Are poor standards of English hampering the chances of Puducherry students?

The students of Puducherry are suffering because of the poor standard of English teaching and education, which is affecting their chances when it comes to higher education and competitive examinations. While some students are able to cope despite the disadvantage, academic experts and professors are unanimous in stating that the level of English education needs to improve.

Speaking to The Hindu on the issue, Vice Chancellor of Pondicherry University J.A.K Tareen said the problem is common in all places where the education takes place in the vernacular medium. Although it is important to learn one’s mother tongue, by restricting education to the vernacular medium means that the student has only a confined scope in the future.

The aim should be to prepare Indian students for global competitiveness. English is a medium that is acceptable in all countries. By restricting oneself to the vernacular, the student’s education potential is being confined to one state, he said. Although vernacular education is acceptable in the primary levels, at the higher schooling levels the medium of instruction should be English, since English is the language of higher education around the world, he said.

No fluency

Spoken English, especially, is a problem, according to Principal of Pondicherry Engineering College V. Prithviraj. Students who come from an English medium school have some advantage, but even they make basic grammatical errors and struggle to speak fluently.

Even students who have scored high marks in English in their exams have a problem with speaking. It adversely affects their chances during placements, since they are not able to communicate their ideas effectively, he said.

All the experts are unanimous in saying that the quality of English teaching in school education needs to improve. Speaking of the poor standard of English education in schools, Head of the English Department at Tagore Arts College R. Sundaram says the problem is that English in school is taught through Tamil. This makes the students think in Tamil and translate their thoughts into English, which leads to grammatical errors. The students need to be taught English in English, he says.

Many times, students are passed in English because of “grace marks” and not because they are actually competent in the language. The practice is common in both schools and colleges. This means that several students come to college unable to read or write English properly, he says. Most students require additional coaching in order to be able to learn English and speak competently. The coaching is often not available in schools and colleges, and the teachers themselves are not competent in the language, which is where the problem arises, he says.

Once the students reach a certain level of English competence, they can improve their language through coaching CDs and DVDs. The initial learning, however, needs to come from a teacher, he says.

According to M. Shyamala Devi, a retired English teacher, says that the emphasis on English tends to deteriorate, even in English medium schools, once the student reaches the Higher Secondary level. Many teachers encourage students to concentrate on their core subjects and this tends to make the student ignore English, she says. Many colleges have now set up language laboratories in order to help their students

learn English, but unless these children are taught better in the school level, there is very little scope for them to develop their language skills properly, she says.

According to a former faculty member of the State Training Centre, M. Doss, there are some steps that the authorities need to take in order to improve the quality of English Education. The most important is to develop a training package for in-service teachers and conduct training sessions. Constant monitoring is also important as well as counselling on Language communication for older students, he says. Fortunately, students that are keen on the language can develop some skills on their own. The most important thing they can do is to begin to speak English more frequently. Some of the better English medium schools in the town force their students to speak the language even if they make mistakes. Some of them even impose a fine on students who speak in Tamil in school, Ms. Shyamala says.