English Education in India

Dr. K. N. Anandan: English Language Textbooks for Primary Classes – Some Experiences of Working in Kerala and AP

Dr. Anandan has been working in the area of language education, especially English-language education in India, for close to two decades. He did his PhD from CIEFL, Hyderabad and then went on to develop a number of language teaching-learning programs such as Second Language Acquisition Program and Rapid Acquisition of Competence in English. He has been a consultant to SSA, Kerala for many years; and was also a special invitee on the textbook development committee of the Kerala SCERT. Presently he is working with the A.P Residential Educational Institutions Society (APREIS) on a ‘Special Package for Acquiring Competence in English’ and training teachers for the same; as well as supporting the state’s textbook reform efforts. In this talk, delivered at the 14th WATIS Forum in 2014, he explains how he got interested in English language education, what are some of the key limitations in the methodology commonly used for language education in India and how he has tried to overcome them in his work with schools, teachers and various state education departments. 

I got interested in English [teaching and learning] when I was at CIEFL doing my diploma, M.Litt and PhD. I am a Chomsky linguist. And Chomsky linguists are a very rare species. I was disturbed when I came out of the CIEFL campus in 1991. The cause of the disturbance was the following. Chomsky has a claim regarding language. He says that every human being is genetically endowed with language. In those days it was called Language Recognition Device. Now it is called the Universal Grammar. But on the same campus, there is an ELT (English Language Teaching) department which assumes that the mind is a tabula rasa – an empty slate. They keep on teaching [based on the concept of] tabula rasa and they keep on practicing, drilling and what not. So this was the cause of disturbance inside me – that in the same research institute, one department is modernized – talking about cognitive development, neuro-biology, Broca’s area, Wernicke’s area and similar kinds of things; and there are others who assume that the child does not know anything and has an empty mind.

After it was known for a few months, some ELT experts said that Chomsky’s theory is regarding L1 – mother-tongue learning. And it doesn’t apply to L2 [second language]. So for L2, students need this rigorous practicing and drilling. L1 will naturally develop, they said, because there is a linguistic ambience for that. In L2 however, you don’t have a speech amenity, so it doesn’t work. That disturbed me further.

And the third reason was that Chomsky has said that though I claim that humans have an inbuilt capacity to learn language, I am not claiming that language pedagogy can be worked out on this.

I wanted to work with children. So I started work in a primary school developing a module. It was called Acquiring Competence in English. At that time, DPEP (District Primary Education Program) was in vogue – in 1995-96. So the DPEP was intervening and saying that language curriculum for the primary classes must be revised. We had abandoned the alphabetic method and introduced the whole language approach.

The DPEP wanted to intervene in English and they came to know about my work through the media. They invited me for a talk and asked me – “Can you work with us? We will appoint you as a consultant.” There were three rounds of discussions after that and I told them I expected absolute freedom. Because if I propose something, most ELT experts in this country will say this will not work. But you will have to trust me. The moment I lose my academic freedom, I will walk out. This is the only condition I have. They agreed and we started working.

In those days, English was taught from Class 4 onwards. I developed a material called Second Language Acquisition Program – SLAP – because I was problematizing the whole concept of English teaching. I will tell you about it so that you understand why it is to be problematized.

You can take a look at the common practices prevailing in this country in teaching English. How do you begin teaching English? In most places, it begins with the letters of the alphabet – A for Apple or whatever. Or with pictures – This is an apple. Discrete pictures and sentences.

Now let me take an example. The teacher shows a pen and says, “This is a pen” – and assumes that everybody understood it. There is no assimilation, no association. So what have the children understood? What is your opinion? Will the children understand when the teacher says, “This is a pen”?

There is language and then there is thinking. These are complementary. One cannot exist without the other. We can also say that these originate independently but converge at the age of around two. You cannot express anything unless there is a corresponding thought in the mind; because language is a tool – a means – for expression.

When somebody talks in a language not known to you fully but you get corresponding text in your mind – a mental text – we can call it comprehension or understanding. Now look at the classroom activity. The teacher shows a pen and says, “This is a pen”. The moment the teacher shows the pen, one child will say, ‘It is a green pen. I like it. I wish I had a pen like this. My sister has a similar pen’. These are the possible mental texts as the teacher says, “This is a pen”. There is no match between the language input and the thought generated. So there is a basic problem of cognition.

