Analysis of The Crescent English Course For Yemen and proposals for an alternative syllabus [Archives:2009/1226/Education]

January 19 2009

Dr Ayid Sharyan
[email protected]
English Subject Specialist
Head, Research, Materials Development & Translation Unit,
University Education Development Center (UEDC), Sana'a University

This Analysis of The Crescent English Course For Yemen came as a sequel to a Training Course on Analyzing the English Curriculum & Textbooks for Yemeni Curriculum Specialists at the MoE from 02-02 to 18-02-02008 (a project funded by German Technical Cooperation (GTZ) in collaboration with the Basic Education Improvement Program, BEIP.

The analysis of The Crescent English Course For Yemen (CE) was prompted by the fact that although this series was introduced in 1993 there have been no changes for about 15 years till now. This series was first published in 1977 for the Gulf States. It benefited from the work done on editions for Qatar, Kuwait and the UAE. The book is supposed to have been specially developed for the teaching of English in Arab schools but it seems to be commercially motivated. The series is based on the communicative approach to language learning and teaching. It attempts to promote communication in the classroom through the color pictures, language tables and model exchanges, etc by placing responsibility for learning on the pupil. It uses situations, functions and notions, e.g. likes, dislikes, preferences, offers, suggestions, wants and needs, feelings, instructions and directions.

This analysis was undertaken in collaboration with the English Curriculum Specialists (ECS) in the MoE. The focus was on the syllabus in grade 7, 8 and 9 (Book 1, 2, and 3 of CE). The points the analysis focused on were:

1. the curriculum goals in both the dimensions – vertical and horizontal so as to determine relevance of these aims to the needs of the learners.

2. the curriculum components (aims, content, activities, evaluation) that are included in a textbook to explore their relationship with one another.

The Ministry of Education (MoE) in Yemen decided to start teaching of English from school level with the following aims:

1. to teach students to read and write the foreign language so that they can carry out their own academic research in English:

2. to provide students with skills which will enable them to communicate orally, and to some degree in writing, with the speakers of the foreign language.

3. To bring students to some degree of understanding of people across national barriers, by giving them an insight into the ways of life and ways of thinking of the people who speak the language they are learning.

4. To increase students' understanding of how language functions and to bring them, through the study of a foreign language, to a greater awareness of the functioning of their own language.

5. To enable students to study abroad where English is the medium of instruction.

In the absence of the Curriculum Document of English, analysis of these aims was limited to a comparison with the aims of CE in the Teacher's Book (TB ). The aims of teaching English in CE are overambitious and not realistic. This has been proved by a number of academic studies and the opinion of the ECS. For example, Aim 1 (carrying out academic research in English) is not easily achievable at schools under present conditions. This doesn't go in line with aim 3 (increasing awareness of the functioning of their own language.” And this aim is against the claim of the series that 'pioneered the communicative approach to language learning and teaching in CECY1 (Teacher's Book 1: page 1).

Looking at these aims in the light of the aims in the neighboring countries it seems clear that these aims are not practical. Because there are no clearly defined aims for teaching English in the primary stage, we can elicit them by looking at the English curriculum of the stage. The proposed number of active vocabulary the learners are expected to know after studying Books 1, 2, and 3 is about 1500. Teachers are under pressure of time to introduce these words to the learners.

This results in imbalance of language skills and heavy load of vocabulary on the part of the learners in every lesson, if we take into account the fact that school year contains between 22 to 24 weeks and English is taught 5 classes a week. The time allotted to teaching the course is not enough to meet the required aims, content and activities. Moreover, number of new words varies from lesson to lesson. There are 20 words on an average per lesson.

The general aim of teaching English in Yemen as enunciated in 1978 was “to provide the pupils with a basic knowledge of English language, that is with a vocabulary of about 900 words and the ability to use the common structures of the English language.” The number of words at the same stage in Oman is about 800 and in Saudi Arabia about 500. This shows the targeted attainment of vocabulary in CE is not practical. To add to this, the Teacher's Books and the cassettes are not easily available. CE does not take into account the crowded classes in Yemen. The content does not take into account the content of the other textbooks in the same level to build a vertical harmony commensurate with other courses and corresponding to the learners' age maturity. There is no match between the exam questions that come from the MoE and the content of CE. In order to do well in the exams, teachers and students focus too much on grammar, meaning of vocabulary and reading passages, thereby defeating the communicative goals of CE.

There are no explicit aims spelt out for the basic and the high secondary stages which contravene an important requirement in the curriculum document essential to ensure grading. Thus there is no clear borderline between the two stages.

