EDUCATION TRIBUNE Tuesday, May 6, 2003, Chandigarh, India

English teaching in Punjab leaves much to be desired
Brinder Aulakh
HE decision of the Punjab Government to make English compulsory from Class I is laudable, but needs to be implemented carefully. Teachers, who are the agents for this implementation, are, in general, ill-equipped to handle this new responsibility. Their proficiency in written and spoken English is woefully inadequate, to say the least.

He taught English, the English way — a tribute
Madan Mohan Puri
had turned 17 when Independence came in 1947, bringing in its wake an avalanche of miserable refugees, a hefty mass of which streamed into Ferozepur, the town of my birth which almost submerged too in unprecedented flood waters that year.

My encounters with English in India
Yashdip S. Bains
ET me share with you first a few of my recent experiences in India to assure you that English is indeed, flourishing, in daily life, education, and government — it is a huge, lucrative business.



English teaching in Punjab leaves much to be desired
Brinder Aulakh

THE decision of the Punjab Government to make English compulsory from Class I is laudable, but needs to be implemented carefully. Teachers, who are the agents for this implementation, are, in general, ill-equipped to handle this new responsibility. Their proficiency in written and spoken English is woefully inadequate, to say the least.

Teaching a language does not mean translating a text word by word, fracturing the language and stumbling over its pieces. For pupils, to learn English, they must have sufficient and stimulating exposure to the language and must be offered opportunities to practice the language in a playful and creative manner.

However, if the speech model provided by the teacher is grossly distorted and full of phonetic and grammatical errors, the pupils will hardly learn anything. They will be unable to perform any of the functions of language use, for example, naming objects, asking for and giving information, expressing feelings and preferences.

Language development and language use are the two main objectives of language teaching and language learning. The teacher must ensure the acquisition of a variety of sentence patterns and a range of vocabulary, carefully selected and graded from extremely simple structures to increasingly complex ones.

She must also facilitate the pupils’ use of the language by simulating real-life situations in the classroom where they can practise speaking the language needed in the world outside.

Language is a living entity, embracing constantly expanding experience. It requires a continuous development of increasingly complex cognitive skills, language skills i.e. listening, speaking, reading and writing, communication skills, and an understanding and use of body language appropriate to a situation, topic as well as the relationship between speaker and listener.

Besides these skills the teacher needs to have the right attitude to teaching, an understanding of the learning process and learning strategies of the pupils an understanding of the importance of positive and encouraging classroom atmosphere and an eclectic pedagogical method which uses a variety of teaching and learning techniques.

The spoken language is primary as compared with the written form as far as language acquisition is concerned. In the initial stages of teaching English, the spoken form is of crucial importance in language use. The reality of the primary-level classroom, however, is far removed from the objectives of teaching English. The emphasis is on writing and saving the letters of the alphabet along with the surrealistic exercise of repeating A for apple, B for bat etc.

The emphasis is not on communication for the sole reason that the teacher’s own English is devoid of fluency, intelligibility and appropriateness. Also, she seldom has the confidence to use the language.

The teacher’s English must reflect the phonetic features of spoken English as well as the linguistic features of oral interaction and these are acquired through intensive training and practice. Teaching at the primary level does not justify minimal English. A high-proficiency in language skills, especially in listening and speaking, are as important at the elementary stage as at the tertiary level.

Clear and correct articulation of the English consonants and vowels is to be followed by practicing the phonetic features of spoken English which include accent and rhythm, word accent, sentence stress, strong and weak forms, contracted forms, intonation, linking, assimilation and elision.

The linguistic features include use of contracted forms, phrasal verbs, question-tags, echo questions, ellipsis, idioms, gap-fillers and gambits etc.

The English of a very high percentage of teachers lacks almost all these features. The teachers require intensive practice in spoken English before they can start teaching English, use classroom language and read a text aloud. Ease and fluency in speaking comes only from constant use of English in a variety of situations and different styles.

The major decision of introducing the teaching of English should have been preceded by a year of long-term planning and preparation of training of the teachers of classes I, II, III should have received a high priority.

A trained teacher will have the confidence and critical ability to assess whether her performance is appropriate, goal-oriented and productive, the end result of which is that the pupils learn to speak and use English. An untrained teacher, on the other hand, will be inadequate in handling classroom situation and in understanding the process of development, leading to the attainments of pedagogical and linguistic goals. The loss and wastage in terms of time and learning are colossal where untrained and unskilled persons are at work, especially in the classrooms.

Training the teachers to speak English fluently, intelligibly and appropriately, though the major factor in teaching English, is not the only one. Training in practical and effective classroom procedures, availability of audio-visual resources along with suitable, well-written, easy to use textbooks are the other elements necessary for success in the teaching of English at the primary level.

