Pedagogy and the English Language Teaching in India
(Published in The English Classroom, Vol.18, No.1, June 2016, RIE, South India, pp78-86)
Partha Sarathi Misra
Azim Premji University, Bangalore, India
This paper examines why and how the Indian English-language classrooms have failed to help the Indian learners to acquire the basic English language proficiency and suggests how English language teachers of the regional medium schools of the country can prepare authentic materials for teaching English in meaningful and communicative situations as demanded by their specific contexts. Advocating pedagogic autonomy for the English language teachers as material producers, the paper brings out the absurdity of teaching English with the help of contrived texts and pseudo communicative approaches.
Key words: English language teaching, Text book Pedagogy, Pedagogic autonomy, Multilingual pedagogy Language competencies, Authentic material
In spite of our love-hate relationship with English, we have been teaching English as a ‘second language’ in the regional medium schools of the country since independence hoping that a respectable competence in English will enable us to participate in national as well as international life. For a large section of the Indians, English is a symbol of empowerment and an indicator of their upward social mobility. Soon after the liberalization of the Indian economy towards the end of the last century, States after States started lowering the age in which English was to be introduced at the primary level. Though English language proficiency level of a large number of vernacular medium primary school teachers of India was abysmally low, the Education departments of all the States forced these primary teachers to teach English to the tiny tots along with their school language. The euphoria of English language teaching got a boost when the Position paper on English language Teaching of the National Curriculum Framework 2005 gave it a nationalistic coating stating that the “aim of English teaching is the creation of multilinguals who can enrich all our languages; this has been an abiding national vision”. (NCERT 2005:4).
Is English a ‘second language’ for the millions of the students learning this language in the regional medium schools across the country? Learning Kannada as a second language by a Tamil or a Malayalam or a Bengali student of Karnataka is not the same as learning English as a second language by a Kannada, Tamil or a Malayalam student. When I learn Kannada as a second language in Bangalore, there is no dearth of ‘comprehensible input’ in Kannada, but when a child living in Thoreshettan village of Madhur district of Karnataka, for example, ventures to learn English, there is neither the incomprehensible input nor the comprehensible input for him. The unspecified status of English in India has serious pedagogical implications for the teachers as well as the taught.
Keeping in view the prevailing English language teaching scenario of the country, the present paper examines why and how the Indian English-language classrooms have failed to help the Indian learners to acquire the basic English language proficiency even when we have a well-defined curriculum, a well-designed syllabus, made in India English language text books, work books, teachers’ manuals and a large number of trained teachers across the country. It is intriguing to note that though many Indian children living in big towns and cosmopolitan cities can learn a number of languages spontaneously outside the classroom, they fail to acquire a very basic communicative competence in English even after spending considerable time and energy in the vernacular medium schools. Why can’t our English language classrooms replicate the universal success in the acquisition of basic spoken language proficiency that a child spontaneously achieves outside the classroom? A child’s natural propensity to learn a language is stifled, defiled and dishonored in many English language classrooms of the regional medium schools. English teachers should know how to capitalize on the children’s innate ability to learn more than one language by creating a metalinguistic awareness. (Misra 2015:6).
Text book Pedagogy
Language textbooks play a very important role in the teaching of both the first as well as the second language but when the second language textbook is used the way the first language textbook is used, the tragedy looms large for the learners. The form and content of the first language textbook and the form and content of the second language textbook cannot be the same especially when the so called second language is not extensively used outside the classroom.
Why does a language teacher need a textbook to help the learner to acquire a basic communicative competence in English? Language should be viewed as a dynamic ‘text’, the learners should have an exposure to the diverse occurrences of the target language in numerous communicative situations rather than a routine exposure to a predetermined English language textbook. The textbook pedagogy used in the Indian English classrooms is not conducive to the natural acquisition of a language. As Krishna Kumar (1986:1309) has very aptly pointed out, “In the ordinary Indian school, the textbook dominates the curriculum. The teacher is bound by the textbook since it is prescribed, and not just recommended by state authorities. Each child must possess his own copy of the textbook prescribed for each subject, and he must carry all the textbooks along with notebooks (popularly called ‘copies’) to school every day. The teacher spends most of class time simplifying or interpreting the textbook and familiarizing students with its content to the point where it can be easily memorized.”