Secondly, when will a child need a sentence like “This is a pen” in real life situations? When somebody asks ‘What is this?’. You ask the question when there is the issue of identification. You don’t know something and then you say ‘what is that?’ “This is a pen”. Now, the pen is a familiar object. The communicative function is to identify an object. [In the way language is presently taught,] there is nothing to be identified. So the communicative purpose fails.

The third reason is that sentences such as ‘This is a pen’, ‘This is a table’ – are discrete sentences – discrete words. If people produce disconnected words and sentences, how will the society rate them? Only lunatics do that. So why are we training children in this manner, introducing discrete information such as – “This is a pen” and “This is a chair”?

In a larger context, maybe such sentences are a part of a discourse – a conversation, a discourse, a description. Unless it is that, you don’t get a sentence like “This is a pen”. All the disconnected examples are thus meaningless.

Now, there are other problems as well. After every reading test, we generally ask a set of comprehension questions, right? And then we believe that when children learn how to answer these questions correctly, they will ‘learn’ language. However, they learn the information given in the textbook. They don’t learn English [using this method]. There is no language production at all. There is no communication – because communication means the exchange of ideas. And the idea is not the teacher’s nor is it the learner’s. It is the textbook writer’s idea. So practically, there is no communication. Even if the child learns one thousand questions and answers, no learning of language takes place – just storing in the memory and reproducing.

You could take anything in the average language classroom – and I will claim that everything ends with learning about language, which is different from learning language. We learn our mother-tongue. We don’t learn about our mother-tongue. We didn’t learn the grammar of our mother-tongue, but you have internalized grammar. And that grammar is stronger than the grammar that is given in the grammar books.

My co-editor A L Khanna was once working abroad. And he conducted a grammar test for native speakers of English. They were college lecturers teaching literature. And they failed the test. Now look at our textbooks. Every English textbook contains a set of grammar activities. There is not even a single research study to show that by teaching grammar, you can learn language better. Grammar works as a conscious monitor. When you are writing something, when you are indulging in a conscious activity, you need to check it. You restructure the piece of writing, edit it etc. Grammar acts as the conscious monitor in the mind, in such cases.

But when you are speaking, it is spontaneous. You cannot think whether something is in the present tense or the past tense. I was disillusioned with what was happening in the classrooms. I then thought about how one can have an access to the inbuilt facility – not the external one. And there Chomsky came to my help. He has categorized language into the I-Language and the E-Language. The E-Language means the externally manifest language, which can be all possible natural languages – Hindi, English and different dialects of each language. And the I-Language is the in-built language system. The earlier methodology, which we have been using for the last 150 years, addresses the E-Language. It doesn’t address the I-Language. What I mean is thinking is never addressed. The stress is always on asking questions and eliciting information.

So I said, okay; there are many issues. You cannot teach language in fragments. And everyone says you have to teach holistically. I ask teachers now what they mean by holistic treatment of language. What makes language holistic? A sentence is not holistic; a word is not holistic. Then what is this ‘holistic language’?

You have to go beyond the sentence, which I label as discourses – conversations, narratives, descriptions or poems. All the available literature forms are all discourses. Language can exist only in the form of discourses. The key issue is that the input should also be in the form of discourses, so that the output too will be in the form of discourses – and not as fragmentary words.

So I had to keep aside the graded series. In this, in lower classes, certain structures and vocabulary items are introduced. The higher you go, more are the number of structures and vocabulary items – this is what is called a graded series. I abandoned it. You cannot linearize language learning. Instead, I revised the curricular objectives in terms of discourses. A Class 1 child has to construct and produce – both orally and also later in written form – description/conversation.

If you give a rhyme, the child should be able to add two lines to the rhyme and not just reproduce the rhyme – and also narrate his or her own experiences. So this is the target in Class 1. In fact I take Class 1 and 2 together as a stage. In 3-4-5, there are more number of discourses. And the number goes up with each stage. So instead of graded series, I introduced discourse gradation. Let me explain this further.

There are conversations in primary classes and also in Class 8-9. What is the difference between these? Suppose a child in Class 8 writes a conversation like this, between a husband and wife:

‘Where are you going?’

‘I am going to Hyderabad.’

‘When will you come back?’

‘I will come back next week.’

‘When you come back next week, what will you give me?’

‘When I come back next week, I will give you a saree.’

It is perfectly grammatical.