Our recommendations for the writers of English instructional materials in the Yemeni context are: Learners in grade 7 are real beginners. They can start with 200 words instead of about 500 words. In grade 8, they are false beginners. They can take 300 words more. They can be now placed on the elementary stage of learning English. In the 9th grade, they are in the lower intermediate. They can take 400 words more. The aim for grade 7-9 should then be “survival level” and the content should include a minimum of 500 active and 500 passive vocabulary. In all of this the focus should be on the acquisition of the primary skills (listening, speaking, reading and writing). Secondary skills (e.g. scanning, skimming, note taking, dictating, summarizing, paraphrasing, grammatical analysis, translation, etc) may be introduced only if they reinforce the primary skills.

Methodology of presentaton

As far as the methodology of presentation is concerned, learning objectives for every unit in TB1 are commendable. But in TB2 and 3, there is no mention of learning objectives for every unit- a change in methodology is also wanting. There are some activities/skills mentioned in these books without any clear guidance how these are to be used. But learning objectives for individual lessons are mentioned like in PB1. This lack of harmony is a handicap for teachers to work towards achievement of similar aims in every unit, and then in every book and later in the whole stage to reach the general aims that have been stipulated by the MoE for teaching English in Yemen.

PB1 is not in harmony with TB1. It doesn't match with other accompanying instructional materials. It provides for handwriting books. But these handwriting books are not available and students in Yemen do not use them- a truism that requires no proof. The first unit in PB1 consists of 2 pages: one for alphabet and the other for numerals from 1-10. Unit 1 introduces the letters of alphabet in one page and devotes 13 lessons in the WB, along with Cassettes, Wall-sheets 1, 2, and 3. The other accompanying materials are not easily available. What is available in reality is only the PB and sometimes the WB. For this reason, handwriting is not practiced in PB or WB 1. Even if cassettes are found, they are not clear and the instructions in them do not match the PB and WB. The division into sections is not in the PB or WB.

Such a gap causes confusion for teachers and students right from the beginning of teaching English. This throws the teacher into an abyss of uncertainty as to the lesson in the next class. It is hard for learners to fulfill the requirement of TB1 (unit 6, page 63) that expects students to write about themselves, about likes and dislikes, and about preferences. They are to read and listen for specific information and perform conversions. They are to develop silent reading and write about present actions. This requires an ideal learning environment, but in many classes in Yemen there are more than 50 students. From my observation of teaching practice, teachers do not have at their disposal cassettes and some are not qualified to teach for they are not communicative enough themselves. They misuse listening and digress from vocabulary, to listening, and from reading to oral practice.

We suggest that PB learning objectives should be practiced in the WB immediately after presenting the lesson to reinforce learning. But to have presentation in the WB (as the 13 steps in WB1, unit 1) nullifies its function as a practice book. Even the WB and PB can be combined in one book with some guidance for the teachers in the beginning of every unit. This is more suitable to the Yemeni situation than having a number of teaching materials that may not be available easily.

Sequence of CE is not well- organized. PB1 presents number 1-10 and PB2 builds on them to 50 but they are not introduced in the PB or WB. The first two lessons in WB 2 do not match the learning objectives in the TB 2. PB 2 contains some lessons that are not in the TB2, e.g. step 1 contains 3 songs but TB2 has only one. Three songs in one lesson is, by all means, a difficult task to accomplish for students.

As far as activities in the TB, WB, and PB are concerned, many of them appear in one book but not in the other. For example, greeting appears in TB1 but not in PB or WB1. Recognition of the alphabet does not appear in the PB or WB1. Naming objects in class is not there in PB or WB1 but is there in TB1. Tracing and writing words is given in TB 1 but not in PB or WB 1.

Analysis of the learners' needs was carried out on the basis of previous studies that prioritize them according to their importance to students. It was found that CE does not match the learners' needs: traveling abroad (23%), getting jobs (7%), higher study (0%), speaking with foreigners (29%), language of science and technology (8%), commerce (2%), reading materials (23%), great literature (8%). Traveling abroad comes first for the learners but CE fulfils it in about 23% and ignores higher studies (0%).

The team analyzed the activities and exercises in WB 3 according to the main types of the cognitive domain in Bloom's Classification. It was found that WB3 contains the following types of activities: short writing, writing a paragraph, gap filling, ordering, matching, multiple choice, true/false, and oral. It was found that WB 3 does not offer variety of activities but focuses only on writing and gap filling. As there is no balance between the language skills in CE, there is no balance between the main types of the cognitive domain in Bloom's classification. WB 3 focuses on higher abilities in synthesis and evaluation and ignores simple levels of knowledge and comprehension that help learners at this age to acquire the foreign language before they go to evaluation stage and accomplish high faculties.

The analysis ended with defining objective to teaching English in Yemen and a strategic plan as well as an action plan to develop English instructional materials in 18 months.