In the teaching of English, the student-centred approach has many pedagogical benefits particularly relevant to language learning but, more importantly, it encourages students to become independent learners who are responsible and in charge of their own learning.
This is not happening in most of our English classes as the teachers are in complete control. The fact is that they get far more practice than the students. However, any talk of student-centred learning will hit a raw nerve with our teachers of English.
Though many are familiar with the approach, the crammed syllabus and overemphasis on examinations give them little scope to foray into exciting teaching strategies that are student-centred.
In the teaching of English, success rests mostly on students’ basic communication skills.
As it is, many of our English teachers are still clinging to textbooks, drills and other life-saving traditional methods as a sure way of getting around the exams.
While it may not be justifiable to say that most teachers are reluctant to integrate such methods in their teaching due to lack of training, a big part of the blame must be borne by the low standard of our students’ speaking and listening skills.
In the teaching of English, unlike other subjects, the success of such an approach would rest mostly on students’ basic communication skills.
In my experience, in any activity involving discussions, presentations, group research or any other form of collaboration, students who do not speak the language would simply take a back seat and let the others finish the task for them.
In such situations, student-centred activities would mostly benefit those who are able to listen and speak in English.
Unquestionably, these two skills — listening and speaking — are absolutely necessary before teachers are able to organise student-centred learning and many other activities successfully.
So, cultivating these skills and developing basic communicative competence in our students should be a priority in our schools.
Being able to speak is key to learning a language. Logically, listening and speaking should be the first two skills students pick up before they begin to read and write in English.
This is the natural order through which the child learns any language. In fact, listening and speaking the language first would be of tremendous help in writing it later.
Sadly, in many schools, students are learning the other way round — they do a lot of reading and writing first. For the teachers, this would be tangible proof of their worth.
The more the students write, the better. Unfortunately, sometimes they are too engrossed in these two activities to engage the students in active speaking or listening activities.
Perhaps, many teachers tend to overlook these two skills as they are not evaluated in the exams. To improve the situation, the Education Ministry must come up with clear guidelines on listening and speaking skills.
There is an urgent need to review our current assumptions and practices concerning these crucial skills. It should begin in primary schools with more weightage given to the two skills. It is time we give listening and speaking the importance they deserve.