September 2nd, 2011
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‘Memorizing is not learning’

Interview/ Greta Jackson- Sindhu Shelley

greta jackson: interview- memorizing is not learningGreta Jackson, a U.K. born academic expert, was recently in Kerala as a part of an inter-continental visit to India.  A London University graduate, her professional career is teaching. In 1999 she came to Gujarat  for the first time to be a part of District Primary Education Programme(DPEP).   She is also an academic writer focusing on pedagogy of  children. In a conversation with Sindhu Shelley, Greta Jackson speaks about the importance of acquiring the language, competency of English teachers in Kerala and the foolishness in blindly adopting British styles.

English language acquisition is a nightmare among most of the students in Kerala. The spreading of this anxiety resulted in the mushrooming of English medium schools here. But even in these schools lack of competent teachers obstructs the chances for listening good English. Even in the English classes  teachers tend to use Malayalam. They move with the prejudice that students are not skilled enough to acquire English. 

Yes. I have been here for the last five years and have got a lot of chances to talk to English teachers. Most of them are not competent enough to teach English I felt. The primary and most important part of acquiring a language is the exposure to its receptive skills: listening and speaking. Children should get exposure to English; they should get good books to read. In Kerala most of the schools are not equipped with both of these.

You are right. I too have the same experience during my teaching. Even in my class there are a lot of students who are not having at least one English book with them. I can’t blame them when they say that they haven’t ever been told by any English teacher to read good English books. Majority of the English teachers in Kerala are not confident enough to speak English. This also is a result of the English class room experiences they have got. Their teachers never used English in a creative mode. They used the translation method and that too to cover the text book portions prescribed in the syllabus. How dry was the English classes of yesteryears!!

It’s really sad. Here the teachers are giving prominence to writing skill. You know, in fact it was the need of the Britishers during colonialism to get the service of the Indian clerks. This was their primary aim in teaching the Indians English. They gave them training to write in English and in good handwriting! That was not education, but exploitation. Now, Indians are not the clerks of British. But they can’t leave behind what the Britishers forced them to practice. Another reason for this is the fact that teachers like to see children writing because it is easy for them, the teachers. I just want to point out another funny practice Indians follow. You see the uniforms of most of the English medium schools. The children wear tie and long socks. Even though, this dressing style is not suitable in the climate here, they are forced to blindly imitate the British people blindly!

Here in Kerala, many of the people depend spoken English institutions for acquiring speaking skill. The mechanical drilling in such classes will not help them. What happens is, when they enter the real life situations they fail to use English.

I too feel the same.Once I happened to see an advertisement of a spoken English class in Kerala. There were eight mistakes in the use of capital letters in that! As I said earlier, the only remedy is ample chances for using English. Speaking and reading will help them a lot.

Teachers aim at the improvement of writing skills as they are very much concerned about the examination results and the reputation of their institutions.

This is really meaningless. In some of the institutions failure will be avoided cunningly as they cannot move away from their reputation. Examination has nothing to do with the English oral communication skill in Kerala.

Not only in the case of children, in the selection of English teachers also communication skill is not considered. They are selected after a written test and interview. Interview also is not based on the oral communication skill. The written test is based on the memory power only. The competency of the teacher in teaching English is not tested at all.

That is why here the teachers cannot use the right method of teaching English. Phonics method is the best. Sounds are being introduced first. For reading practice I have prepared a set of materials,“Little Readers”. There are teachers who have been using this method in their schools for years. Their children can use English successfully. A teacher who is in charge of the play school should never make the children keep quiet. Instead, teacher can use simple language. A family atmosphere itself can be created in the class. For this competent English teachers are necessary.

Here parents also prefer filled note books to reading and speaking skills. So even after years of study, most of the people cannot even utter a meaningful sentence.

This is the reason for a number of ignorant people in society. Memorizing is not learning. Here the children are instructed to memorize and obey. This memory also does not live long. The learned facts and ideas are forgotten after each class. This makes education itself a meaningless activity. The lack of good reading materials for the children is a serious block in the process of acquiring English.

I think, running in search of English medium schools will not solve the problems related to English Education in India; English teachers should know English and this is the minimum. I strongly feel that your teaching and learning materials pave a new way to the natural method of English language teaching. Our students can be masters of English language, provided they should get the right exposure.

I strive for the improvement of English. Thoughtful discussion on English language teaching is my mission



Photo: Benny Thariode


sindhu-shelly: Memorizing is not learning,interview with GretaSindhu Shelley: Sindhu is a Kerala based academician, translator and writer.


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