Thursday, March 6, 2008

Development of Spoken English Proficiency in the teachers



Assistant Commissioner,

KVS Lucknow


Case 1:A teacher started the lesson with full enthusiasm, students grasping the content and everything seemed fine. When the teacher announced that every student should bring a chart on the topic that is just completed, the whole class burst into laughter.


            'Chart' was pronounced as 'shirt' by the teacher due to mother tongue       influence(MTI)


Case 2:A teacher has asked if anybody has 'atlas', in a primary class.  One student said that there is one at home, but used by dad always.  On inquired further, it turned out to be 'atlas' bicycle.  Funny. The teacher intended something, student understood something else.


Case 3:A parent has come to the Principal of a school for shifting the child from one section to another section because the teachers in the section are not using English at all even in the subjects where medium is compulsorily English


            The days of emphasis on employability in the youth are here to stay.  With rapid globalization of products and services, the needs of education have also seen rapid changes. The job openings due to BPO or call centers have spread to even to non-metros and further to smaller cities.  The demand for foreign language skilled personnel is growing at a rapid pace.  When the consumer is the King, school education can't escape from it.  For the sake of quality education, parents are enhancing their affordability towards the cost of educating their child.  It is not just the knowledge bank in the brain that matters, but the expression, delivery also play a very vital role.  Our teachers in the schools are no doubt knowledgeable, qualified.  But then why the children are dissatisfied with some teachers? Why do some teachers fall short of expectations of the system?  It is the lack of awareness that they need to know more in terms of skills in the class-room situation.  The roles played by verbal and  non-verbal means of communication have to be exposed to our teachers.  Now when English is recognized as 'International Link Language', English speaking ability is seen as a pre-requisite for many lucrative jobs.  No doubt, around 80% of all the publications are written in a language which is spoken by hardly around 10% of the  world population.  If we want to keep KVS above the rest in school education, two areas need immediate attention. They are:

            Spoken English Ability

            Communication Skills

Distorted perception about KVS:

            Even though KV has provision for teaching in both media like Maths and Science taught in English and Social to some extent in Hindi, the general perception about KV is 'Hindi school' in many places.  Coupled to this is the fact that many teachers and even principals tend to use Hindi in their daily use leaving less scope for general English ambience in the schools.  Moreover, KVs had not readied themselves for the dynamic changes that have taken place in the society. The idea behind this article is not identification of pitfalls but to introspect ourselves and possible measures to correct.

A Look at the Background of the teachers in KVs

            More than 90% of our teachers barring Hindi teachers are technically competent to handle in both languages.  They have English in most cases upto secondary level or even Graduation level.  If basic skills of reading and writing are considered, there is no deficiency in them, though vocabulary and grammar are casualties in some cases.

Loss of practice:

            Somehow in the system of KV functioning, the usage of English has been relegated to background.  The real problem is not much about the knowledge of the language but the usage part.  The practice of local language has affected the usage of English in the schools.

Why don't  they speak in English?

            Many a time, teachers themselves do not know that they need to enhance their English skills.  This awareness is lacking even in many who teach the subject in English medium.  They generally feel that using even 50% English is equal to English medium.   In the guise of explaining the concept well in mother tongue, some teachers resort to this 50% concept.


Fear of Ridicule


            Even native speakers take years to master their language, so it's no surprise a foreign language learner has to make a lot of mistakes before even managing to produce anything near to good English. The spontaneous nature of speaking means you're likely to make more mistakes than you would otherwise. Fear of ridicule is one of the major impediments in English speaking in our teachers.

Lack of Motivation


            If you ask a teacher why do they think they should speak in English in class or outside, what's the most likely answer? 'because KVS asks them to speak'? They're following orders - and for what? Not only is the motive external, but the end goal is not understood by many.  The importance of the ability in themselves to transfer it to the students is not clear to many.

Lack of support


            There are two kinds of support: Classroom atmosphere and outside class room support.   Teachers need to support each other, for example by working in teams.



