Teaching English the wrong way

It is a classic humdinger of intellectual and educational myopia we suffer from as a nation that we teach English as a subject, not as a language, to our students. The consequence of the approach is that a majority of students with a master’s degree in English cannot pen down an article or essay on their own in that language.

Students are initiated in the subject right from the playgroup level. They reach secondary or higher secondary level without being able to paraphrase a stanza of a poem or explain a prose paragraph. It is an irony that these students are taught to translate a prose paragraph into Urdu (a question reserved for Urdu medium students) instead of explaining it in English (a condition exclusively for English medium students).

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Whenever there is a question related to translation of a Urdu passage into English, or vice versa, there is always an alternative question available exclusively for English medium students to translate or explain an English-language paragraph in English. The majority prefers to take the former option because they have not been taught English as a language.

When an educational institution claims to have English as the medium of instruction, it should ensure that the whole teaching and learning process is conducted in that very language. But it cannot happen because the teachers themselves do not have the capacity to do that. Even the elite schools and colleges struggle on this count.

Compared to our traditional examination system, the Cambridge system teaches English as a language. Students’ creativity is encouraged and they are motivated to write on their own. For instance, in the traditional system, students are asked to write stories on the given proverbs or axioms. Teachers make them parrot readymade stories, mostly and roughly based on Aesop’s fables. On the contrary, students in the other stream write stories creatively based on their own observations, experiences and imagination.

Students in traditional educational system perform poorly at the university level because they are not groomed properly at the preceding levels where the syllabus is so cumbersome that it leaves no time for students to enjoy random reading.

Besides, the evaluation of answer sheets in the traditional system is another factor that forces the students to answer in strict accordance with the textbook, and any attempt at being creative means less marks and poor grades.

To teach proper language skills to the students, greater weightage must be given to learning parts and figures of speech. Students must be taught only grammar and bilingual translation up to elementary level, while writing should be part of secondary and higher secondary levels.

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