But is it acceptable? That is not the kind of conversation that people indulge in. Probably no husband and wife talk like that. If a child in Class 3 writes that conversation, we will appreciate it. But if a child in Class 9 writes like that, you cannot appreciate it. You have to use other things like short responses or syntax, or discourse markers like ‘well’, ‘precisely’ and that kind of thing, which are the indicators of a conversation at a higher level.

Diary writing begins in Class 3 or 4. It becomes autobiographical writing in Class 8. Narratives begin in Class 1. But the structure is very simple. Simple means there is an event and a dialogue. That is the simplest structure of a narrative. ‘Raju saw a butterfly. How nice! I want that’ – the structure of a narrative. That is enough. And as you add a sequence, events and dialogues, you get a story. Even a novel has the same structure. As you go higher, there are sensory perceptions, images, ambience etc. that are included. So you have a hierarchy of discourse features.

And that was a Herculean task. What should we target now, at a certain level, say in Class 8 or Class 10? The whole curriculum design has to be based on certain academic standards. But the output is defined in terms of discourses – not in terms of some structures or some vocabulary items. This is a basic thing that happened. And I chose narrative as a very strong input.

In primary classes in Kerala, when we revised the textbooks in 2007, we first did it for Classes 1, 3, 5 and 7. The next year, we revised the textbooks for Classes 2, 4, 6 and 8. You wouldn’t find any exercise in the textbook – nothing. A narrative that a teacher is presenting orally, that will not be available in the textbook. If it is given in the textbook, the teacher will teach it. It is meant for listening. Listening has to be ensured.

So we supplied teacher materials – teacher handbooks. For the last 15 years, Kerala has been supplying teachers’ handbooks for all subjects from Class 1-10. Every teacher gets a copy. Handbooks have not been uploaded online because they have priced them at Rs 60. Handbooks for Andhra Pradesh are available on the internet though.

I will show you some sample textbook pages which are in use now in Kerala and also in Andhra Pradesh. Then you would understand that all these things that we load in the textbooks are non-essential. Right now, I am working for the Andhra Pradesh Residential Society. It is a government society in Andhra Pradesh. And there are some residential schools for boys and also girls – minority boys, minority girls etc. These schools have been producing excellent output over the past 30-40 years. And some of the alumni are IAS officers, doctors and many others. That was in the 1980s.

In the 90s, nothing happened; in 2000s nothing happened. But the government wanted to improve the quality and changed the medium of instruction to English. It was a political decision, but an academic blunder. Those teachers were excellent at teaching Natural Science and Mathematics. Now the problem is that they cannot talk to the children in English. And children do not understand.

I have been living with the children – in the guest houses on these school campuses. It is sad to see children studying from 5 AM. The teacher has a question bank. They don’t read the textbooks – except in a very few schools. They instead depend on the question bank. There are questions and also answers in the question bank. Teachers teach that. Students memorize it.

The government wanted to improve the quality of education. Seshu Kumari, who was the Director of SCERT and has now been posted as the Secretary of APRS society, requested me to come over and work with them; because I was doing that in Kerala.

When I started working with the DPEP, it was the Left Democratic Front that was in power. Kerala is politically very hot. And there is a political pattern – five years United Democratic Front, five years Left Democratic Front – it goes on like that like a see-saw.

I was appointed by LDF. When UDF came to power there was a textbook revision. The Director of Public Instruction told me in an internal meeting, ‘I will tell you how to teach English and Mathematics’. I told him, ‘I am supposed to be the consultant. If you decide that, why should I be here?’ I walked out and sent in a resignation letter.

However, I had to show what works. I started producing a number of materials for lower primary, primary, middle school, high school and colleges. Multimedia material. And everything followed a new paradigm where [traditional] teaching was stopped. Asking questions was stopped. Basically, it was based heavily on interactions – just interactions. Dialoguing, making students think – thinking is the only tonic for language. Make them think. And dialogue. Somebody expresses an idea. [So, you ask the students] Do you agree with that? Do you have any other opinion? It’s a dialogue; nothing else.

That is how in Kerala, I developed several models. There were district panchayats and local panchayats. The local government is very strong, and they had their interventions. In several parts of Kerala, I launched this program for two/three years. Finally, there was a pressure from the society/community and different panchayats to include me in the curriculum revision process. The curriculum revision happened in 2006 and I was appointed consultant again, for SSA – Sarva Shiksha Abhiyaan. Then I developed the teaching-learning material; which I will show you.

