Students required to learn in English lose heart

Abdul Manan May 23, 2010

LAHORE: The revised syllabus and the use of English as the language of instruction in all public schools of the province have failed to attract children and their parents.

Faced with the sudden changes, the students are finding it hard to keep up and are simply opting to drop out. They complained that the new curriculum and the compulsion to learn and converse in English were not compatible with their way of life. The schools and the Education Department confirmed that 50 per cent of the children enrolled in public schools in remote area had dropped out because they were struggling with the syllabus. Similarly 30 per cent of the students in urban areas had tried and failed.

An official of the district education department recalled that the Punjab government’s announcement to convert 17,000 primary schools to an English curriculum by April 2010 was initially met with enthusiasm. Registration applications peaked by over 30 per cent in April, only to gradually lose steam. Before the beginning of the summer vacation, the new curriculum had already defeated students who found themselves lost in translation. Muhammed Arshad, the executive district officer (EDO, education), confirmed the numbers and stated that the attendances had started to shrink.

Jameel Najam a former director of public instruction (DPI, schools) told The Express Tribune that the Punjab government’s decision to convert primary schools into English-medium institutions had failed in 2010 just as it had in 2009. He stated that the reasons were manifold but the most important one remained that the new curriculum was too extensive and challenging. He stated that under the new policy the national curriculum prescribed thick books for several subjects (in excess of 600 pages) which had to be read cover to cover within a year.

He added that these course books often required the use of audio-visual devices which could not be properly used in remote areas. “Some of the articles and pictures in these books do not remotely relate to the lives of the children being raised in remote areas of the Punjab. The teachers are not trained to explain most of the text to the students and cannot make the essential link to help students relate. The goals of the national curriculum are unrealistic and unachievable”, said Jameel. “The national curriculum makes ‘general knowledge’ a compulsory course for students of grade one and leaves the curriculum open-ended.

Most teachers are unsure of what qualifies as general knowledge and teach students whatever they deem suitable”, he added. “The government has nosedived into the drive to increase literacy without stopping to properly plan the syllabus”, he said. He predicted that the two million students currently enrolled in primary schools all over Punjab would lose heart and drop out entirely if the government did not revise the ill-planned policy. Muhammad Arshad stated that the district government has initiated another project called ‘child friendly schooling’ in 110 primary schools of Lahore.

Students are provided colourful and playful environments within these schools encouraging them to take more interest. He admitted that training teachers to properly administer the new curriculum was the biggest problem faced by the Punjab government.The secretary for the school education rejected the claim that the teachers lacked the competency to teach properly.

He stated that the educators could teach every kind of child any type of coursework without the need for specialised training. He stated that the only reason for the increase in drop out rates was the unavailability of a proper infrastructure.

Published in the Express Tribune, May 24th, 2010.