English text book for first standard children starts with the title ” I listen I read”. It lists simple sentences like “This is a tree” with a picture of a tree.
The next section reads “I write”. Underneath is the picture of a tree and the letters jumbled up. Children unjumble the letters and form the word “tree”.
Next page has a collection of fruit and vegetable pictures on the left side, followed their names on the right side. It is an activity for children to match pictures to the correct names.
By the end of this academic year, first standard children should know spellings of English words (assuming she is well versed in capital and small letters already), read sentences and have a good vocabulary including all fruit and vegetable names.
The focus here is not on enabling her to speak English. Instead it emphasises on making her memorize all words, spellings and sentences… with a sprinkling of grammar rules in between.
All children start baby talk around 1 or 2 years if age. No one shows them fruits and vegetables and teach their words and spellings. Infants are not taught grammar. The only words we teach our children are the ones for mother, father, grandma and grandpa.
So how do infants learn to talk? They are surrounded by people who talk fluently. talking in Tamil all around. Babies listen and become familiar with the language. Then they start saying single words, move on to broken sentences. By the time the child turns 3, she talks fluently. Surrounded by people talking fluently, she has observed, understood and mastered the language. After that, grown ups teach her to read and write as she grows up. This is later on followed by learning grammar, literary works etc.
This is how all of us learn our mother tongue. We learn to speak the language first, understand grammar next, and finally learn to read and write the language.
So, why is the mode of teaching English reversed at school? We teach writing first, then reading, followed by grammar. This reverse methodology makes it difficult to learn the spoken language.
In India, English is the language of education in private schools. Close to 70% of Indians prefer sending their children to private English medium schools. But hardly 25% of these children can converse in English when they finish their education, in spite of learning words, grammar and literature.
There are many students who secure top marks in the English subject during school exams, yet cannot talk fluent English. The same happens with other second languages like Hindi and French.
Does this call for a restructuring of language curriculum at schools? The honourable NCERT should take an approach that emphasises on practical spoken language classes for primary education. At the primary school, language education should be activity based. It should teach spoken english first. Enriching students vocabulary should be integrated with spoken language activities, instead of being book based at the primary level.
This should be followed by writing and grammar classes for higher education. When a student can fluently talk in a language, reading and writing comes spontaneously. Learning grammar rulesvafter this make more sense to the fluent speaker and will fine tune her language. At the end, the student can pursue learning literary masterpieces to gain expertise. This makes the whole learning process spontaneous and simple.
When education happens naturally, learning becomes a pleasure. When learning is pleasurable, it inspires the student to continue learning and updating. An education system that teaches students to continue self learning throughout life is, by all means, the best system. Let us hope our education methods and curriculum evolve progressively to make this happen.