Tag Archives: Primary education

Language and learning: the challenges of primary education in India

Language and learning: The Challenges of Primary Education in India – Plenary by Dr Rukmini Banerjee at the 11th Language & Development Conference, 2015

Dr Rukmini Banerjee, Pratham Education Foundation

Dr Rukmini Banerjee, Pratham Education Foundation

Personally my favourite session of the conference, although I would have to admit to a degree of bias as many of the locations mentioned in the presentation including Bihar and the North East are precisely those areas where the British Council East India projects I’m involved with are working: however, I think it was clear from the audience reaction that this was a very highly-valued session. 

Dr Banerjee provided a range of examples which were microcosms of interaction with language and our often stumbling educational interventions to deal with them. They included her account of language breakdown between visitor and children in a Jharkhand school, children in the slums of Mumbai ‘navigating language continuums’ where mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters might all speak different languages and contexts where the printed word documents become highly valued, frozen and never used. Most memorable to me was her description of the visitor to an Assamese school unable to speak any of the children’s languages who was escorted to the river by the kids and taught to fish – with follow up work in the classroom in visuals and multilingual writing. A brilliant way to conclude such an interesting conference…….

Post by: Andy Keedwell
The writer is the Senior Academic Manager English Partnerships for British Council in East India

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Policy Implications for English Teaching and Learning

Hello everyone

It was a pleasure watching the conference sessions live online yesterday. I urge those of you who wanted to attend the conference but could not, to use this facility provided by British Council to watch it live and even take part in it by adding comments. You comments may get discussed.

I tuned in for some of the sessions. Some- like, ‘building skills for employability’- were gripping as well as hilarious. Especially the speech by Manish Sabharwal; was it eloquence epitomized!  Some were eye openers–Policy implications for English teaching and learning. It was quite informative.

‘Policy implications for English teaching and learning’ dealt a lot with scenario in schools in different parts of India. I guess good English teaching and learning in schools will lead to ‘building employability skills’ in the long run!  This points to the lacuna we have in India in this area.

Isn’t that one of the reasons that makes ‘building employability skills’ a necessity now? I have heard private school principals lamenting about the difficulty they face in recruiting good teachers. They have to place the good teachers in high school so that the 10th grade results are not compromised. So most often the worst teachers end up in the primary section.

Rod Bolitho, Academic Director of Norwich Institute for Language Education (NILE), raised many questions which I felt are very relevant.

Some questions, about the shortage of English teachers in India, are listed below.

  1. How attractive is teaching as a career in India in general?
  2. What is the reason behind the English graduates choosing fields other than teaching as profession?
  3. Is there any appropriate formulated initiative in India to raise the number of English teachers in training?
  4. Has the government decided what the probable number of teachers required to be trained is in order to meet the demand in, maybe, the next 10 years?
  5. Are there enough institutions training teachers?

      Some others, about the quality of English teachers/education, are below.

      1. What is the minimum qualification for school teachers? Is there any standardisation of qualification for the primary school teachers teaching English across India?
      2. In some states the minimum qualification set for the teachers of English is far lower than the others. So is bad English being perpetuated through the system?
      3. What type of pre-service training do they undergo?
      4. What kind of training is going on in pre-service level and how practical is it?
      5. Are the pre-service training institutions calibrated completely against the needs of the teachers?
      6. Are the skills of the teacher educator the skills which are needed to produce methodologically and linguistically competent teachers?

        What is your opinion on these issues? Please write in your comments, would love to hear your ideas.

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        Activity Based Learning

        In this session entitled ‘Managing the Silent Revolution’ the audience watched a video which showed how Activity Based Learning (ABL) has been implemented in schools in Tamil Nadu.  We saw the teacher in a non-traditional role, not as the teacher standing as an authoritative figure at the front of the classroom, but as a facilitator of activities in which children were able to participate much more freely.  Children were encouraged to work in groups and help each other, as well as monitor their own progress.  The classroom scene was a refreshing change from visions of children sitting in rows listening to a teacher; here the role of the child is very much a participative one in which confidence and motivation are key to the learning process.

        The film was a great start to the session on ABL, and will truly motivate teachers in other areas to learn from this project.

        How could other schools implement ABL?

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        Where should Teacher Educators come from?

        In the parallel session, ‘In-service and Pre-service English Language Teacher Education’, the room split into two groups to discuss the best way forward for in-service and pre-service teacher education.

        One recomendation that came out was that Teacher Educators should come from schools and not from institutes or universities. They should be good teachers with a lot of practical experience and not traditional academics with doctorate degrees. What do you think?

        Who is going to select these teachers? How to select them?
        Should teachers be allowed to nominate themselves?
        How do we replace the good teachers who we take out to become teacher educators?
        Your comments please.

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        Should we label languages 1st, 2nd and 3rd?

        Som Mittal, president of NASSCOM,  speaks at the Third Polcy Dialogue as part of the first panel discussion – English Next India: Policy implications for English teaching and learning.

        Som believes using the labels 1st, 2nd and 3rd language is wrong and wonders why we can’t just use the term ’languages ‘ like we  do with other subjects, such as sciences. Should equal importance be given to L1, L2 and L3? What do you think?

        The panel discussion is getting lively. Watch it live or recorded online!

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        Who supports the teachers?

        Among the many fascinating statistic’s in David Graddol’s address last night,one comment resonated with me, and with many others if my conversations at the reception that followed were typical.  Any programme is only as good as the teachers on the ground.   Teachers sometimes attend training at the start of a new initiative but are then left alone to get on with it.

        In Sri Lanka, there is a network of 30 Regional English Support Centres (RESCs) with well trained and committed staff who act as mentors to teachers at the local level.  The more I interact with the RESC staff the more impressed Iam. 

        Is there such a netwrork in other places that provides continuing in-service support to teachers and is it well supporgted from the centre?

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        CLIL: the way forward or just a fad?

        There has been an awful lot of talk about c ontent and language integrated learning (CLIL) over the last few years and a number of well publicised initiatives around the world.  More recently there has been a reversal in policy in Malaysia on CLIL.  Is this the beginning of the end or just teething problems?

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        At what age should English be taught?

        I’m going to be moderating a session titled ‘Education for all’ on the second day of the conference. This parallel session aims to throw light on the experiences and challenges faced by state governments when trying to implement English across the primary level. One question that always crops up when we talk about primary English education is; at what age should English be taught? As well as focussing on the child, this question often raises important issues surrounding a primary teacher’s English language proficiency, their educational background and their experience and qualifications. What are your views on implementing English at the primary level?

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        What variety of English should be taught?

        There is an ongoing debate here in Sri Lanka about which variety of English should be taught and tested in schools:  Sri Lankan English or international English.  Industry seems to support international English but there are strong voices from Academia which insist that Sri Lankan English is the variety that must be taught and tested.  What do you think?

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        Bilingual Education

        In Sri Lanka there are around 600 bilingual schools.  All children study English as a subject from 1st grade but in bilingual schools children can opt to study 3 or 4 subjects in the medium of English from grade 5 onwards.  The number of bilingual schools is set to double by 2011.  What’s the situation in India?

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