On HSC Tex Books

A study on HSC text books: Findings and suggestions for further improvements

A new approach to teaching and learning of English to the Higher Secondary level has been introduced in Bangladesh from the beginning of the decade of 1990s specially with affect from 2001 – 2002 session. The approach facilitates communicative language teaching (CLT) which requires among other things, to practice in language skills i.e. listening, speaking, reading and writing through teacher-student and most importantly student – student interaction in the classroom. Hence if CLT is effectively implemented, students are expected to be able to use English for their real life communication. The new text book English for Today (EFT) for classes XI & XII has been developed on the basis of CLT. It includes text (both prepared and authentic), pictures, diagrams, exercises, tasks etc. For practice activities in all the four language skills have to be carried out through various class room techniques such as pair work, individual and group work.

The English text book for classes XI and XII is a complete break from the previous literary texts that had been used at the Higher Secondary level for a long time. But the syllabus at present is only a language program designed to meet the needs and wants of Bangladeshi learners of English as they are moving into a tough competitive twenty first century.

This book is based on the basis/principle underlying the EFT from Class VI inwards – the principle of learning a language by actually practicing it. This book is designed to carry out through four language skills in an interactive mode. The program consists of multi strand syllabus including themes/topics, functions, skills and grammatical structures. So, a teaching technique (teaching tool) if can be designed, which can explain the rationale for the tasks and activities; it will help teachers to plan their lessons ahead and they can devise interesting ways of classroom teaching which students will enjoy.

But most of the teachers have not yet been trained to teach CLT. With a traditional mind-set they enter into the classroom and follow lecture or grammar translation method for which gap between teacher and students remains as before, though this is antithetical to CLT Method. As a result, both teacher and students suffer from dissatisfaction. So, CLT proves an utter failure in the context of Bangladesh.

Communicative competence is relative, not absolute and depends on the cooperation of all the participants involved in. In communicative language teaching, meaning is paramount, contextualization is basic premise. CLT is an output mixture of various language methods where grammatical competence, discourse competence, sociolinguistic competence, strategic competence, pragmatics, various language functions, discourse analysis, non-verbal communication, gesture, body language, eye contact, proxemics, artifacts, kinesthetic dimension, olfactory domain have a role to play. Teachers lacking in knowledge of these terminologies can’t ensure fruitful classes.

English Phobia

Though English has been taught in our country above 200 years; yet, it is considered as a fearful subject. The phobia psychologically, socio-culturally working in students could not be overcome till now. 90% students suffer from English phobia in HSC level in Bangladesh. About 60% students want to cross the examination bar and promoted to the next class. But above 90% interviewed students say, they want to be good in English whereas they don’t know how to achieve it.

Continuous negligence of two basic skills – listening and speaking is another major cause of English phobia among the L-2 learners. Though some students show interest in speaking, teacher’s over correction attitude frustrates and shutters students’ inspiration. Language teaching is different from the teaching of other subjects. It needs additional attention specially for the Second Language or Foreign Language learners. Similarly, language teacher and literature teacher are not the same. But most of the literature-background teachers lack in language teaching training; are teaching language in Bangladesh perspective and; they cannot prove to be efficient teacher in the class. So, to overcome phobia among students, a teacher needs to act and play the role of a guide, facilitator, helper and interpreter not just as a traditional lecturer.

Trained Teachers

Being a good teacher is not easy. It needs occupational attitude, passion, dedication, understanding and commitment to teaching. A good teacher can diagnose students’ weakness and correct them with specific skills and practice. To be a good second language teacher, a person for the first time, has to be a teacher, then a good teacher and then a language teacher and finally a good SL / FL teacher. Without good friendly relationship with the students with ample presentation skill, attractive personality, good pronunciation and affection for the students a teacher can’t be a good teacher.

But, in Bangladesh perspective while talking with the teachers how far they love profession and how far they enjoy professional satisfaction, we came to know that about 50% English teachers are ready to quit the job provided they get better jobs in other fields. If somebody does not love his profession how can good service be expected from him.