The contrived language used in the English textbooks and the irrelevance of the materials used in these textbooks ignore the learner’s needs, creativity and the teacher’s autonomy. As the English textbooks used by the teachers in the Indian schools are the product of the State machinery, they follow the official wisdom of a select few who treat language textbooks at par with the textbooks of other disciplines. Sacrificing the basic objectives of presenting the target language in natural communicative situations, English language textbooks aim at projecting the dominant political, educational or cultural value system of a particular group of people. The ideological perspective rather than the language perspective gets the upper hand in the preparation of English language textbooks published by various text book production corporations or societies of the Indian States. Why should a resourceful English language teacher be enslaved by a language textbook? In order to facilitate the acquisition of the target language skills a teacher teaching English in the Indian context should go beyond the textbook. In this connection, Mahatma Gandhi’s observation on textbooks is worth quoting: “If textbooks are treated as a vehicle for education, the living word of the teacher has very little value. A teacher who teaches from textbooks does not impart originality to his pupils. He himself becomes a slave of textbooks and has no opportunity or occasion to be original. It therefore seems that the less textbooks there are the better it is for the teacher and his pupils.” (Gandhi 1939:4).
Language Competencies or the Values?
Language text books do not exist in a vacuum, they are the result of complex social, cultural, political and educational aspirations of diverse stakeholders. “The construction of language textbooks often emphasizes the uniqueness of a nation by invoking shared history, long-standing traditions and values to instill national pride and foster national identity.”(Curdt-Christiansen and Weninger 2015: 4). The selection of materials for teaching the first or the school language of the child should be in consonance with the tradition, culture and the social values cherished by the nation or the country to which the child belongs as these materials lead to the all-round development of the child’s personality along with development of his or her linguistic competence in his own mother tongue or the school language. That there is a correlation between the linguistic and the cognitive development of a child is an established fact and, therefore, a language textbook cannot and should not overlook the child’s cognitive development in a language class. But when it comes to the question of selecting materials for teaching a ‘second’ language like English in the Indian context, the overdose of values and the unimaginative addition of ideological issues to the English textbooks may derail the very purpose of teaching and learning of English. The revised Syllabus in English for classes I to X of Karnataka, for example, stipulates that the learners of English in the regional medium schools of the State should develop as many as 98 core values during the ten years of learning English from class I to class X. What is the primary responsibility of the English teacher? To help the learners in attaining a basic proficiency in the target language as is acquired in natural language learning or to ensure the teaching of 98 core values? The thematic textbooks can be used for teaching a second language provided the themes are used as means to an end.
Mismatch between the objectives and the Pedagogy
A Study on Teaching of English in Government Schools at the Primary Level in India commissioned by the National Council of Educational Research and Training in 2012 brings out the mismatch between the objectives of English textbooks and the classroom practice followed in a number of regional medium schools of India (NCERT 2012: IV). The following three suggestions of the said study are worth mentioning:
1. The concept of language teaching as teaching of skills and not only the content needs be drilled into the teachers.(emphasis added)
2. The textbooks need to incorporate activities and questions which give space, time and freedom for inculcating creativity and developing imagination of the child.
3. Teachers need to be more creative in the use of textbooks, as textbooks cannot give everything. Lots of oral and written practice needs to be carried out using material beyond textbooks. (emphasis added).
The third suggestion of the above mentioned study places teachers in the centre of curriculum construction and classroom transaction of the predesigned textbook or the language teaching material handed over to the teachers by a centralized agency. Unfortunately, the role of the language teacher is often underestimated or ignored by the curriculum designers or the textbook writers. Curriculum materials or the textbooks used in the language class room can yield the desired result only when we pay due attention to the process of curriculum enactment in the class room. (Ball and Cohen 1996: 7). The enacted curriculum jointly constructed by the teachers, learners and materials used in particular contexts can make the language learning experience communicative, creative and result-oriented not only for the teachers but also for the learners.
The D.Ed curriculum document published by the State Council of Educational Research and Training, Chattisgargh has very succinctly summed up the teachers role as material producers. “An effective classroom teacher needs to be able to evaluate, adapt and produce materials so as to ensure a match between the learners and the materials that they use. Every teacher can be a material developer, and therefore, should provide additional teaching material over and above the course book material. Just as a piano does not play music, a textbook does not teach language. The textbook is a stimulus or instrument for teaching and learning.”(SCERT 2010: 71).
The autonomy of the English Teachers
It is often observed that the majority of our teachers teaching English in the regional medium schools of India are not willing to explore the English text for meaningful communicative activities in the class. They are so conditioned by the activities presented in the prescribed textbooks or the workbooks that they rarely go beyond those activities. To take a specific example of a textbook, let us take the class IX English Second Language Text Book published by Karnataka Text Book Society. In this book, Unit 7 has one prose piece named The Will of Sacrifice and one poem, The song of Freedom by C. Subramanya Bharati as main texts. The Unit starts with a pre-reading activity:
Before you read, Read the following lines.
Blessed am I that I am born to this land
I had the luck to love her
What care I if queenly treasure is not in her
Store but precious enough is for me
The living wealth of her love
These lines are followed by three questions: Why does the poet think that he is blessed? What is very precious for the poet? Why does the poet value ‘living wealth’ more than ‘queenly treasure’ Discuss in groups.
