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Value based teaching through the English language curriculum

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May 6, 2016

Value based teaching through the English language curriculum

Deteriorating value system coupled with human disconnect -thanks to the virtual world that our digital natives seem to inhabit, is a cause of worry and serious concern today. The school, being the child’s first and foremost experience of socialisation, is uniquely placed to influence the child in a positive way, inculcate the desired values that the society collectively cherishes and impart an education aimed at the whole child that would result in rounded development of the child. As easy as it may sound in theory , it is all the more difficult and challenging in practice. There are many factors within and without the purview of instruction at school that determine how effectively and sincerely the larger goals of education are met through the entire phase of schooling.

Literature offers a wealth of ennobling human experiences that a serious engagement with such texts can leave a lasting impression and in rare cases impact a behavioural change in students. Thus, a well designed English Language curriculum that provides a rich collection of varied genres of writing, that makes the bulk of learning resources, when transacted effectively could become a ‘Life Skills Programme’ itself instead of remaining ‘First Language Curriculum’ alone that is taught primarily for fluency in ‘spoken’ English or to enhance the ‘communicative competencies’ of learners.

Let me illustrate my point with a few examples.

The call for education being imparted in Indian schools today to be more inclusive has been gaining support and acceptance, though it is not a new concept. The idea behind this movement is basically to make society as a whole more inclusive and considerate or to put it in other words create humane humans. Sensitivity to the needs of others who are not only different from the ‘regular’ crowd and also disabled in more ways than one is lacking in young people today. Qualities like empathy, altruism, servicemindedness, though inborn traits, can be cultivated through exposure to situations and opportunities to exercise them in real or simulated classroom experiences. For this to happen, the curriculum has to go beyond attaining academic excellence to capacity and character building. I will take up three texts of varying levels sourced from two publications used as the English Language teaching resources or what is commonly called the textbooks.

The first text is a unit titled ‘Special People’ from the Course Book for Class 6.

The inclusion of this theme is a thoughtful exercise as children at this stage are gaining maturity and a better understanding of the world around them. The stage also marks a transition from primary to secondary lev el where branching of academic disciplines of study provide an orientation to a more practical and realistic approach to engage with the world.

Through a sensible approach and a sensitising touch, if students are made to see the exceptional abilities rather than the disabilities of ‘special people’ the purpose of introducing the subject of disabilities gets served. The accounts of people with different types of disabilities blazing a trail for others to follow is not only inspirational but also humbling.

At this stage it is important to ensure children learn to empathise rather than sympathise with people with disabilities. For that to happen, they ought to ‘put themselves in their shoes‘ and experience first-hand what it is like to live with a disability. Towards that end, an activity is warranted. A pre-teaching activity for the lesson could ideally be one where, the whole class is divided into groups of four and each child in all the groups is to mimic a disability – for example, a deaf child would have ear plugs to shut out any noise, another to be blindfolded to get a feel of what it is like for a person with visual impairment. Another child could have his mouth gagged to mimic a person with speech impairment.

Yet another child could have one of his legs tied to resemble a person with physical disability, etc. The activity can be conducted in the school grounds. Given below are the directives to be followed:

  • Students have to be very honest and cannot discard any ‘disability’ during the course of the task.
  • The objective of the task given to the groups has to be met by the group as a unit.( The tasks could vary like a race, treasure hunt, etc.)
  • A little research into the nature of disabilities can be done beforehand to understand the limitations within which people with disabilities function.
  • To conduct the task one complete teaching period of 40 minutes duration will be utilised.

After the activity, the students can be asked to share their experiences during the conduct of the activity. They could be asked to share their difficulties which they encountered while carrying out their assigned tasks which required them to perform the routine everyday functions that they otherwise take for granted. Hopefully after the activity, students would know from their experience, the debilitating conditions that restrict people with disabilities from leading an independent life.

The sharing session, having set the tone for a serious engagement with the topic, the actual transaction of the lesson would ensure active participation and learning on the part of students.