A good teacher is a good model who is endowed with stability, patience, honesty, creativity. He can understand students’ difficulty and need. But without maintaining a close distance between teacher-students, without being sympathized with students’ works, even without knowing the names of the students, it is very difficult to be a good teacher.

Language teaching is not static; rather, it is dynamic because language especially English language through continuous research is changing day by day and without continuous professional development a language teacher can not be a good teacher.

Now-a-day, side by side text books, technology (tools, objects, equipments, electronic materials) is used in teaching language in the classroom. But, in Bangladesh situation most of the teachers lack behind in technology knowledge and use.

To use these techniques in Bangladesh, teaching-learning situations may be difficult particularly for the untrained teachers and for lack of related supports. So, way has to be developed to provide know how and guidelines for the teachers how to conduct practice listening, speaking, reading and writing effectively.

Good Learners

Learning is a continuous process. A good learner is not born but created. To be good learners depends on motivation, responsibility, classroom environment, concentration on study, class management. It further depends on how students are activated and engaged in studies. It again needs an uninterrupted chain of learning inside and outside the classroom. Chain of learning includes curricular and extra-curricular activities. So, students doing home work, working with a language program outside the classroom is also a chain of learning.

But what actually happens in Bangladesh situation, is that, English class is treated as a general class comprising all Groups (Science, Commerce, Arts) and all levels (brilliant, mediocre, weak) of the students gathering in an unusually large and congested class taught by an English teacher in a 40 to 45 minutes class where most of the time is spent in roll calling and controlling non-stop talking of the students. But, why talking in the class? – because, any assignment imposed by teacher to perform, the brilliant students complete it by some couples of minutes; mediocre students still continuing while the weak ones thinking how to start the topic or they try to memorize what they read the previous night.

Due to fund crisis and resource constraints institutions cannot categorize students according to merit chronology or cannot maintain proper teacher-students ratio. On the other hand 40 to 45 minutes class, for teaching/learning SL/FL is not enough. So, to make good learners, a group (class) of highly motivated students of nearly equal merit level, nearly equal age, eagerness to learn, willingness to listen, willingness to experiment, willingness to ask questions, willingness to think about how to learn  and willingness to accept correction have to be arranged. Moreover, class will be equipped with necessary classroom environment and education materials especially with an interesting lesson / topic.

Teaching and Learning Mana-gement

Management is an important part of teaching and learning, especially, second language teaching and learning in communicative method where students actively participate and talk.

In communicative English class, communication mostly happens between students-students where more students want to talk at a time. So, without proper management the classroom environment will turn chaotic and confusing.

In managing teaching and learning the factors like physical presence of teacher, voice of teacher, stages of lessons, seating arrangement and grouping of students are important. Some students prefer good dress, physical appearance and clear voice of teacher.

Seating arrangements for the students are to be changed from time to time. Orderly row sitting with woolen palettes of desk in front, horse shoe sitting, circle sitting, separate table sitting with group work & pair work and solo work sitting are usually followed in language class management. But these arrangements depend on the decision of teacher as he better understands what to and how to deal with student psychology.

In Bangladesh situation the very traditional seating arrangement is followed because of institutional limitation. While teaching a second language / foreign language, classroom arrangement / seating arrangement needs to be changed, re-changed on the basis of student psychology priority though it is not felt in Bangladesh context.

Class Size / Classroom Decoration

Some institutions are overloaded while some are offloaded with students and so is the class size. Some classes are unusually large and some are unusually small. While teaching, teacher faces a pretty good problem in such classes and especially when teacher-student ration crosses beyond the limit as above 40 to 100, 200, 300 or more students. In communicative English class when every thing centers and bases on communication between student-student, teacher-student; in an abnormally large class, environment will be chaotic, hustle and bustle.

