Evaluation of English Course for Yemen [Archives:2004/750/Education]

June 28 2004

By Sheikh Eldin Mohammed Nur Ali
An English Teacher (M.A. Diploma)

As a member of the Evaluation committee constituted for this purpose by the Ministry of Education – Guidance Sector, I would like to make some observations on the efficacy of the Secondary School English syllabus and Crescent series (Book 2).
I would like to evaluate:
1- Topics (Themes and variation)
2- Their suitability for the targeted age groups
3- Focus on the environment
4- Illustrations
5- Coverage of the four skills
6- Audio-visual aids
7- Library

Making a curriculum or syllabus is something difficult, especially when the language is not one's mother tongue. One must take into account the three pillars of education i.e. the student, teacher and syllabus added to the learner's family and the learning environment.
The student is the target and means of the educational process. He is the intrinsic core of the educational edifice. The most important factors in the determination of a child's capacity to learn are the following:
1) The family environment. This includes a) The income level b) Parents' education c) number of children in household etc
2) Peer group interaction i.e. the type of children with whom an individual child associates.
3) Personality i.e. the child's inherited intelligence and mental abilities
4) Early nutrition and health.

The English textbook Crescent series for Yemen was originally written for the Gulf and it was amended by Longman Company to cater to Yemeni students. Consequently, some Yemeni topics were inserted. There are no Yemeni place names or references except for a few names of people and some illustrations. Although the subjects are, to some extent relevant to the Yemeni context, the current syllabus needs to be permeated by the indigenous Yemeni spirit.

1) Topics
The subjects must cover all the branches of knowledge i.e. there should be lessons about geography, history, religion, maths and science added to environmental issues such as ecology, and the customs, habits, belief, culture etc. The student must feel that he is a part of the Yemeni cultural ethos. Thus he has to affect and be affected by all the living and non-living things around him. Due to that there should be a variation not only in the themes and topics, but even in the genres i.e. poetry, prose, plays, stories, dialogues, conversations etc.
There are altogether seven units. There are a variety of subjects and drills which can be categorized as follows: 9 songs, 15 short stories, 21 structures, 13 tables or sentence-making exercises. That is good, but the lessons are very short with few new vocabulary. I notice that surprisingly there is not enough coverage about Yemen. There is no information about the Yemeni regions.

2) Suitability for the targeted age groups
Since the students are in their adolescence, there should be topics that absorb their attention. So they need some songs or some sort of activities involving dramatization to hold their attention. I think the present book is suitable for their age but it needs more drills and exercises and more quizzes with attractive illustrations and, of course, something more about Yemen, its people, its past, present and future.

3) Environment
The environment is the combination of people, animals, things and events that affect the globe. It is all the surroundings, especially the material and spiritual influences that affect the growth, and development of a living being. There is a natural environment as well as a man-made environment, including the industrial one. The wood, forest, river, lake, valley, mountain, animals and air etc. are the natural environment added to the buildings, factories, vehicles and machines with their impact for environmental pollution as the man-made environment. The lessons must teach the student to learn the relationship between him and his environment, especially the immediate environment. He has to see the interaction between him and his environment, how it affects him positively or negatively and how he can create suitable or beneficial situations to live happily. There are, of course, some lessons about animals with photos and illustrations of natural phenomena followed by some activities. There is the picture of a zoo with different kinds of animals.

4) Illustrations
These include all the photos and pictures, including sketches, or cartoon. There are also maps. I think the pictures, drawings and photographs are clear and well-drawn and colored; but some pictures do not reflect the Yemeni national dress.

5) The four skills
The four language skills are speaking, listening, reading and writing
a) As regards speaking, this is done by the teacher and student by means of presentation, chorus practice, dialogues or individual reading. There is another kind of speaking exercise using the audio and video cassettes. There are many activities in the book for speaking, including songs, dialogue, conversation, structures and dramatization.
b) For listening, students first listen to the teacher when presenting the lesson and using the audio-visual aids especially the cassettes, radio or through dramatization.
c) Reading is the most suitable medium for teaching new vocabulary and structures. There are two kinds of reading i.e. silent reading and reading aloud and each one has its own rules. When one reads silently one must use only his eyes not lips, not vocalize or sub-vocalize, especially in the class, at a library or else where. Secondly, one must read quickly, comprehend the main ideas and digest what he has read. Reading practice prompts the student to be creative in the long run. For the cultivation of the reading skills, there should be provision of supplementary reading materials.
d) Writing is the skill of using graphemes in an efficient way. At an early stage students have to practice hand writing, paying special attention to the rules of mechanics of writing as well as punctuation. It is a pity that there is no exercise on handwriting for beginners and no practice of cursive writing in the workbook.

6) Audio-visual Aids
The AV aids in general are valuable supplements to any curriculum or syllabus. They are divided into three kinds: audio aids, visual aids and audio -visual aids. Audio aids include tapes, radio and CDs. The most important visual aids are books, the board, computers, charts, maps and TV/video. Audio-visual aids, as the name implies, include elements of both of these groups, most importantly TV and computers.
I notice that the only aids used in a typical Yemeni classroom are the books and the board with some actions. The syllabus of course includes cassettes, but they are not available and, if they are available, there is no tape recorder or TV available. In a model situation there should be language labs, which is almost impossible in the current Yemeni secondary school context.

7) Library
The library is the nerve-center in every educational institute because textbooks are in themselves limited in topic coverage. So the student can promote his extensive reading habits by using the library and thus widen his knowledge. There are few schools that have libraries, and those tend to have few books. The library facilities should be improved at the earliest.
The above points are some of the pertinent observations. Of course there can be many more.
All our efforts should be geared to facilitate the efficient acquisition of this very essential global language.