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The Dilemma of English-Language Teachers in Pakistan

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A Linguistic Analysis

The English language has assumed the role of the lingua franca of today. From officials to academics in the non-English societies, all have recourse more to English than their indigenous languages. In a way, English has now seated itself so deep into the drivers of modernization that no society can make it to the comity of culturally-civilized, technologically-advanced and economically-stable nations if it linguistically keeps a distance from it. On the one hand, English alone is credited with having dismantled the language barriers and facilitated worldwide communication. On the other, however, it has worked wonders in every discipline with the rich English literature piling up the corpus of knowledge from social sciences to humanities and from biological sciences to physical sciences. Therefore, its critical significance has necessitated its teaching as a separate course in Pakistan.

To achieve the optimal quality in education has been the foremost priority globally. The discourse has focused on enhancing the rapport between the instructor and the learner – designing innovations in techniques whereby a teacher carries out instruction delivery, and ameliorating the curriculum scheme. If the abovementioned factors work in an adverse way, the consequences will be disastrous for teachers and learners alike. It will ultimately end up in the awkward triangle: teachers and students going at cross purposes, the instruction methods devoid of any innovative spirit to meet the needs of learners in the modern age, and, finally, shaky content unlikely to yield positive outcomes both in terms of students cracking their tests and developing four-layered language skills.

Through the prism of this criterion, English-language teaching in Pakistan appears to be seriously handicapped by some inherent systemic flaws. The instant article conducts a linguistic analysis of the dilemma of English-language teaching in Pakistan by identifying the factors that render teaching and learning of the English language precarious and at the end suggesting measures to cope with the same.

Washback Framework

The framework of washback phenomenon has been applied to this analysis. According to Philip Shawcross, “Washback” as we call it in the applied linguistics (termed ‘backwash’ in education), is a well-documented phenomenon known to all institutional learning processes. The washback effect has tersely been referred to as ‘the influence of testing [of English language] on teaching, and learning. Washback is a common term in the parlance of applied linguistics denoting the impact of test(s) on teaching and learning of English. The washback can be either positive or negative, and, respectively, can be on teachers or learners. Similarly, it can be beneficial in that the positive washback may bring about an improvement in teaching and learning, while the negative one works exactly otherwise. This article brings to light the fact that teacher, at least, is as amenable to the (adverse) washback as the learners.

Exam-oriented Teaching

Exams mark a turning point in a student’s career. Their relevance to a student’s life is indisputable. However, an exam brings immense psychological and academic pressure on teachers, especially English-language teachers to innovate more and more for exam-oriented strategies to help their students in sailing through examinations. However, in teaching-to-test strategies, language proficiency is largely compromised – something of a great predicament for language teachers in Pakistan. Even in CSS and other competitive exams, the selectivity of aspirants and teachers to go for shortcuts to ace English composition and essay papers is not unknown either. When it fails to pay off, teachers are slated for the blame – something that impacts quite adversely upon a teacher’s psychology, instruction method and content, as well as his overall morale.

The behaviour of viewing a teacher as “a know-all person” is very much embedded in the culture of language teaching in Pakistan. When exams draw near, it adds to students’ anxiety. Consequently, they fall into the state of extreme dependence on their teachers conceiving of them as “god or goddess,” “a moving dictionary” and “a walking grammar”. Teachers are expected not only to teach them the language, but also help them get through the exams. In fact, it drastically hampers their methodology and forces them, at the same time, into doing things they would never otherwise do. “We teach them rules, rules and rules at the expense of essential learning of the language,” noted a teacher of significant repute. Undeniably, in most elite institutions, exam serves as one and only yardstick to judge a teacher’s professional expertise.

The findings in a research study by the author enumerate the following factors as stumbling blocks for English-language teachers in Pakistan:

1. Students’ Apathy

Teaching and learning is a two-way process. An apathetic student leaves his teacher in the doldrums. The teacher is forced by students’ disinterest – itself a result of the exam fear – into omitting much of what is very useful for students, and which can be delivered through an innovative method. A teacher has to give in to them if learners fall into lethargic behaviour, resisting the adoption of a novel method or a different content.