The lesson titled ‘A School for Sympathy’ by EV can be taken up to consolidate the learning points garnered during the engagement with the topic. The second text is ‘A visit to Cambridge’ from the Class 8 text book. It a story of a meeting between two extraordinary people, both of them are disabled or differently abled as we call them today – Stephen Hawking and Firduas Kanga. This short but poignant piece of prose almost poetic in tone captures the essential spirit of human struggle that overpowers physical limitation to realise the infinite potential of the human mind.

The narration is interspersed with perception of the author so beautifully expressed that it elevates the readers to a higher plane of perception. The following excerpt where Kanga describes his experience of an epiphany while looking at Hawking is my favourite:

‘Before you, like a lantern whose walls are worn so thin you glimpse only the light inside, is the incandescence of a man. The body, almost irrelevant, exists only like a case made of shadows. So that I, no believer in eternal souls, know that this is what each of us is; everything else an accessory’.

The take away from the lesson are many. One is how the human mind is capable of surmounting all odds in pursuit of knowledge, or mysteries of the universe and most importantly the quest for understanding one’s purpose of the earthly sojourn .The lesson is one that calls for the kind of engagement that goes beyond ‘explanation’ and needs ‘exploration’. The teacher is required to prod the students to come up with their analysis of what makes Hawking the person he is and what motivates him to pursue his never ending quest to unlock the mysteries of our universe with single minded determination and unwavering faith. This exercise, it is hoped would inspire students to reflect on their own position – the privileged lives they lead. If the enquiry is sincere, it will probably get them to question how they can use the opportunities that abound in their world towards realising their true potential and in the process find ways and means to give back to society.

The third text is ‘On the face of it’ by Susan Hill from Class 12 English Core Supplementary Reader which takes the issue of physical deformity head on. It is a story of a young boy with a disfigured face caused by an accident who shuts himself from all human contact and shuns any opportunity he may have of living a normal life. The social stigma and self imposed exile makes him very bitter and defiant. A chance encounter with an old man, also with a deformity changed his perception and brings about an attitudinal change in him. The text is strewn with gems of wisdom and insightful ideas given to the readers in the form of exchanges that the two people have. Given below are a few samples of these: MR LAMB: Why is one green, growing plant called a weed and another ‘flower’? Where’s the difference. It’s all life… growing. Same as you and me.

MR LAMB: Lord, boy, you’ve got two arms, two legs and eyes and ears, you’ve got a tongue and a brain. You’ll get on the way you want, like all the rest. And if you chose, and set your mind to it, you could get on better than all the rest.

DERRY: You needn’t think they haven’t all told me that fairy story before. It’s not what you look like, it’s what you are inside. Handsome is as handsome does. Beauty loved the monstrous beast for himself and when she kissed him he changed into a handsome prince. If only he wouldn’t, he’d have stayed a monstrous beast. I won’t change. The lesson is an eye-opener not just regarding physical disabilities but self imposed mental blocks that we often create for ourselves that stunt our growth which otherwise would have enabled us to search within the deep recesses of our mind and tap into our storehouse of innate and latent potential to grow into better human beings contented and productive.

A very important teaching learning moment comes when the teacher is successfully able to make the students realise that disabilities become a ‘handicap’ only when one sees the limitations and feels mentally bound by them. When one chooses to explore the possibilities that exist – untried and waiting to unfold, the sky is the limit.

So does one require to look beyond the existing curriculum to impart life skills and value based education? The question therefore is not what else can be done to impart a holistic education but how well the existing curriculum can be used to realise the objectives of a meaningful education.

P Ajitha is a teaching practitioner who has been advocating for ‘liberating’ the education process to accommodate change and give true freedom that enables the teacher to create, innovate and experiment with notions of learning; a votary of teachers’ rights to empower them to become the catalysts of change in building a national force of informed men and women with sound value system and integrity of character; a staunch believer in the transformational nature of education imparted with true commitment to the larger objectives of this noble endeavour. The author presently teaches at Delhi Public School, Coimbatore and can be reached at ajithapaladugu@

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