English,Language Labs and teaching January 22, 2013, 4:51 pm
By Douglas King Ed.D
President Mahinda Rajapaksa has on many occasions emphasized the need to develop "Spoken English" as a necessary condition for developing Sri Lanka into a leading Asian nation. In naming 2009 as the "Year of English and ICT" the President signed an agreement whereas India would contribute both financially and through the expertise of the University of Hyderabad, to raise English language standards in Sri Lanka.
Four years have now elapsed and questions must be asked as to the success of the President’s initiatives. The government of India is granting Rs: 84 million to a Sri Lankan company to set up 30 computer Language Labs in all nine provinces. This is certainly a very generous gift from India in spite of the fact that millions of school age children in India are either not attending school or attend schools that do not even have basic furniture. In this respect Sri Lanka is well ahead and can boast a literacy rate of over 90% compared to 47% in India. The myth that people in India speak and write English at a high standard continues to impress. However, closer examination indicates that it is mainly the middle classes, which number around 200 million, who achieve this standard. A high majority of these also attended private schools and not the government education system, and many have English speaking parents. In addition, research has indicated that it is usual for students to attend private English classes throughout their school days. In this respect it does not appear that India has any "magic" formula for achieving these high standards.
This very generous gift from India to provide Language Labs should be received gratefully and will help marginally to raise English standards even though the Indian education system is itself lacking computer labs in numerous schools and colleges. President Rajapaksa is gradually pushing the development of the educational system and no doubt is in a constant advisory capacity to the Minister of Education.
Despite the well meaning initiatives over many years, standards of English, and especially spoken English, remain low and even numerous university graduates lack a sufficient standard to be employed in many jobs and rely on government employment. There is a solution which certainly would be more cost effective and can be implemented quickly. This is by developing an English curriculum that reflects current research and practice in language teaching and using aspects of multi-media now well developed and affordable. A multi-media projector and small laptop computer can be bought for around Rs; 100,000. Alternatively a 32inch flat screen television plus small laptop can be bought for even less. If a tender was raised for hundreds of units the price would drop lower. Providing these for every school with 100 or more students might cost around Rs:600,000 which in funding terms is no huge investment.
On its own multi-media may have little value unless suitable software is developed for not only English but subjects such as the sciences. At present it is doubtful if there is a single CD or DVD made expressively for teaching English in Sri Lanka. The NIE is a huge adjunct to the Ministry of Education but have they been producing a range of software that would enhance teaching? The adage "a picture is worth a thousand words" could easily substitute "picture" for "video". In essence, much English language teaching, as well as other subjects, has not changed much over several decades and there still exists a large element of rote and passive learning. A three dimensional approach would be more effective and reduce the reliance on tuition classes.
One dimensional education involves a teacher reading or telling information to a passive student gathering. Two dimensional includes responses with answers or discussion from students. But most effective is three dimensional education where the students can utilize all the senses to fully participate in the lessons. This includes viewing stimulating multi-media images as an integral part of many lessons. Advertisers are fully aware of this when spending millions on TV adverts to portray the value of their products.
Stimulating educational DVDs on their own are not the answer unless they are linked to text books and the curriculum modified. As in any profession, not all are experts and teachers are no exception. Some are talented and some are not despite being qualified and with the latter group the addition of multi-media can make all the difference. The cost of an unrecorded DVD is less than Rs: 20 and in quantity even less. The cost of production is virtually nil once the hardware has been acquired. A small team of educationalists plus computer experts is all that is required to start production. No big ceremonies. No involvement of large committees. No auspicious date to begin. No international financial support. Within even a few weeks the first DVD for teaching English can be distributed to schools. Science experiments conducted by university faculty can be viewed even in the remotest school. The possibilities are endless and exciting and creative. Are there creative teachers who can plan this material? More importantly, are there government personnel ready and willing to implement such an initiative?
President Mahinda Rajapaksa has rightly shown authority and leadership over some ministries where he has felt insufficient progress has been made. Several unannounced visits to various schools, urban and rural, by ministers would indicate if English teaching has adapted to the President’s initiatives. It appears that in the primary classes the same textbooks and workbooks are being used, and much of the content in Grade 5 textbook is at a similar level to that required for "O" level examinations. Many students will not require English for work or leisure. However, since most are studying English everyday for 11 years, this could be as many as 1000 hours, with very little to show for it.
India has its own problems and its generosity will be useful but is not the panacea. Solutions can only be devised once the problem has been identified. English language teaching in Sri Lanka has a history of initiatives reaching back several decades. Throwing more money at yet another one may catch the headlines but end up in the graveyard of previous initiatives. For those who can afford it, the solution is an International School where teaching is in English medium. But whereas private education in India is over 50% of the student population, in Sri Lanka it is around 6%. The language labs will soon be installed with the usual photo ops publicity, but English lessons for most students will continue with little change.
For an account and research into the use of multi-media in schools read the following extract:
"Use of Technology in English Language Teaching and Learning"
"Multimedia teaching creates a context for language teaching. This method makes the class lively and
interesting, as well as optimizing the organization of the class. Multimedia has its own features such as
visibility and liveliness. During the process of multimedia English teaching, sounds and pictures can be set together, which enhances the initiative of both teachers and students, When using multimedia software, teachers can use pictures and images to enrich the content of classes, and also imagine different contexts in the process of producing teaching courseware, Students in the class can use multimedia to understand the class in a clear way. Through the whole interactive process, it is apparent that using multimedia in ELT is effective in nurturing students’ interest in learning English, as well as enhancing teachers’’ interest in English teaching. As Zhang (2006:11.1)points out through Multimedia and network technology we can offer students not only rich, sources of authentic learning materials, but also an attractive and a friendly interface, vivid pictures and pleasant sounds, which to a large extent overcomes the lack of authentic language environment and arouses students’ interest in learning English."
2012 International Conference on Language, Medias and Culture
IPEDR vol.33 (2012) © (2012) IACSIT Press, Singapore
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