2. Grammar-centred Instruction

Grammar Translation Method (GTM) is now synonymous with learning of the English language. Owing to some technical flaws in the system, hardly any attempt has been made to encourage novel modes of learning and teaching the language. This approach is more common in government institutions than the private ones. One of the respondents revealed to the author: “My teaching remains focused on grammar, and there is a good reason for that. You know, the content being taught to the inter-level students is having exercises mainly based on writing skills. Obviously, to write something demands that you are well at home in grammar. What is more, the exam system is such that grammar-driven questions are administered to students. If we go through the English papers of any BISE, far from communication skills, it tests none of the areas other than grammar and writing. My grammar-based instruction makes sense then, doesn’t it?”

3. Outdated and Dry Syllabus

The syllabus has worn itself out; it offers nothing novel in terms of content and method. Over the years, the same teachers have been pushed into tediously teaching the same content. The syllabus is too rough and dry; it is neither interesting nor productive. Further, it is not up to date. It is too lengthy, above all.

4. No Provision of Training to Language Teachers

Unfortunately, in Pakistan, the subject of linguistics is incredibly underrated, thus completely sidelined from the mainstream research work. It offers little scope in job market, if majored in isolation from literature. Furthermore, teachers are not imparted proper training about the aspects of language such as communication skills. Therefore, the result is that they stick to old patterns like grammar-based teaching.

5. No Incentive to English-language Teachers

As a discipline, English-language teaching is yet not viewed at par with that of science subjects such as physics, biology, etc. The system adds little impetus to English-language teachers in that they are destined to end up teaching in substandard schools or colleges at paltry wages once they graduate. In the second shift, they are constrained to run private tuition centres or academies to make both ends meet. In some cases, they are compelled to switch over to an altogether different field. Job insecurity, little scope, and neglect of linguistics in Pakistan leave them in a demoralized state with no incentive to undertake any research enterprise in this field.

Needless to say, in minting money, many private schools hire mediocre faculty at lower salaries. Their potential is further arrested in an environment of stagnation.

Other Impediments

6. The culture of cramming and dampening of creativity.
7. Classrooms bereft of modern equipment to execute innovative teaching-learning techniques.
8. No support from administration to lower some burden and consecutive, exhaustive class schedule.

A fascinating response came from one of the respondents: “No, I don’t agree with it. I never feel discouraged. A teacher should not feel so because he or she is a teacher after all; it is his/her job to speak to his/her students in a language they understand best. A teacher should be competitive and steadfast in his/her profession. A teacher never feels down when it comes to teaching. I draw myself down to the level of my students. If this or that method is not going well with them, give it up and try a new one.”

Suggested Measures

1. The field of linguistics needs to be mainstreamed. It is now an internationally-recognized, distinct discipline having a wide scope as well as potential to expand. To our dismay, in Pakistan, even its name is given to anonymity. Promoting this field is indispensable to keeping pace with dynamics of the linguistic inquiry being undertaken worldwide. The fact remains that we cannot afford to be delusional about significance of the English language in today’s global village.
2. English-language teachers must find an incentive in adopting this profession and excelling in their field. For this to happen, they must be offered attractive packages, besides giving them job security.
3. There has always been a need to promote the culture of research in English-language, or to be specific, in linguistics in Pakistan so as to explore the erstwhile undiscovered areas in English teaching.
4. Upgrade of the outmoded curricula is also inevitable. While designing the syllabus, the principal focus should be on creativity rather than the passive learning through GTM. Communication skills must form an important feature of the language teaching.
5. Teaching-to-test or learning-to-test must be discouraged. Language proficiency alone must be the rationale behind teaching and learning of the English language. In point of fact, exam-driven teaching and learning take with one hand that they give with the other; the supposedly approving numbers scored through “teaching-to-test” strategy are outweighed by the grievously far-reaching consequences it has on students’ learning, and in the long turn, on their career. It mars their learning potential; besides, making them more and more dependent on royal roads and shortcuts. What use is there in having good grades when they are empty from inside?

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