Traditional Teaching Method Still Followed

Almost all the interviewed teachers and students (though most of the students are ignorant of CLT) admitted and considered that in Bangladesh traditional teaching and learning method is still followed. The use of mother tongue in the class and focus on completing syllabus within stipulated time gets priority. The teachers elaborated that the present curriculum and textbooks are based on CLT which focus on student centered activities, interactive approaches and more student participation; yet classroom ELT situation does not reflect it because most of the teachers are untrained and familiar with the CLT approach. Most teachers continue to emphasize grammar-translation method. They have a lack of knowledge on different activities and also their command on English is not sufficient. The attitude of teachers, students and guardians can also be as a negative factor. Teachers do not want to change because it is a challenge to break with traditional approach. About 50% students said in most cases students are not willing to take part in the class activities, rather want to focus on completing the syllabus and acquiring good scores in the examination while every teacher think that in the new communicative approach it is difficult to involve learners in activities because of not having suitable classroom environment, physical facilities and modern teaching aids.

It is once again felt that curriculum completion and a good GPA through examination are more important than CLT. 90% teachers in the study comment that teachers are faced with extensive curriculum requirements. So, teachers focus on examination oriented teaching and students too want to obtain good scores; because having a large syllabus which has to be completed by the due time outlined in the guidelines, it becomes difficult for both teacher and students to put emphasis on activity based learning. Another reason the teachers mentioned that the attitude of the authority and also the guardians want the subject teachers to complete the course / syllabus by stipulated time. Their main focus is to prepare the students to get better scores in the examination; they do not concern themselves with the actual learning of the students. The performance of the institution is measured on the percentage of GPA 5 numbers of the students in the examination.

Reading and Writing Skills

English is a skilled based language. Reading is one of the four essential components of language skill. In Bangladesh, English language teaching and learning are mainly based on reading and writing skills. While talking of reading skill it has to be mentioned that, earlier teaching of reading was traditional ie., students were advised to read loudly, on the other hand, in CLT situation silent reading is also suggested by interviewees (teachers) for better understanding of the of the text by the students. Specially while answering to MCQ, True-False, Gap filling using the vocabulary, Information collection and writing answers of More Free questions, attentive silent reading is fruitful. For assessing students, reading comprehension text is to set for testing students’ reading skills; but before engaging students in activities, taking feedback and finding out problems whether they have understood it or not; the emphasis should be given on motivating pre-reading activities like giving pre-idea on importance and benefit of targeted topic, vocabulary, sentence meaning. Students’ opinions also come that when teacher involves them in reading in the class, the teacher can help make the pronunciation clear and if any mistakes occur. Therefore they enrich vocabularies and they can understand the meaning of the lesson. After students have completed their reading, the teacher can ask different questions orally either individually, group or sometimes engage them to write the information and thus checks the difficulties. 50% students said reading comprehension may be excluding text book because notebooks, guidebooks of the prescribed Text have already flooded markets and students easily collect those readymade. So, students’ creativity is not shown, neither tested nor proved.

Unlike reading skill, teachers and again, students see teaching and learning of writing skill as a difficult long term process. Both students and teachers have to undergo much time and concentration for developing writing skill. Writing is a step by step process. In communicative aspect, for development of writing, gradual writing sequences are to be maintained such as post cards / pictures description and sceneries description at beginning level, dictation at second stage, and thus simple letters, dialogues, narrative articles (write ups) and report writing are to be followed. But in HSC level writing portion sequences from easy to creative writings are not followed. Neither prewriting activity nor prewriting discussion is maintained.

On the other hand, a class of 45 minutes after roll call, remaining 30 minutes is not sufficient for writing a composition or a paragraph, let alone a creative writing. For any creative writing brain storming and conceptualization of the topic also needs at least 5 to 7 minutes. Almost all the interviewed teachers remarked that creative writing is difficult in their class because of an unusually large class, controlling of the students, work-overloaded teacher with other assignments and time limitation.

Learning of any kind, whether it is CLT or GTM or LM or DM, whatever it is, is a continuous process where mistake is very much natural because we learn through mistakes. Many teachers become over joyous and romantic to find faults with students. In CLT it is once again suggested to look at mistakes sensitively and sympathetically. No indiscriminate use of Red mark cross sign and avoiding of over correction has been suggested at the beginning level because excess red mark will obviously frustrate students learning flow.