Improvement can not be forced upon or thrust.  The efforts should be at individual level, school level, and organizational level.




            It basically depends on the factors at individual's end.  They can be

v     Awareness (Made aware of the ground reality and future)

v     Felt need (Should feel the need of speaking in English)

v     Motivation (Internal motivated)



v     Leader, ie. Principal (supportive, guiding, role model etc.,)

v     Teaching community (involvement and support of colleagues)

v     Subject Committees (for group strategies)

v     Students background (much variation is seen in KVs)

v     Staff Room climate (again it depends on colleagues)

v     Reaching out efforts (special efforts made by the school)




v     Selection (screening strategies)

v     Trainings (periodical workshops)

v     Supervision (inspection strategies)

v     Rewards (both positive and negative)


            Strategies to improve English speaking ability in teachers of KV should be aimed at all the three above areas.  The areas of English that need efforts are Listening, Writing and Speaking as Reading is not a general weakness even in the weakest one in English.




            Since we are trying to talk of a sort of drastic change in the basic approach of the teachers in many cases, I feel we should follow the basic guidelines of Change Management.  The present article talks about strategies that revolve  around Change management. 


What is Change Management?

            People like status quo or we have a tendency of inertia.  Whenever a change is thought of or brought out, resistance occurs like, why now? Or why this or that etc.  There are many reasons for the resistance like fear of failure, feeling of insecurity, fear of loss of importance, fear of dispensability, not aware of the need, future scenario etc,  Basically people have a tendency not to notice the initial signals emanating from change.  The rule of Change is "If you don't change, change will change you".  One best example of this is:  "feeling of incompleteness in elderly employees when confronted with new technological need, be it internet, e mail or looking at the photos of the dear and near in a computer.  When they look at the youngsters, they normally say "we never had such gadgets" failing to realize that they never looked for the signals of change.  They never looked at the sequence of changes like Radio            Transistor         Tape recorder           TV          Colour TV            Plasma TV       PC cum TV. Hence, we need to look at the change management of attitude in our teachers.

            The three stages of Change management are 'unfreezing', 'change' and 'refreeze' (Kurt Lewin's model).




            This basically involves awareness of the needs, its implications if not attempted, what is the organizational interest, stakeholders' interest and the benefits of introducing change to self, KVS, students etc.  Unless the teachers are aware of the meaning and need of the change, they won't listen to our circulars, warnings, reprimands.  Hence our strategies have to attempt this unfreezing or a sort of unlearning the old learning. 




            Only after the first stage of unfreezing, the change has to be introduced.  It is the second stage of the change management.  These are the efforts on the ground level which will receive acceptance as the people are ready to receive due to unfreezing.




            The new strategies are reinforced to see that the new and changed approach becomes part of working life.  It becomes the integral part of the system.


Hence, keeping the above in mind, the following strategies are recommended or that can be thought of:


Awareness of English Speaking Ability and Needs


            This should be the first phase.  Here teachers are exposed to the present day requirement of the economy, industry, profession etc.,  Certain data, research survey findings, market demand etc., must be given to the teachers.  Data that has to be provided to the teachers: List of New and emerging industries like:

v     BPO(Business Process Outsourcing)

v     KPO (Knowledge Process Outsourcing)

v     LPO(Legal Process Outsourcing)

v     Medical transcription

v     data mining

v     Event management

v     Online tuitions

v     Expanding tourism industry

v     Impact of gloablisation

v     Biometrics etc., 

            Even the facts and figures of service industry and its contribution to GDP that is growing at an amazing rate of 9% p.a should be given.  The number of employees preferring a private job to Govt. job should be brought to the notice of the teachers.  One significant aspect of today is less dependence on Govt. jobs by many youngsters in many pockets of the country.  In order to prepare for that, teachers must know if we don't change ourselves, the students including their own children will be at a tremendous loss.   