All these elements need to brought together in a long-term policy of language teaching before actual teaching can start. Intensive two-month training programmes to equip teachers with the necessary language and teaching skills before implementing a decision of such vital and far-reaching implications was a must. Briefing and orienting the teachers is important for them to know what is expected of them and how to go about it and this is possible only through training which could be conducted at institutes of English and education in the region.

The writer is Director, Regional Institute of English, Chandigarh


He taught English, the English way — a tribute
Madan Mohan Puri

R.K. KaulI had turned 17 when Independence came in 1947, bringing in its wake an avalanche of miserable refugees, a hefty mass of which streamed into Ferozepur, the town of my birth which almost submerged too in unprecedented flood waters that year. Coping with such overwhelming inundation were the Deputy Commissioner, Gian Singh Kahlon and his SSP, A.K. Kaul. Marauders from across the border were unleashed in Kashmir in October.

Scions of the town’s gentry and some talented enthusiasts decided upon a fund-raising variety show in December to contribute to the efforts needed at the hour. Participation in the show brought me in contact with brothers Raj and his brother Brij.

Thus started a friendship with Raj Kaul that matured and deepened over the years to become for me, the measure to gauge intellectual propensity, values of academic honesty and integrity, and the urge to subscribe to the very sublime in academia — transparently, without the corrupting veneer of hypocrisy or pretence.

Raj went to Magdalen College, Oxford to return as Lecturer in English at the Panjab University College, Hoshiarpur, in 1953.

Deeply in love with the English language, Raj showed extraordinary sensitivity to its syntax and diction, to subtle nuances of words and idiom in usage. He would hesitate to use ‘obstinate’ where ‘stubborn’ seemed more appropriate; similarly, he would urge the subtle distinction in some of the commonly interchangeably or carelessly used words: ‘gaudy’/ ‘flashy’, ‘sturdy’/‘strong’, ‘stupid’/‘silly’, ‘stress’/‘emphasise’, and so on.

He once took considerable pains to write to me the distinction between ‘duffer’ and ‘dunce’. Perhaps, his work on Dr Johnson had honed this trait in him, for he instinctively inclined to the view ‘let dictionary’ (alone) dictate’, and advised so.

His passion to use the right word and correct syntax was a byword among his students who loved him not only for his erudition in the subject and under-statements, but the pain he took in correcting their speech and written work. I have seen the essays corrected by him that some of his students of 1962-64 have carefully preserved till date. He was, indeed, a model teacher — kind, generous and concerned.

A tall intellectual, modest and self-effacing about his mastery of English to a fault, who himself observed — he was published in Oxford’s renowned Essays in Criticism in 1963 and later — and set high, yet attainable, standards in academics, Raj Kaul was widely respected for his stature, a sympathetic but uncompromising teacher, unbiased selector, and a model of probity and rectitude.

Panjab University had him on its selection committees and indicated that he was entitled to to-and-fro air travel, which he declined and chose to come by bus from Jaipur, for, he said, that was the mode he could afford and ordinarily used!

“My family was based in Ludhiana. In 1955 I did not join Government College, Ludhiana, but Panjabi University College, Hoshiarpur, for MA in English. Because an English lady Miss AG Stock, was working in the English Department of Punjab University based there. Luckily for me, Raj Kaul had also just about joined the Department after his Honours Degree at Oxford,” recalls Prof S.S. Hans, a Sikh historian.

“Raj Kaul firmly believed that you should attempt writing if you really want to understand literature. The creative effort would make you appreciate the difficulties involved in writing.

One evening, during a literary function of the department, Raj Kaul asked me if I wrote. I said that was going to start. He said, “do it from today!” He turned a student into a writer — to my good and ill luck.

Most of us do not know how to read English poetry. Most of us do not even know how to read Punjabi poetry. In his classes on practical criticism, Prof Kaul showed us the way an Englishman reads poetry. An Englishman reads a poem at least twice. His first reading is to feel the drift of what the poet is saying. His second reading confirms or disconfirms his initial hunch. He may attempt it the third time for the sheer enjoyment of it, along with a realisation of the technical subtleties. You have to earn the enjoyment of English poetry.

Paradoxically, I learnt my art of history writing in Raj Kaul’s classes of practical criticism. With years a realisation has grown in me that Raj Kaul taught me how to x-ray historical evidence.

Raj Kaul was a lifelong friend and teacher. I attended his marriage party — a feat by a student to attend the marriage of his teacher.

Prof Yashdeep Bains, another student, who teaches English literature in an American University, recalls:

“I was fortunate to encounter at Punjab University College, Hoshiarpur. Dr R.K. Kaul and Miss Stock. Both had studied at Oxford. Prof Kaul was a brilliant Kashmiri who went to Oxford after receiving his education at Government College, Lahore. His tutorials with CS Lewis at Magdalene College transformed him from a typical Indian slave of notes to an independent thinker.

“Looking back at the number of individuals who have received their doctorate in British and American universities, Raj Kaul was the exception to the rule. Most of them revert to the Indian method of circulating notes year after year. Kaul imported the teaching method he had benefited from at Oxford.”

