Why learning English is still hard for many educated Keralites

Why learning English is still hard for many educated Keralites

Higher education standards alone need not guarantee proficiency in English language. The poor English communication skills among a vast majority of Keralites attest to this fact. Even those who have acquired higher education, try to wriggle out of situations when they are required to speak in English. Why is it that Malayalis dread to speak English or pronounce well?

Few English teachers

Though Kerala has no paucity of educational institutions, the number of exclusive teachers for English language is woefully inadequate. In high schools, especially, the English language classes are taken by Maths, Science and Social Studies teachers. Of the 1,178 government high schools in the state, 324 do not even have a post for an English teacher!

There is no English teaching post in more than half of the schools in several districts. Only Malappuram district has English teaching post at all government high schools.

For long exclusive teachers for English were rarely recruited for government schools in Kerala. As this adversely affected the quality of education, new rules were framed in 2002 mandating B Ed qualification for teaching the language. However, it was also decided that the specific post for English was only needed if there are at least five divisions in the school. That means if there is only one division each for classes 8, 9 and 10, then there would not be any English teaching post in that particular high school. So effectively, other subject teachers would be teaching English. Even when there are specific teachers for Hindi, Arabic, Urdu and Sanskrit, there would be none to teach English in the school.

Strangely, even when the government is trying to raise the standard of the schools to the global best standards, it is not creating specific teaching posts for English.

As per the Kerala Education Rules (KER) that was amended in 2003, specific teacher post is required for all subjects that had 15 periods in a week, irrespective of the number of divisions. However, as this rule is yet to be implemented English classes continue to be handled or shared by teachers of other subjects in most schools. These teachers have not undergone special training for English and naturally even the new method of teaching English is ineffective in practice.

Adverse result

As other subject teachers are not specifically trained to teach English, they end up doing more harm. As per the new rule, students should be made to understand the meaning of the word instead of merely translating it. However, most teachers read the English text and literally translate it into Malayalam for students to understand. Students, who learn English thus, are constantly translating the words in their head. The principals too often pick teachers, who translates the most, as the best tutor.

Horrible pronunciations by teachers could also spell trouble for their students in future. For instance, words such as champagne are often mispronounced in the most ridiculous manner. The name of noted Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie has umpteen number of pronunciations in the various schools and most often, none of them turn out to be right. As a result children end up becoming laughing stock.

The government, which urges children and parents to opt for public school for protecting the general education system, is in fact failing them by not ensuring quality English education. This explains why even poor people try to send their children to unaided schools by giving exorbitant fees.

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