Upendra Reddy from Andhra Pradesh, who was with SSA at that time, invited me to Andhra Pradesh. So I have been developing teacher training modules in English for them. The curriculum revision is complete. All the new textbooks have come. But there is the same problem – teachers teach in the same old fashion. They teach a lesson, explain, and ask comprehension questions. They understand that there is a change in the textbooks but they don’t see it as a curricular shift.

The philosophy of language has changed. We specifically told them – don’t try to ‘complete’ the textbook. The textbook is not the syllabus. The child has to produce these written discourses or oral discourses. If they are able to do that, you are completing the syllabus. Otherwise, even if you teach the whole textbook, you are not achieving the academic standards. So the teachers said, well, it works in Kerala; but it will not work here in Andhra Pradesh because we have first-generation learners. A single teacher is handling three-four classes. In the same class, one corner is the 5th Standard and in another corner is the 3rd standard. And the teachers say we are from Telugu-medium background. We don’t know anything about English. It can work in Kerala because Kerala is a totally literate state.

But I said, “No, you see, these are human beings. Chomsky didn’t say that it will work only in Kerala. If it is a human child, it has to work.” I took it as a challenge. I told Upendra Reddy I am going to intervene deeply. Identify some mandals in each district. Let us have a program for one year. RVM-SSA did not fund it. SCERT could not do it. But the District Collector of Nalgonda district, Mukteshwar Rao, took keen interest. He said why don’t you come to our district? Let us do it in this district. This was last year. I said I don’t have enough resources. I will take up one mandal. So the Narketpally mandal was taken – a rural, remote area with odd situations – a single teacher teaching three divisions, only one teacher in a school and 42 schools. And also a very superstitious community.

I found a 4th class girl child – the headmaster, Balakrishnan, told me that she was the fourth girl child of the family. And they consider her a curse. The father wanted to sell her and buy a boy from somewhere. I looked at the girl’s eyes. She was [almost] abandoned. At home, there was nobody to love her. Everybody said you are a curse for the family. Somehow the teacher intervened and the father did not sell her. After three months, this girl was making a speech in English, looking at a picture. It was not prepared earlier – she was given a picture on the spot. After listening to her speech, the father told the headmaster, ‘I will make her a teacher’. This made me very happy.

I will come back to describing my work in Kerala. We launched in Kerala in 2007. That time, the British Council also intervened. They came up with a proposal for teacher empowerment and they were given one district called Kollam. I told our education secretary this is not fair. In the context of curriculum revision, you gave one-and-a-half days of training for the primary teachers – just one-and-a-half days for English. Now the British Council is given ten days. They also very clearly said in their MoU that we need a hall with table-fans, round tables and only 30 members etc.

SSA on the other hand usually conducts training in high schools. Teachers sit on desks and benches. It is crowded – there are as many as 60 or 70 trainees. However, I said okay, since the British Council is doing the training in one district, let us take another district. So I intervened in Allepuzha district. Similar things went on for the whole academic year. At the end of it, there was a grand festival where in Allepuzha district, primary children from Class 1-7 produced their own magazines in English, containing their narratives, stories, descriptions and what not. In Kerala, just in three months, this happened – between October and January.

I told about this to our teachers in Narketpally.. They said it will work in Kerala but not here. So I took up the same mandal Narketpally. There too, the same thing happened. At the end of the academic year, there was an exhibition. Every child – there were 3006 students from Class 1-5, and all of them produced their own descriptions. You show any picture to any child and they will talk about it – they will describe it. You could ask them to build up a conversation or give them a theme and they will build up a dialogue on that. Or they will build up a story. This is a picture, this is what is happening now, what happened before that and what happens after this – they will narrate a story on that – any child in Narketpally.

I have one thing more to share – initially I gave training to zilla parishad high school teachers also. They are well versed and specially trained in English. In one village called Yellareddygudem, on one side there is a high school and well-qualified teachers and on the other side, there are the primary government schools. After two months of intervention, the primary children started speaking in English. But in high school – Classes 6 and 7 – they were not even able to read, let alone speak, because they didn’t follow the process I suggested. I told the Collector, the high school teachers are experts in English. They don’t need my services. I will work only for primary classes. So that is what we did.

So there is a process though which you can get rid of ‘teaching’ and there is a process through which you can get rid of the need to teach grammar. The problem now is that children come out with proliferous writing, but the teachers are unable to make out if it is right or not. Children write one page. And sometimes teachers edit it and make another mistake. So that is an issue now which I am trying to tackle. I have to find a solution for it too.