Can anyone understand the objective of this pre reading activity? Teaching the value of patriotism? These five lines are the translated version of the first five lines of a Bengali poem entitled Sarthok Jonom Aamr by Rabindranath Tagore. If the purpose of the said pre reading activity is to create an environment which is conducive for an understanding of the lesson, The Will of Sacrifice and its theme based on the life of Bhagat Singh, a teacher teaching English in a Kannada medium school can use a well-known Kannada poem which invokes the spirit of patriotism and sacrifice for the nation. The truncated version of a Tagore poem given for pre reading is more difficult than the main lesson itself. During her field internship program, one of my students used the poem Halagali Bedaru prescribed in the class X Kannada textbook as a pre reading activity for teaching the lesson The Will of Sacrifice. She used the Kannada poem instead d of the incomprehensible Tagore poem as a pre-reading activity to arouse some kind of curiosity among the class IX students of a rural Kannada medium school and it worked miracle.(Priyanka 2015: 6). The poem Halagali bedaru speaks about five friends who wanted to get freedom form the British through revolution. Even though common people had asked them not to fight with the British, the five young men decided either to get freedom or to die for the welfare of the country. This pre-reading activity also resulted in a better comprehension of the theme, a lively discussion on patriotism both in Kannada and English, spontaneous code switching from Kannada to English and prompted the students to write a better letter about Bhagath Singh and his sacrifice at the end of the class. The use of the mother tongue for pre reading activities in an English class was a part of the multilingual pedagogy used for teaching English in a rural Kannada medium school. If the English teachers are given autonomy in their pedagogical practices they can make their pedagogical practices result oriented.
Authentic material and the textbook Pedagogy
Though unpleasant, it is often noticed that the materials used in the English textbooks prepared by many State Boards are far from being authentic. The theories of material production in language points out the paramount importance of using materials which are linguistically, culturally psychologically and pedagogically appropriate for the learners. Materials which are suitable linguistically may not be suitable from the psychological or cultural point of view of the learners. Again, materials which are suitable in all other respects may not be suitable pedagogically. Let us have a look at a contrived text used in the class IX English textbook mentioned earlier. In order to teach conversational skill, the following dialogue is given in the said textbook for role play and practice.
Prema: Why’re you late today, Sneha?
Sneha: Oh! I missed the bus and had to walk all the way.
Prema: Oh dear! Why don’t you buy a vehicle?
Sneha: Yes, I am also thinking about the same. But I’ve to learn driving.
Prema: That’s right. Why don’t you join driving school? Mayura Driving School is good one and it is near your house.
Sneha: Prema, how much do they charge to teach driving?
Prema: They charge Rs. 2000/ for ten hrs. But Sneha you should have learning license before you could start learning.
Sneha: Learning license! Where shall I get it?
Prema: The Driving Scholl will help you to get it.
Sneha: How much do they charge for it?
Prema: May be about Rs. 500/
Sneha: Thank you for the information. I’ll go and meet them tomorrow.
In his or her wildest imagination, a class IX student of a Kannada medium rural school will consider this text as an authentic one. The text is thematically, psychologically and legally inappropriate. A class IX student is planning to buy a vehicle and is going to apply for a driving license! Doesn’t he or she know the minimum age requirement for acquiring a driving license? Doesn’t this dialogue betray an urban centric class consciousness?
English teachers can overcome the limitations of the materials used in the English textbooks by creating their own materials suitable for their contexts. Too much dependence on the textbook culture and the textbook pedagogy goes against the objectives of teaching English in a non-native context. Can’t all teachers teaching English in the regional medium schools of India be good material producers having an autonomy of their own in their class rooms?
Ball, D.L. and Cohen, D.K. 1996. Reform by the Book: What is or Might be the role of Curriculum materials in Teacher Learning and Instructional Reform? Educational Researcher.25 (9): 6-8, 14.
Curdt-Christiansen X.L. and Weninger,C. 2015: Language, Ideology and Education. London: Routledge.
Gandhi, M.K. “Text Books”, Harijan .September 9, 1939.
KTBS.2014. English Second Language Ninth Standard Text Book. Bangalore: Karnataka Text Book Society.
Kumar Krishna. 1986. “Textbooks and Educational Culture”, Economic and Political Weekly. 21(30):1309-1311.
Misra P. 2015. The Dilemma of English Language Teaching in India: Historical, Social and Pedagogical Issues Retrieved from https://www.academia.edu/10632379/ dated 6 May 2016.
NCERT. 2006. Position Paper English Language Teaching. New Delhi:NCERT.
NCERT. 2012. Teaching of English at Primary Level in Government Schools. New Delhi: NCERT).
Priyanka, D. 2015. Integrating language and literature to teach English language, an unpublished MA internship Report. Bangalore: Azim Premji University.
SCERT. 2010. D.Ed Language (Second Language English) and Language Teaching. Raipur: SCERT, Chattisgarh.