Amidst a swarm of students piling out of the gates of a government school in Dhanas, Ankit, a class 12th student stands grinning and discussing his English board exam with fellow classmates. “It was quite simple for me and I finished half an hour before time, so it really went quite well!” said the student.
His classmate Simranpreet, however, claimed that her exam didn’t go as well as she expected. “The paper was not too hard, but I don’t like the writing part. Some of the questions are easy because we have practiced them, but writing something on the spot on a topic I had not practiced for is too hard,” said Simranpreet somberly.
The English board examination for CBSE students of 12th grade took place on Thursday, following the 10th board examinations which took place on Wednesday. Both the exams went quite well for most students, except for some 12th class students complaining about how time consuming and lengthy their exam was. On the other hand, students from the tenth grade were grateful for the introduction of multiple choice questions in the reading section of their paper. “It doesn’t matter whether they truly understand English or not, at least through these questions they can extract key words and pass their examination,” said Upinderjit Kaur, an English teacher from a government school in the city.
Vandana Lunyal, Director of the Regional Institute of English in Chandigarh, claims that English language education has been successively diluted by the pedagogical practices implemented by teachers for a long time now. “It is not just about the type of question papers that we frame for our students, it is about how we teach our students,” said Lunyal, adding, “Most English language teachers are not themselves equipped to teach English as a skill and a language. English is not about passing an exam or answering a few reading comprehension questions, but about being able to express yourself in a language.”
Lunyal, whose institute trains English teachers from many northern states as well as from Chandigarh, explains that her experience with training English school teachers has convinced her that school education in the country is trapped in the vicious cycle of ‘simplification’. “We aim to simplify our papers to ensure children understand and pass their English tests. The teachers are a product of this education, that they then in turn impart to their students,” said Lunyal. The director added that the goal of teaching English has become finishing syllabus early at the cost leaving the student’s grasp of the subject at a perfunctory level, while ensuring students are equipped enough to pass.
Upinderjeet Kaur, the English teacher, claimed that what adds to this lax attitude towards learning the language is the no-retention policy of the government. “The students especially in government schools know that they will pass no matter what they do at least till the eight grade. So they don’t really learn much until then. By the time they reach senior school, some of them, especially those who come from homes where English is not spoken, don’t even know how to string a single sentence together,” said the teacher.
“In most government schools, every teacher claims that they have to teach the children English from scratch no matter what standard they are teaching. If we just give them a proper education at the primary level and make extra effort to ensure that no matter what the child’s background is, he or she has to learn the language well, then we would never be stuck in this cycle,” added Lunyal.
Isha Anand, a tenth grade English teacher from the city claims that teachers or the question papers and learning outcomes framed by government boards is not the issue. “All teachers are motivated and are trying our best. The problem is that students are unable to think in the language and it is very hard to instill that mode of thinking in students for whom the language is completely foreign,” claimed Anand. The teacher acknowledges that comprehension of the language needs to deepen, but claims that multiple choice questions will not inhibit their comprehension. “It has been introduced in examinations to compel them to think more deeply and critically about what they have read,” she added.
Students in the ICSE board, on the other hand, do not have multiple choice questions in exams.
“One simply cannot test a students’ language abilities through multiple choice questions,” said Professor Deepti Gupta, dean Alumni Relations, and a highly experienced English teacher from Panjab University (PU). Gupta claims that a few years ago, the university had to change its entrance examination pattern by introducing an extensive writing segment because they were receiving students who could barely write in English. “How can you expect to pursue a degree in English when you cannot even clearly express yourself through writing in that language?” asked Goyal. “We talk about making our students capable and employable. How can we do that if they cannot communicate in a global language?” she added.
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