We will look at some pages in the textbooks. This is a Class 2 Kerala textbook. The Kerala curriculum is an issue-based curriculum – not theme-based. We have identified eight issue domains like marginalization, mismanagement of land and water and so on. And every subject is woven around these social issues. And every child has to take up a social issue. The lessons are designed in this manner. Before this, we had very clean textbooks. An unreal society – a sort of ‘prettified’ society. But it is an ugly society that we are bringing into textbooks.

As I told you, there is a narrative. Every page is a narrative fragment. It is not a complete text. The child has to complete the text. There is a page sheet – ‘Jillu’s Adventures’, ‘The Smiling Face’ etc. – in Class 2. The first lesson is ‘Jillu’s Adventures’. This is the text (Jillu is a baby squirrel. He lives with his mother on a tree.) – one page. And there is a small narrative which is not given here. The narrative is to be presented by the teacher. It is given in the teacher’s handbook. The narrative is not written fully in English. It is written using code-switching. The basic text is in the mother-tongue. Occasionally, the teacher switches over to English – not translation, not using some English words; it is technically code switching, not code mixing. So the situation is such that without any translation, the mental text will be generated. You can learn any language if you fit into that frame.

And eventually, after following it day after day, within 15-16 days, the whole narrative will be in English. After reading the text, there is a suggested activity. Listen to your teacher. The gist is given.  Jillu is alone in the nest. Jillu’s mother is away from home. Now read this. This narrative will be expanded orally because the listening input is there – oral narrative.

Oral narratives are extremely useful tools for acquiring language. Just present a narrative with emotive aspect. My hypothesis is that language experiences sustain in the human mind as emotional gestalts. Other things just fade out. You must have talked to many people round-the-clock but you can’t recall. But there are certain things that you carry till death – those things that touched you – which emotionally touched you.

So any learning experience is like that. You have to link emotions. And neuro-biologists also say the empathetic nerves have to be fired. To have any construct form, the child has to be emotionally engaged – not only constructively engaged. It is a big question. And that is why Bruner says, what is the ultimate aim of education? You can have two broad goals. You have emotional intelligence and also that other intelligence that you are talking about [cognitive?]. We are very weak in creating this emotional intelligence. I will give you an example. Every day, in every school, every child is taking a pledge – India is my country, blah, blah, blah. How many times it has been repeated! But still, there is a barrier between you and I.

So here the story is given in very small text. It is a narrative. (‘It’s getting dark. Jillu must be hungry. He is alone in the nest. Will he be afraid? I should get home soon’, the mother squirrel thought.) And then, What will Jillu’s mother do now? Listen to your teacher. A curiosity and expectancy is created – a communicational expectancy – and you are filling it. That’s all. At that point, you can predict, elicit their response. They can make predictions on what will happen. And that prediction – you can tap on that, where the reading text will appear again. After this, Now what will Jillu ask his mother? What may be her reply? And here the child has to build a conversation. So the output can be in the form of any number of one of the discourses – either conversation, or the narrative is continued, or a description or a letter – depending on the academic standard. No vocabulary exercise, no comprehension question, no grammar exercise – nothing is needed. When our society will understand that I don’t know; it may take years.

Let us see another book from Andhra Pradesh. In Andhra Pradesh, people wanted more. Ramakant Agnihotri, Amrit Lal Khanna and I worked together as editors. Ramakant told me, Anandan, don’t try for a total shift as you did in Kerala because you will not be there, I will not be there – none of us will be there. So if you produce a total shift, it may just bounce back. Let us go for a hybrid thing – some compromise. Thus if you look at the new English textbooks in Andhra Pradesh, you can see this compromise. You have listening, speaking, reading, writing. But the pedagogy is totally different.

I will show you a textbook for Unit 4 – an Environment lesson. Every unit has a theme. We have selected themes from the National Curriculum Framework. And all the activities are related to this theme – even vocabulary and grammar activities.

So there is a page sheet (Reading A: What is Man Without the Beasts? Reading B: The River (Poem) Reading C: Can’t Climb Any More). And then there is a sheet introducing the topic. Now, these pictures are very important. There is a theme-based interaction. And lot of interaction must happen. Basically, the objectives are (to find): What is their (previous) understanding about environment? What are their perceptions?