Speaking & Listening Neglected

The major focus in our English class is the two basic skills of reading and writing. Little or no systematic attention is paid to speaking and listening. Students have little or no exposure to English, whereas according to linguists exposure to a wide range is very important for foreign language learning. Listening and speaking comprehensions are avoided or ignored in classroom situation. Board questions are also set on the basis of writing comprehension. While teaching in the class, teachers start with a comprehension passage and gives importance on reading and meaning. 5% teachers use English as a medium of teaching in the classroom. They use synonymous English words / phrases in classroom teaching. The rest of the teachers use mother tongue or English-Bangla mixture to elucidate meaning of the passage, though in communicative aspect the use of mother tongue is prohibited. Students are not encouraged or they do not feel inspired to speak in English. For development of speaking ability there is a provision for dialogue practice among the students; but in reality, it is observed, students practice dialogue through writing but not speaking. Moreover, English debate, stempore speech, picture description, rehearsal, acting, role play by students, pair work, group work etc SBA activities are rarely arranged in classroom teaching.

Regarding listening many interviewed students put forward their opinions that they understand Bangladeshi pronunciation of their teachers, BTV English news and other English programmes in Bangladeshi private channels but fall in problem to understand the CNN, BBC English programmes or Australian, Caribbean, African and even, Chinese and Japanese English. The reason is that students are not introduced with varieties of pronunciation, accent, stress, syllabic division made by the speakers of the aforementioned countries. As such, practice of listening in audio, video, simple movies is important for the HSC level students in Bangladesh. After passing the HSC Class students enter to higher study level which is obviously in English medium not only in Bangladesh but also in foreign countries and in fact, a huge number of our students cross the border to acquire higher studies.

For better presentation of the lesson modern teaching aids should be included so that teachers can present lesson in a more engaged way but in Bangladesh situation, students cannot be exposed through the use computers and OHPs ie. electronic material to present topics like advertisements, news broadcast, poetry reciting, plays acting, soft music, speeches, telephone conversation. The other reason of listening is because it helps students to acquire language subconsciously. So, by listening students not only get idea of grammar and vocabulary but also pronunciation, rhythm, intonation, pitch, stress and thus they become better listeners.

This is because these two skill based questions have not yet been included in Board Question. As a result both students and teachers are neither obligated nor interested to develop speaking and listening skills. Otherwise, they have a national syllabus that has to be completed during the year in order to meet examination requirements. In Bangladesh there is little scope out side the classroom to develop speaking or listening skills because of lack of English environment outside classroom. Some students in interviews gave opinions that using only English always in the classroom can improve listening and speaking skills of the students but above 60% students advocated in favour of English-Bangla mixture while a few weak students say for Bangla use to explain the meaning of the passage. The frequent use of Bangla creates a mother tongue barrier in learning a second/foreign language. Thus, being influenced with mother tongue when they start speaking English they try to translate it in their mother tongue and this makes speaking more difficult and makes students confused. So, overall lack of practice and lack of confidence make speaking challenging which causes phobia and shyness in students and consequently learning remains imperfect. For correction of speaking activity constant interruption from teacher will destroy the purpose of speaking. While a serious speaking class prevailing on, it is better for a teacher to note down mistakes done by students and after the speaking activity is over, the teacher without mentioning any name of the particular students may correct it or teacher may join the activities the students are performing but up to a certain level.

Traditional Grammar Teaching

The study considers that most students in Bangladesh has a motivated belief that learning English means learning its grammatical rules and that, after digesting all the grammatical rules they will start speaking and writing. These beliefs lead to parroting the rules and using them laboriously but actually this process does not enable them to communicate properly. Learning English is not just about grabbing grammatical rules, structures and vocabulary. It is a matter of regular practice and the use of it in the practical situation. According to German scholar F.L, Frank “a language could be best taught by using it actively in the classroom rather than using analytical procedures that focus on explanation of the grammar rules.”

