Finding Order Amid The English Chaos

S Radha Prathi, April 18. 2015. DHNS

Even as our country is still weighing the pros and cons on the status of the English language in the department of education, it is time to have a subjective look at the topic. It is a known fact that an undergraduate aspirant has to pass all the subjects of all the academic years before obtaining the degree certificate. More often than not, the English language paper proves to be a stumbling block in the path of achieving their goals. Professors of English at the undergraduate level are finding it increasingly difficult to handle their students.

One set of teachers have to deal with students who profess to know everything on the subject because they have been educated in private English medium schools. Twelve to fourteen years of continuous exposure to the language makes them take on the undergraduate course with a confidence hitherto, unknown to themselves.

Another set of teachers feel that they are saddled with students who qualify for the very same course after clearing all the previous examinations in the vernacular medium. Both the sets of teachers and students have to deal with the same material, prepare towards a common question paper and clear the examination scoring the minimum marks prescribed.

Since the prescribed syllabus serves a common purpose across the science, commerce and arts streams, the text book committees carefully choose pieces of literature which can cater to all pupils belonging to all strata. Question banks are prepared and circulated amongst students. Question papers are set with several choices and in such a way to help examinees who know little to scrape through.

Some basic grammar and a comprehension piece of a medium level of difficulty are thrown in favour of students who fail to grapple the contents of their course books. Most universities make it mandatory for the colleges under them to allot internal assessment marks ranging from ten to thirty per cent. In other words, universities do the square thing by bolstering the psyche of students from non-English background to face the English examination confidently.

Universities invariably do not want to withhold the degree of a candidate because they realise that one cannot miss the woods for the trees. And there lies the problem. It is this very same spirit of generosity and understanding which is creating chaos at another level.

It is strange but true that students educated in the English medium through school and pre university who take the study of the English language seriously, prefer to put it on the back burner when they commence their under graduate studies. Perhaps, a grounding in the language and its literature since childhood makes them confident enough to tackle the prescribed text books on the way to graduation.

Complacent students

Students who have been tutored under the CBSE, ICSE or IGCSE, have often been known to cock a snook at the prescribed material because they have been trained at a higher level. Besides, the pattern of the question paper coupled with the system of internal assessment marking seems to guarantee the passing marks almost effortlessly. This system inadvertently encourages a sense of complacence among such students.

Any amount of energetic enthusiasm injected into the subject by a passionate professor has few takers. Indiscipline and distraction largely rule classrooms during these sessions. All the same, most of the students do attend these classes with a supercilious air because it is mandatory to have at least 75 per cent attendance to classes in order to obtain the hall ticket to take the examination.

The fairly simple content coupled with guide books readily available in the market and on the internet add to the woes of the teaching staff. It can be a little unsettling to acknowledge the harsh truth which showcases the negligent attitude of students towards the study of language. The same can be put down to lack of enough challenge and also possibly the insignificant weightage of the subject in the entire course.

Since language is the vehicle of communication and literature holds a mirror to life, universities should seriously think of introducing English in all the semesters gradually stepping up the level which will definitely go a long way in stepping up the skills of both sets of students. If that happens to be a tall order, they should certainly think of taking the trouble to make different sets of textbooks or at least question papers and remove the subject from the back burner.

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