The moment you look at a picture, several texts are generated. It may not be the same. Even if people are reading the same novel; for a hundred readers, 100 different texts will be created. Similarly, you capitalize on the child’s perception to interact further. And that interaction will lead to an oral production of some nameable discourse, like making a speech on a disaster that is happening; the teacher has to decide that. So a lot of teacher involvement is needed. Of course, handbooks are developed. But it has not reached the hands of all teachers. You have a reading lesson. There are three reading phases – A reading, and then there is another reading text called B reading – and based on this, some activities are also there.

What I am doing right now in Sarvail is that I say let us not look at the activities at all. Don’t look at vocabulary exercises, don’t look at grammar activity. Don’t look at even the reading text. Just interact. Generate sufficient discourses. Let them develop the skill of describing any picture, describing any object, talking about any theme. When they have become somewhat proficient, you can move to reading a text. And don’t – ever – ask questions based on the text. And the first two assessments were over no questions were framed from the textbook.

In Kerala, it was done in 2007. There was no resistance. I had an apprehension that society might reject it. But it went on well. For the last five years, there has been no resistance from the society because there is no question from the textbook – the language textbook. I am talking about English. I have influenced other second languages like Hindi, Sanskrit, Urdu and Arabic as well.

I will briefly describe what we are aiming at. These are what I call the academic standards. In the broad category, of course, listening, speaking, everything is there. These are skills, but they are never tested in isolation. They are embedded in certain discourses.

You can look at the list of discourses targeted – conversation, description, rhymes, narrative, diary, letter, messages, notice, poster, slogans. Then come skit/drama/play, compering, choreography, essay, news report, speech, review, debate/discussion and biographical sketch/profile/autobiography. This is the target of 9th Standard. So the child should be able to produce these discourses on her own, both orally and also written. Then you can claim you have achieved academic standards. Whether you teach one unit or two units doesn’t make any difference.

That freedom has been given. Don’t worry about completing the textbook, because the textbook is not equivalent to the syllabus. This performance has to be there and there has to be evidence of that. Then you can say okay, my children are able to perform in English.

This is what I had to share with you this evening – the need to problematize everything. As I told you, let us make the textbook open-ended. And elevate the learner from the level of a recipient to the level of a creator. He is a co-author of the textbook. Every learner is a co-author of the textbook. Understand this. And respect that child.

Some teachers say that we have to work for these children; they are our future citizens. I say no, why are you calling them future citizens? Aren’t they citizen right now? Treat the child as a person. Not only love the child, but respect the child. But this is something that is missing. Ninety-nine per cent is how much love and concern you can show for the child. And one per cent perhaps goes to methodology. Thank you.

Question: Thank you, Dr Anandan. I think that was very interesting for everybody. I have three questions. One is: In the Kerala textbook, the teacher’s manual or the teacher’s guideline, from how you explained it, seemed a very scripted kind of a manual where the exact dialogue is scripted for the teacher – this much in Malayalam, this much in English. Is it then a very scripted curriculum? And how much teacher autonomy is there to do something different? If it is not a scripted curriculum, and if there is teacher autonomy, then what is the status of the teacher’s knowledge of the English language and their comfort in transacting an open-ended curriculum that requires them to differentiate between code-switching and translation and all of those technicalities? This is the first question.

The second question is again to do with the Kerala textbook. In Class 2, you had this beautiful little story of the squirrel. And it ends with ‘What will Jillu say now?’ And I can visualize the scenario where Jillu’s response is also learnt by rote by the children – the teacher has taught it. “So what will Jillu say now?” And there is one answer that is taught by rote to every child. And the fact that the child can reproduce that answer is taken to mean that the standard has been met. It’s a tick mark in the box. So how do you prevent that? Because it is a very organic kind of pedagogy, but it may not be implemented in the way that it was intended in the classroom. That’s the second one.

And the third is it seems like a whole language-based pedagogy. Do you teach decoding at all?

K N Anandan: Time does not permit me to get into the nitty-gritty of things. But to speak broadly, I have conceived a pedagogy which will empower both the learner and the teacher. You cannot expect the country to train all the teachers in English and make them post-graduates. We have to make them competent in English and then allow them to teach. So you have to conceive a pedagogy which will be equally beneficial for the learner and the teacher. That is a big challenge.