While introducing communicative syllabus in HSC Level with effect from the session 2001 both English First and Second Paper were coherently communicative. The EFT 1st and 2nd Paper recycled commonly used structures and grammar items so as to provide opportunities for students to practice these widely used and useful structures in a variety of situations. Later on, from the Session 2007-2008 onward 40 marks grammatical items had been included with Second Paper.

The opinions of the queries given by students vary as follows: 75% students said that the rules of grammar are difficult to learn. 40% students say they want their English to be perfect and they always try hard to be grammatically accurate. They hate making mistakes but want to be corrected when they do. 10% students say they hate studying grammar. They are sure that they will make mistakes when they speak but they don’t care because they are happy that people understand them mostly. 40% students say they need to practice grammar as it helps them see how the language is constructed and grammar works out how to make new sentences. However, they don’t enjoy learning discrete grammar terminology and isolated patterns.

They want to learn grammar in context. 10% students say they don’t think grammar is the most important thing. If they have sufficient vocabulary they say, they can somehow get their messages across. Body language helps a lot too as they opine. In communicative English it is suggested to teach/ learn grammar in contextual situation; but in English second Paper, grammar is taught discretely (separately). In English Second Paper, the way Right Forms of Verbs, Prepositions, Articles, Linking Words, Phrases and Idioms, Narration, Transformation, Tag Question, Completing Sentence are taught to the students does not fall under the category of communicative English, even not under discourse method, but grammar rules being memorized or thrust down the throats of the students forcefully discretely. It is actually a Grammar-Translation Method previously (before 2001-2002 session) followed.

Students hate to learn rules of grammatical, students suffer from Phobia because they are taught through individual sentences rather than by using them in a variety of contexts. So, it may be said that the prevailing HSC English Syllabus is neither Communicative nor Grammar-Translation nor Discourse Method; but it is a combination package programme of Communicative, Discourse, Grammar-Translation, Lecture and other methods. Therefore, mind set of both teachers and students to be changed/prepared, all out supports to be ensured with edu-materials and funds to make this syllabus successful.

As such, one needs to know not only the rules of grammar but also how the rules are used in real communication. Though in the early stage of communicative English, grammar became less prominent and in some cases was abandoned; in the recent years grammar teaching has regained its rightful place in the language curriculum. Linguists realize, without grammar, language development will be severely constrained because without grammar, words hang together without any real meaning or sense. In this research, grammar teaching has been analyzed with the frame work of communicate approach and considered to be dominant approach in foreign /second language teaching and learning because grammar deals with words inflection, syntactical relation-function, showing relation between words, production and perception of sound system (phonetics), forms and elements of words and their combinations (morphemes) and ultimately deals with structures of language.

In communicative process grammatical structures will be used in the communicative contexts throughout the lessons of the book. Therefore, if students do skill practice activities effectively, they will not need any separate practice in grammar rules but integrated to the four skills of language: listening, speaking, reading, writing.

In this way structures are practiced orally and in written form. Grammatical patterns must not only be learned at the utterance level but at the discourse level, the main objective focuses on the development of communicative grammatical competence, which is understood as the ability to use and understand a structure in a variety of situations spontaneously.

In the communicative approach, the purpose of teaching grammar is to teach the language of which the grammar is a part. Teachers therefore teach grammar forms and structures in relation to meaning and use for the specific communication tasks that students need to complete.

An important part of grammar teaching is also providing examples. Teachers need to plan their examples carefully around two basic principles:

They must be sure that the examples are accurate and appropriate. They must present the language appropriately, be carefully appropriate for the setting in which they are used, and be to the point of the lesson.

They must use examples as teaching tools. Focus examples on particular theme or topic so that students have more contact with specific information and vocabulary.