“To Mr Kaul, I owe a tremendous debt. He asked us to discuss and write our reactions to our readings, instead of para-phrasing the opinions of others; to cultivate our own sensibilities and sharpen our response to the complexities and subtleties of the language.”

R.K. Kaul was MA (Oxford) Ph.D (London), Visiting Fellow, Yale University (1983), professor of English, University of Rajasthan, Jaipur, and Emeritus Fellow. He has edited Pope’s “Rape of the Lock”. He died last month in Jaipur.


My encounters with English in India
Yashdip S. Bains

LET me share with you first a few of my recent experiences in India to assure you that English is indeed, flourishing, in daily life, education, and government — it is a huge, lucrative business.

I taught for a few years at Guru Nanak Dev University in Amritsar. As Chairperson of the Department of English one of my responsibilities was to review applications for admissions to our Master’s programme. I noticed quickly that about 95 per cent of the applicants were women.

I asked my secretary to explain the reasons. He said: “All parents believe that they can arrange better marriages for their daughters if they are enrolled for an M.A. in English, even if they do not stay long enough to complete the degree!”

I discovered another aspect of the significance of English in daily life when I landed in Delhi in January. I stayed for a few days with my niece and her husband. I wanted to take a taxi. As my niece phoned for it, she urged me not to speak a word of English to the taxi driver. Why not? The driver will charge me double the rate because he will assume that I speak English and I am rich. Most taxis in Delhi do not go by the meter; you have to haggle over the fare before you get into the taxi.

In February, I went to Mahilpur in Hoshiarpur, Punjab, where I had been born and received my school and college education. As I walked around the town of about 15,000, I counted 12 private schools in addition to the two big state schools for boys and girls. Started since about 1980, all these schools stressed that their medium of instruction was English; they also charged substantial amounts for tuition.

I met several of my close relatives and other friends, all of whom said that their children would have no future without going to an English-medium school. My nephew, who holds a high position as part of the Indian Administrative Service, has placed his 10-year-old daughter at a famous school in Dehra Dun. “If you go to any of the lesser known schools, you are wasting your money”, my nephew told me. It is costing him thousands of rupees a month to give his daughter the right pronunciation and right social connections through her school!

Let me also say that these English-medium schools are mushrooming everywhere in the country and their operators are making huge amounts of money by forcing parents to give donations in addition to tuition fees. Of all the millions who attend these institutions, only a small number succeeds in getting a good education and suitable arranged marriages.

Since 1947, when the British colonial administration granted independence to India, something unexpected has happened. By using English as their language of instruction in schools, people have eliminated a vast majority from the marketplace. Out of a population of almost a billion, not more than three or four per cent can read, write and speak English fluently; they are the ones who run everything in the country.

They get selected to civil and administrative services and the Army. They appear in High Courts and the Supreme Court of India. They work for daily and weekly papers. They secure high positions in industry and business. They run the computer industry in Bangalore and elsewhere. They get degrees in engineering and in medicine. They constantly preach the dogma that India cannot survive without them.

When I started my education in early 1940s, I went to the boys’ school in my village. We studied Urdu in elementary school. In fifth grade, we took up English; in seventh grade, we added Hindi to our courses. One language we never touched was Punjabi, our mothertongue. Some educators used to argue that you do not have to place Punjabi in the curriculum because everybody knows his mothertongue, you go to school to learn something you do not know.

Just imagine the implications of this for the USA. You would go to school only to learn German or French or Italian or Arabic or Swahili, but not English.

In India — do not extend their patriotism to include the promotion and development of their mothertongue. Indians do not want to lower their social standing by learning their own tongue.

A prominent poet and historian and a pal of mine, is translating Shakespeare into Punjabi propels for the first time. Instead of requesting schools and colleges to adopt it as a text for students, some Indian academics say smugly: “You are downgrading Shakespeare by rendering his work in your native language.” It never occurs to them that when they read Dante or Tolstoy in English, they are looking at a translation.

I went on to Punjab University College, Hoshiarpur, for graduate studies in English. Luckily for us, the university had lost its centre when Lahore became part of Pakistan after partition in 1947. Even luckier, the new University College was only 14 miles from my village.

All our college and university instruction was in English. Our lecturers typically came to class with a set of notes which had turned yellow with age and which they read out in class. For Shakespearean tragedy, the great authority was A.C. Bradley. Our instructors summarized Bradley’s analysis of Hamlet and Macbeth for us and expected us to memorise everything. All ideas came from English writers and critics. We were not supposed to deviate from them or corrupt them with our own responses in the context of our lives.

The edited version of a paper presented at English Speaking Union, Cincinnati, Ohio, on April 15, 2003. The writer teaches comparative literature in Cincinnati University. He is a distinguished scholar of Shakespearean texts.