MAKING IT WORK: Parameters of Innovation in The EFL Curriculum in Yemen [Archives:1999/06/Focus]

February 8 1999

There is an intimate interface between the socio-academic needs and aspirations of a community and the broad framework of the curriculum designed to fulfill those needs. If effective teaching/learning of English is to be accorded top priority in the national educational agenda, a clear perception of the needs of the Yemeni learners in the EFL (English as a foreign language) is an inevitable precursor.
The EFL needs of the whole gamut of Yemeni students are not homogeneous, but constitute a spectrum. While a vast segment of the student community needs a kind of ‘bread-and-butter’ English for ‘survival’ in an English speaking environment, a smaller segment requires higher level specialized courses for various occupational needs. Hence the curriculum should specify two sets of objectives corresponding to these levels.
Our preparatory and secondary level FL curricula should be geared to inculcate in the majority of learners proficiency in simple interactional skills, focusing on elementary ‘Oratory’ skills like speaking and listening as well as ‘literacy’ skills like reading and writing. However, the focus need to be on the promotion of basic skills of oral communication.
With such skills, the learners after their graduation can enter different trades and professions and can display the minimum level of competence in English in transacting business with non-Arabic customers and clientele. This would immensely benefit clerks and other officials in workplaces such as universities, hospitals, banks, government organs like the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Immigration and Passport Offices, etc. who can then discharge their duties more efficiently. This places an weighty responsibility on the secondary EFL curriculum to develop the learners’ fluency in English by the end of their schooling.
For the students entering the portals of universities and other institutions of higher learning, the FL curriculum may consist of two components:
a) a General English component for the general stream and,
b) another need based ESP (English for Specific Purpose) course or register-based EOP (English for Occupational Purpose) course for students branching out for various professional careers. However, all students entering the university after secondary schooling should undergo a compensatory, remedial bridge course designed to consolidate their FL competencies developed at the secondary level.
This course would specifically prepare them to meet the foreign language demands of the university curriculum. The focus would be on essential areas of functional grammar, various study skills like note taking, note making, reference skills, inferencing, forming critical and evaluative opinions, distinguishing facts from fiction, skimming, scanning, synthesizing, information transfer, locating, storing and retrieving information, writing brief reports, preparing and presenting seminar papers, participating in debates, group discussions, colloquia, symposia, practicing turn taking and turn giving techniques, handling group dynamics in classroom and other interactional contexts, preparing for interviews and so forth. Such a course would enable the learners to hone their linguistic readiness and mental alertness to receive and assimilate the incoming new information load confidently. In short, the FL curriculum from the preparatory through the tertiary stage may consist of the following four phases:
Phase 1:
Introduction (Elementary or Preparatory grade)
Learning the English alphabet, acquisition of monosyllabic, di-syllabic or tri-syllabic words, describing simple objects within the immediate environment and experience of young learners, familiarization with the spelling patterns of English, grapheme-phoneme correspondence (phonics), listening to English speech sounds, simple dialogues, hand writing, etc.
Phase 2:
Expansion (Secondary grade)
Vocabulary expansion through semantic exercises, simple sentence patterns and usage, reading short texts with understanding, guided composition, listening to connected speech, speaking with clarity on topics within their conceptual range, elementary knowledge of stress, rhythm and intonation.
Phase 3:
Consolidation (Post secondary level)
Revision and reinforcement of the vocabulary and structures, functional bridge course, intensive and extensive reading and familiarization with different genres-based texts, functional language skills.
Phase 4:
Specialization and Wider application of skills: (Post graduate level)
ESP and EOP courses – Language awareness, further refinement of the receptive and productive skills.
If the processes of skill getting and skill using are effectively accomplished, then the English Specialist courses, which have been designed and which are currently being followed in the Yemeni universities, would be more meaningful and productive. These courses, offered during a span of four years, constitute a well-planned integrated module based on a holistic approach to language. That is, learning with the underlying assumption that the students have the necessary prerequisite of an appropriate entry behavior (EB) in terms of their competence in English, so that, after undergoing the prescribed course work, they would approximate the targeted terminal behavior (TB). But apparently a bulk of students at the post secondary stage hardly demonstrate what is called ‘threshold level competence’ without which the English specialist courses, in their present form, prescribed for students of colleges of Education and general stream students seem to be a trifle premature.
In this context it is worthwhile to mention that the FL curriculum for students of colleges of Education need a more pedagogic slant.
College of Education students are the future generation teachers. As such, their English curriculum should envisage methods, approaches and techniques of ‘how’ to teach the four basic language skills. The pupil-teachers should be sensitized about a plethora of people skills, presentational skills and pedagogic skills encompassing areas like teacher development, educational psychology, motivation, lesson planning, lesson observation, microteaching, peerteaching, classroom processes, coding procedures, testing language and literature, evaluation of text books, curriculum planning, and methodology. Only then can they mature as potentially vibrant professionals with an adequate level of knowledge and control of the teaching learning process. Generations of foreign language learners would, then, be safer in the hands of such teachers who can justifiably be role models for learners in respect of knowledge in and use of English.
I conclude this discussion by briefly reflecting on the role, status and relevance of the English literature component in the EFL curricula in general in Yemen. The literature component across the EFL curricula is, in my opinion, needs to be designed, keeping the level of competence of the learners in view. Except for a few highly motivated, proficient students who want to make English as their career option, the vast majority of students need not be saddled with a heavy dose of canonical literature. For the majority of students simple narratives, retold classics, stimulating stories, short fiction, essays on exploration, adventure, sports, and other common, popular and interesting themes are enough. Simple lyrical poems carefully selected from the corpus of contemporary literature would serve the purpose of generating in them pleasures of reading so that later in life, they take to reading on their own. In so far as great poetry is enjoyed before it is understood, exposure to short and rhythmical poems would engender in them a healthy sense of appreciation of the sheer musicality of poetry and promote their innate aesthetic sensibility.
Conversely, the prescription of Shakespeare, T.S.Eliot and other heavy texts is more likely to stifle their linguistic growth for the simple reason that the highly stylized material with involved syntax and a heavy load of archaic expressions are all too obscure for them and much beyond their level of linguistic competence. This is why the current global trend is to phase out Shakespeare from the General English syllabi and replace him with representatives from contemporary British, American, African or post-colonial literature which can substantially contribute to the enrichment of their language and edification of their personality. Moreover, students are likely to be frightened by an unduly demanding course content. Hence, imposing on them a cartload of masterpieces from the treasure-trove of English literature without ensuring their requisite linguistic competence would be as counterproductive as putting the cart before the horse.
Curriculum is an evolving and dynamic concept. No curriculum, in this sense, is static, foolproof or complete in itself. If curriculum is to address itself to the contemporary socio-academic needs, there should be a continual evaluation, based on monitoring of content and framework, coupled with perceptive analyses of a spectrum of allied issues such as methodology, teacher training, text book designing and evaluation procedure. Such an exercise seems warranted now in Yemen so that the social accountability of curriculum is retained. The time has arrived and the moment is now.
By: Dr. Ramakanta Sahu, Associate Professor,
Dept of English, College of Education, Mahweet.