"From kindergarten onwards, the archaic approach to teaching English was to teach writing, reading, grammar, composition, and so on. Yes, this is the approach we inherited from our colonial rulers. In England, this is how they taught English to children whose mother tongue was English. Our colonial rulers applied the same instructional methods in Ceylon. Our teachers in Sri Lanka continued to follow the same instructional approach. It works with children who are exposed to English language from their childhood, but it does not work with students who are not exposed to the language from their childhood. For them, this approach did not work, does not work, and will not work. Facts speak for themselves.
At the higher education level, regular classes were scheduled for teaching of English. Most of my undergraduate colleagues had the desire to learn English. Nevertheless, teaching strategies heavily relied on the same archaic approach. During my undergraduate days, I had to follow an English Intensive Course (EIC). I am sure many of our generation would be familiar with the type of course I am referring here.
I have no doubt that those who were in charge of designing instructional strategies and materials for teaching EICs did the best they could. I have no doubt the instructors who taught those classes did their best. Teaching emphasis was on reading, deciphering, dictation, grammar, and writing. Yes, at the University of Ceylon, we regurgitated those lessons starting with, "Ice melts," "Dogs bark" etc. But, we didn't learn English in any meaningful manner. It was an utter failure. As I was following the course of studies for the Bachelor of Commerce degree, I had no alternative but to improve my reading and comprehension skills because we heavily relied on English textbooks.
Through perseverance, I developed my reading skills well and I put them into good use. Although I could read and comprehend well any textbook in my area of specialty, I could hardly speak or write well in English. At least in my undergraduate days, my colleagues had no sympathy for those who tried to learn to speak English. During my post graduate studies in England, I learned and improved my speaking and writing skills. This is my experience. I have no doubt that I am not the only person to go through this experience as many of my contemporaries and the younger generation must have had similar experiences. My experience guides this simple proposal. I will try to put this in the simplest form I can.
Let me pose this question? How do the young ones lean a language? We all seem to have forgotten this fact! Let us reminisce over this. The young ones listen. They follow the sound. They observe the movement of lips and other facial expressions. They imitate. They start with sounds like: ma, tha, ya, and so on. As they become toddlers, they improve these skills through a process of listening and repetition and expand their repertoire of activities related to speaking. So, what do they learn first in a language?
The answer is, speaking. Yes, the answer is speaking not writing, reading, grammar, composition, and so on. Let me also allude to a universal fact. Any child will learn any language to which she or he is exposed to from the child's birth. No child ever speaks a language at the time of her or his birth. Universally all children first learn to speak a language to which they are exposed to. Through schooling, they learn writing, reading, grammar, composition, and so on. This is a universal truth. Then, why can't we apply this universal truth to teaching English to students who are not exposed to the language of English? This approach places major emphasis on the development of speaking skills. Now the question is how do we implement this approach? My instant gut reaction is, "If there is a will, there is a way."
I have no doubt in my mind that the current effort to introduce English medium instruction in our schools bounds to fail if we continue to use the failed, archaic approach to teaching English. It is not wise for us to hide our heads in the sand if we know that we are bound for failure. Some misguided mind may think and advise that access for higher education through swabasha media has created unlimited and uncontrollable opportunities for the rural children and therefore the solution is to introduce English medium instruction in a hap-hazard manner--in effect, an introduction of a very cleaver controlling mechanism, a gate-keeping mechanism.
This is criminal thinking, pure and simple! No country can afford to withstand failures of educational reform. We have witnessed the dire consequences of such failures during the last three decades. There is no point in implementing “reforms” in a hap hazard manner knowingly or unknowingly. Because of what is at stake we must think of effective strategies and approaches to implement reforms. There are many issues and logistical aspects that need careful consideration. I touch on some aspects of implementing this approach. (I am not an expert in teaching of English. We need to get some expert advice on designing instructional materials needed. Many of the steps delineated below are relevant and needed on a short-term basis.) More
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