Awareness campaign:

            Pamphlets containing data, power point presentations containing vital information should be provided in the staff meetings by the principal with any young and energetic teacher.  A regional level briefing may have to be given  to the principals.  There should be atleast 2 meetings of the teachers with the information.  The content of presentations may be vetted by a screening committee.



            Activities that can be conducted at the school level for improvement of English speaking ability are listed below with a brief idea of each activity.  In my opinion, a scrupulous implementation by the principals will bring in a lot of positive change in the desired direction.


1. School Level Group Discussions


            Every school will organize group discussion on some relevant social issues (barring caste or religion based).  PGT (English) or a competent teacher should facilitate the program for around 30 minutes.  Every teacher has to express his or her view for not more than 1 minute each.  Of course, the medium should be English.


2. Prayer level Talk by Teachers


            Long back, there was a circular from KVS that every day in the prayer, there should be atleast one teacher to talk on a social issue (not necessarily moral) in the assembly.  The instruction should be revived.  Principals should ensure that teachers speak in the assembly for a brief period of not more than 3 minutes in English.


3. School Level Extempore speech


            Teachers be arranged in groups and in each group of around 8 people, every teacher will be given a topic on the spot and the teacher will have to speak after an initial preparation time of around 3minutes.  He/She should speak for atleast 3 minutes in English on the given topic.


4. Story writing using pictures


            Teachers be arranged in groups and in each group of around 8 people, every teacher will be given 3 or 4 photos collected from magazines or newspapers and give time for thinking of a story and each teacher should narrate the created story in English.  The story making can be social, funny or even absurd happening.  The story should be of 3 to 5 minutes.

5. Listening sessions:


            Play the situational conversation of CIEFL cassette or CD in front of the group and ask questions.  This should be done by a facilitator at the school level.


6. Sentence generation sessions:


            Provide 3 word groups in sequence WG1, WG2 and WG3 ask the teachers in the group to speak sentences taking one cue from each word group.  The total sentence should have one set from each of the three word groups.  Example:


Word Group 1

Word Group 2

Word Group 3


Is/are/was/were/seems/ appears/Seemed/appeared/looks/looked

History Teacher



Example of the sentence formation is:


            They appear to be scientists.


            The above table is different from the normal one given in students work books.  In this table there is some scope for variation or addition.


            Such sentence generation sessions would help teachers create different expressions for different situations or even different expressions for a similar situations.


7. Listening Skill Activity:


            Use a small town area map with bus station, railway station, school, college, hotel, prominent roads in it.  Facilitator will explain one shortest route from railway station to hotel with directions to take turns etc.,  Provide another map to the participants and they will write directions and also read the directions, of course, in English.


8. Conversation Skills


            It is a group activity.  Arrange the people in groups of 5 to 8.  give them  some situations like at a railway station, at a bus station, at sea beach, while traveling in a crowded bus, while traveling in a local train etc.  People in the group should converse in English on any of the situations and continue with real or imaginary experiences.


9. Comprehension exercises:

            Provide simple passages and ask the teachers to write answers at the end of it.  Proceed from simpler ones to a little difficult ones.  They help in improving comprehension ability.


10. Role Plays:

            Provide a situation, give the roles and the group has to assign the roles to every members for the situation, prepare an idea and perform or enact, e.g., Topics: advertisement is a nuisance (roles are: manufacturer, housewife, media person, student and a doctor)


11. Role Reversal

            People in the group will be given a role that is reverse of them like: demanding son or daughter and stubborn parent; two students discuss about their mental state of exam stress etc.,

            The above are only suggestive.  The principals as leaders with their intuition ad attitude can plan and arrange them to see that speaking ability with a better body language can be improved in the teachers.



            The ideas and activities are drawn from "Manual for Training on Communication Skills and Spoken English" developed by me at ZIET Mumbai along with Mrs. Mitali Rudra, Principal, Mr. M.R.K.Raju, PGT, Mrs. Devyani Bose, PGT and Mrs. Vineeta Narula, PGT.