Literature, a road to CLT not included in HSC Syllabus

Literature is a popular technique for teaching both basic language skills and language areas like vocabulary, grammar, pronunciation. In communicative aspect, it has been proved an authentic text in language curriculum and gaining momentum day by day. Literature helps open one’s innate faculty, power of thinking, power of vision, power of meditation and contemplation and ultimately a creation of something new. Poetry, short story, essay, imaginative paragraph, dialogue, drama, novel etc. various literary genres; work as a tool to enrich language, culture, personal involvement – said Collie and Slater. Maley says, literature works as a potent source in the language classroom like universality, non-triviality, personal relevance, variety, interest, economy and suggestive power and ambiguity. But there should be criteria according to Primary, Secondary, Intermediate and Tertiary levels in selecting suitable literary text.

In reading Comprehension when students can master literal understanding they move to the inferential level where they must make speculations and interpretations concerning the characters, setting, theme and produce the author’s point of view.

In writing, literature houses in immense variety of themes to write on in terms of guided, free, controlled and other types of writing. In compositions course whose reading content is literature, students make inferences, formulate their own ideas, look closely at a text for evidence to support generalizations. Thus, they learn how to think creatively, freely and critically. Such training helps them in other courses require logical reasoning, independent thinking, and careful analysis of the text (Spack-1985:719).

In speaking and listening literature plays a meaningful role. Oral reading, dramatization, improvisation, role playing, pantomiming, reenactment, discussion and group activities may center on a work of literature.

Literary genre, like poetry, can pave the way for learning and teaching basic language skills. Poetry helps developing sensitivity for words and discoveries that may later grow into deeper interest and greater analytical ability. Thus, Sarac (2003: 17-20) explains the educational benefit of poetry. Poetry provides readers with different view points towards language use by doing beyond the known usages and rules of grammar, syntax and vocabulary. It triggers unmotivated readers owing to so open to explorations and different interpretations. Poems evoke feelings and thoughts in heart and mind. It also makes students familiar with figure of speech and their being part of daily language use.

In HSC EFT, there are some poems like The Daffodils by William Wordsworth, A Man Speaking to Man, source from Wordsworth’s Lyrical Ballads, To daffodils by Robert Herrick, Under the Green Wood Tree by William Shakespeare, Ozymandias by P B Shelley, The Revenge a short drama on environment etc. But these literary pieces are neither taught by teachers nor set in the Board Question. But, communicative English advocates for easy poems to be included in teaching students the second or foreign Language. Poems develop learners’ rhythm, tune, intonation and emotional faculty. Furthermore, poetry would certainly enrich students’ vocabulary, cultural aspects; especially while learning English students remaining in the dark about English culture cannot perfectly learn English as a second or foreign language.

Short stories are ideal way of introducing students to literature in the foreign language class especially in Communicative English Language class. In Communicative aspect, it is suggested that stories require personal exploration of the students. It is a way to unearth students’ creativity and latent talents. It will develop their cognitive analytical abilities.

Question Setting

Question setting suffers from limitations. From the decade of HSC question setting experience it is evident that students and even English teachers (question setters) nourish a common tendency on writing topics like paragraph, report, short composition, letter, application, story, dialogue, summary etc. that some common topics are set in the question paper in every alternative year and the setters proceed on sagaciously without bringing in any new concept and diversity in question. Some traditional common topics are so hot favourite that these same topics are set in the question papers of PSC, JSC, SSC, HSC; and even in Degree Class. For coming across board examinations students give preference on even years or uneven years on the basis of ensuing examination year ie. if it is even year students prepare themselves on some questions of previous even years and if the examination is in uneven year the students follow some questions of previous uneven years. So is done by the question setters according to suggestion and pressure of education board as the respective board also under pressure compels the question setter to do so and so but it concerns the standard of passing out students through public examination.

There is only one paragraph set in both English First and Second Paper each. More options/alternatives may be included. Students may be asked to write paragraph highlighting real life situation and about report writing the same criterion may be followed. While story writing students are asked to write traditional story based on maxim, sermon and mythological figures. Above a decade experience of HSC Board Questions; it is seen that, students are asked to write stories on some traditional mythological, proverbial maxims or sermons which ensure no own creativity scope for the students. Topics like The Crow and the Pitcher, The Liar Cow Boy, the Leopard and Lamb and traditional so on, don’t.