English proficiency at Primary level
With reference to Vina Ballgobin’s ‘Quality of education and English proficiency: MES Reports reveal many weaknesses at learners’ level and major lacunae at teaching level’ (MT, 7 September 2012), I would like to make the following comments:
A glimpse at the overall performance of our students at CPE level in English still shows many dark spots at the learner’s level. Spiral curriculum and automatic promotion are to be blamed for poor performance at CPE level. In the first two years of schooling many pupils fare quite well in both oral and written English. Teachers at this level make use of various teaching methods and pedagogical tools.
However at Std IV there is a major shift in the workload of the pupils. Teachers are compelled to have recourse to different teaching skills due to a lack of exposure to English language, despite the fact that it should be extensively used in teaching of other subjects such as Maths, Science and History. Some teachers have no option but to have recourse to vernacular languages or Creole so as to be on the same footing as the pupils. Hence oral work should be consistently taught during these lessons along with essential written work. The degree of understanding, versatility and fluency will depend only and only on the use of the English language. I would like to refer to these primary schools with English medium where pupils of Std I and II speak English quite fluently.
Thus I would like to point out that in Mauritius, English is not given its proper rank despite the fact of it being the official language of the country and the first foreign language in the world (L2/L3). It is a fact that our children are rarely exposed to English language outside school. Even on TV children’s programme favours a particular language; a few cartoons in English coupled with teletext will prove to be an effective means to promote English. MCA programmes are barely watched by our school children. There should be a period of 25 minutes weekly, during school hours, for these programmes, with appropriate content and followed by oral and written work. Maybe these should be slightly modified to suit the different level of pupils. Heads of school and the inspectorate should see to it that all adequate materials are fully used.
It is wrong to conclude that teachers resort to mechanical and rote teaching. Very often pupils discard English once they are out of school. A lot has to be done to make pupils speak and write good English. For instance, twice a week there should be an English day where from morning assembly till the end of the day pupils should talk English, write short story/poems or even sing a song with wording glue or written on a vanguard.
Practice makes perfect; songs in our textbooks, I regret to say, are quite obscure. Popular songs should be added, why not in the enhancement programme, for example. With the phasing out of tuitions in Std IV, subject teaching can prove to be a better solution.
Once I was amazed to hear a slow learner hum the Mondial song “waka waka” –so beautifully. Children must be brought to love English; once it is done there is no doubt that the level of English will improve significantly in our schools.