A few schools in and around Coimbatore, especially in small towns and rural areas, realised that students struggled with English language even when it was introduced to them from kindergarten classes.
They found out that children were unable to handle the language confidently and there was a need to modify pedagogical methods to make second language acquisition comfortable and interesting. That was why English Language Development Programme, tailor-made for individual schools, was adopted by around 10 schools in Coimbatore, Tirupur, Erode and Pollachi.
According to Dhanalaksmi Jayachandran, Sri Jayendra Saraswathy Vidhyala Matriculation Higher Secondary School, most of the students of the school had exposure to English only at school. The programme was implemented for students of Kindergarten to Standard III. Audio tools with British accent have been developed.
Purni Krishnakumar, Consultant Special Educationist, who had developed the teaching and learning method and introduced them to schools, said that the programme was structured on principles of language development and child and educational psychology.
This method treated language as a ‘living breathing subject' and not as a mechanical process of memorising words and grammar rules.
The programme was tailor-made for schools taking into consideration the demographics of students, their learning level, opportunities to exposure to language and proficiency level of teachers. Listening, and speaking skills were given importance in the initial stage and writing was introduced once they were thorough with the basics. Improving reading skills was given emphasis in the programme, she said.
Phonetics and basic vocabulary using activity-based learning methods were introduced to build the foundation for language development. Orientation and continuous training sessions for teachers were conducted.
A record of each child was maintained to track his/her progress in learning. Bilingual approach of the programme helped the students learn language logically and made them more confident users of language, Ms. Purni said.
Sruthi Parameshwaran, Standrad I, student of Sri Jayendra Saraswathy Vidhyala, who read out complex sentences as she explained their meaning in Tamil, said that the teacher told her interesting stories with pictures during the training programme.
According to Noella Mawdsley, an English teacher, the programme also helped to improve language skills of teachers.
Teachers had to put in more efforts in making lesson plans and preparing teaching-aids, she said.
J. Vijayalaskhmi, Principal of R.G.M. Matriculation Higher Secondary School, Udumalpet, said that the programme supplemented language classes and other training methods at the school.
“We wanted our students to be on par with students from cities who have a better exposure to the language,” she said.
Many Government and Government-aided schools said that the learning-aids distributed by Sarva Shiskha Abhiyan and the activity-based learning methods were helpful, but a change in approach towards language learning and better exposure to teachers were needed to make teaching effective.