Before addressing your questions directly, let me share an anecdote from my Narketpally experience. I was referring to the Yellareddygudem village. Because supportive material was given – on-site support was given – and proper monitoring was there, the teachers were able to transact the curriculum. There was an anxiety that when the teacher has to present a narrative, she cannot develop a narrative herself. She doesn’t have that much linguistic competence. So we gave this as an oral narrative to be presented.

Any textbook has a listening text also. This listening text is in the hands of the teacher. And it is a narrative – not any text. So the teacher has to look at it and then present the narrative, not read the narrative – present it with the relevant emotions. A question has been set like a question – not something else. So there is no question of deviating from the text. When the teacher feels confident enough, she can develop her own narratives. Till then, you need a kind of teacher involvement program also, inbuilt into the pedagogy. That is one thing.

So what happened – teachers were not able to frame a question. They would say “Where you going?” rather than ‘Where are you going?’ “This your book? Or this is your book?” rather than ‘Is this your book?’ There was no auxiliary inversion. So there were a lot of problems of such nature. Unless you frame the questions in the right way, the children will miss correct input.

So yes, there are a set of questions that you can ask. Your interactions are based on the picture. The questions are minimal. For example, ‘What will happen?’ ‘What do you think?’ ‘Do you agree with that?’ ‘Is there anything else?’ (and so on). This kind of transactional language was given in the textbook because we cannot take a risk at that. That was the nature of the teacher’s package.

Teacher autonomy is of course a very valid question. But that autonomy has to happen when the teacher can manage a language class herself. Before that, there is a kind of gestation period which takes three to four months. After that, they will gain confidence.

I am coming back to my Yellareddygudem experience now. I told the teacher who was excellent in English that he could not do anything in the classroom. A teacher who was managing with the handbook – his children from Class 2 and 3 performed drama. There was one story in the textbook they dramatized – children from Class 2. There is a character called Snoopy. Snoopy goes to school. Snoopy is a puppy. The boy who had to act the role of Snoopy slept off because the program was delayed. So the teacher was hunting for Snoopy. He told me, Sir, what shall I do? I said look around. There are other children. See whether other Snoopies are in the class. Then he asked the children and all of them were ready to perform the role of Snoopy. Then he had a difficulty – which Snoopy is to be selected? One boy came and he did exactly the same thing. More than that, when they were performing, the audiences also were completing the dialogues – the other students.

Of course, I have used two powerful tools – narrative and theatre – classroom theatre. Theatre has two components. Choreography is also a theatrical tool. You take a poem, interpret the poem and bring out the theme in the form of choreography with a background of a song. Children enjoyed this – from Class 1 to 8th/9th. The other is, take any story and then role-play it. And they write their own drama script on social themes – free production without any script. Give social themes. They sit in groups, collaborate and come out with a performance, without any script – their own theme. That is also very helpful for the learner to produce language.

One thing I have experienced is that you have to get rid of the textbook. The textbook is an evil thing, at least for language learning. Unless you say that there won’t be any exam-questions in language from the textbook. I don’t argue about other subjects.

So as I said, eventually the teachers also will be empowered. They will be free to develop their own methods. I have evidence of that – how it happened in many places – back in Kerala and elsewhere. That is why Kerala society has retained the method. Otherwise it would have been thrown away. The last five years, it sustained. And now when the UDF has come, they are revising the textbooks. The same teams worked on the English textbooks. They mailed me [the content]. I went through them. They are excellent, I told the writers. This is better than the first batch of material.

So I am happy that the curriculum has sustained across the state. I had to struggle for 15 years. Working from a simple school – one school, it took 15 years for me to change the state curriculum in Kerala. It changed very fast in Andhra Pradesh. It is likely to bounce back. That kind of immediate change is not possible. And it is bouncing back. People are resisting, protesting.

Yesterday, I was at a workshop for DIET faculty. There are ELT centres – English Language Teaching centres – in all districts. They question without reading anything. These new textbooks are literature-oriented. Unfortunately, ELT schools, long back, removed literature from language. And they reduced it to communication skills. You know, the purpose of teaching English today is communication skills. There is no literature treatment – only fragmented treatment – filling the forms of a bank and that kind of thing.

We are introducing genuine text. Reading the text is also a very important thing. I invite you to see for yourself. The nearest place from Bangalore is in Anantapur. In Kodigenahalli, there is a school – a Society school. I am intervening there. So you can see what kinds of things are happening because it is an English medium school, but children come from Telugu medium background. Till now, they were translating, explaining and that kind of thing – that kind of learning path. Now it has changed.

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