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Secondary Education

English Teachers’ Classroom Practices in Rural Secondary Schools: An Exploration of the Effect of BRAC Training

RIFAT AFROZE, MD. MAHBUBUL KABIR AND ARIFA RAHMAN

ABSTRACT: This study investigated the effect of the BRAC training programme for English language teachers of rural non-government secondary schools. It examined the change in the teachers in terms of their pedagogic skills, language skills development, knowledge about Communicative Language Teaching (CLT) and their attitudes towards this new approach. The findings pointed to a mixed picture. In spite of a general improvement in teachers’ knowledge about CLT and the skills involved in its application in the classroom, there was little evidence of much difference in the existing classroom practices of trained and non-trained teachers. More importantly, students were not being affected positively. Although most teachers perceived the training programme as relevant to and useful for their professional development, they did not believe that CLT could be effectively applied to the classroom settings of rural schools, thus implying a set of ingrained beliefs which influenced teachers’ attitudes and behaviour in the classroom.
INTRODUCTION
The need for quality education is steadily being recognized as a prerequisite to human development and economic growth. As a result, individual governments, international agencies and non-government organizations are investing increasingly large amounts in the expansion and improvement of educational provisions. In spite of constraints on resources, there are concerted attempts in the developing world also, to provide opportunities for effective education.

Since the eighties, amongst the variables in educational improvement, the teacher has been considered as being of utmost importance and there has been a strong focus on the professional development of the teacher (Hargreaves and Fullan 1992). Thus, the need for an effective provision to initiate, develop and sustain teachers through an appropriate process of intervention and training is gradually being accepted as amongst the highest priorities of educational planning and practice.

Orientations to Communicative Language Teaching (CLT)    

The search for an appropriate method to teach foreign languages has been going on for the last one hundred years (Howatt 1984). These have reflected varied changes in perspectives related to the nature of language and of learning theories. Since the 1970s, the second/foreign language teaching field worldwide has settled for Communicative Language Teaching (CLT). Its chief proponents were a group of influential educational linguists who drew upon insights from sociolinguistics, educational psychology and second language acquisition studies. CLT has a humanistic orientation, treats learners as individuals with different learning styles and most significantly focuses on language in use. It is best considered an approach rather than a method.

Richards and Rodgers (2001) have drawn up a number of principles underlying the CLT approach. These are:

•    Learners learn a language through using it to communicate.
•    The goal of classroom activities should be authentic and meaningful communication.
•    Fluency is an important component of communication, therefore learners need to be provided with all kinds of opportunities to facilitate communication.
•    Communication involves the integration of all the four language skills (speaking, listening, reading and writing).
•    Learning is a process of creative construction and involves trial and error.

In line with this modern orientation to teaching English and with the worthwhile objective of improving the quality of the teaching and learning of English, the authorities reached out nationally and introduced CLT in Bangladesh at the secondary level. New books English for Today (ET) series were written by teams of national and international experts and attempts were made to train secondary school teachers in this new methodology.

Applying this new methodology to the classroom in Bangladesh, we can see the kind of demands the CLT approach creates among the teacher. Once an all-knowing authoritative figure, the teacher now is asked to be a facilitator, a guide and a tolerant supporter of the learning process.

The BRAC Programme

In 1996 National Curriculum and Textbook Board (NCTB) introduced the new ELT curriculum, textbooks and a revised teaching methodology for English language teaching at secondary level. Primarily, it brought about more problems than benefits for both students and teachers. School teachers especially in rural areas, who were basically weak in the English language and in teaching skills, were not capable of coping with the demands of the change. Also, apart from training workshops held from time to time, there was not enough initiative for familiarizing teachers with the new curriculum, the textbooks or the teaching methodology.

This programme carried out a needs assessment study and found that most rural teachers were facing difficulties in delivering the new materials in classes – this was hampering the quality of education in secondary schools (PACE Report, undated). The adverse impact on rural students affected the rate of failure in public examination – it was increasing. Consequently, a BRAC pilot project was started in 2001 to provide subject-based residential training for English, mathematics and science teachers of rural non-governmental high schools in order to enhance their capacity, particularly in the teaching of the new topics introduced in the revised curriculum. This included 22 secondary schools in rural areas.

The programme developed 28 training materials for English (12 for classes 6-8 and 16 for classes 9-10). These deal with teaching methodology/pedagogy, familiarization with the new concepts in the curriculum, textbooks and the four language skills, most importantly, teaching methodology. Till November 2005, a total of 4,832 English teachers (2,357 of classes 6-8 and 2,475 of classes 9-10) participated in a residential training course for 6 weeks (3 weeks for Module 1 and 3 weeks for Module 2). A one-week refresher follow course-up course was initially planned but was not implemented.

RESEARCH OBJECTIVE and METHODOLOGY

The main objective of this research was to find out about the existing classroom practices of trained and non-trained teachers and their perceptions of CLT. As a corollary, the existing challenges faced by teachers were also investigated.

This is part of a larger study where both qualitative and quantitative approaches were used. This paper presents only the qualitative findings. The data were collected from March to May 2006 from the observation of secondary school classrooms (of both trained and non-trained teachers), focus group discussions (FGDs) with students of trained and non-trained teachers, and interviews with trained teachers..

To investigate the existing classroom practices, 79 English classes of both trained and non-trained teachers (40 classes of trained and 39 classes of non-trained teachers) were observed. Among the 79 observed English classes, 45 classes dealt with English 1st paper and 34 with English 2nd paper. 14 FGDs with students (of trained and non-trained teachers) were conducted in seven districts to review their perspectives on the new teaching techniques. Then 26 trained teachers were interviewed to find out about the existing teaching-learning process in the classrooms and the challenges the trained teachers faced in different situations.

FINDINGS

This section presents the findings on the comparative performance of the trained and non-trained teachers (through observation), followed by the students’ perception on trained and non-trained teachers (through FGDs) and challenges that trained teachers faced in applying the CLT method that they had learned in the training (through interviews and observations).

Classroom Practices
The observation data showed a general diversity of performance both among the trained and non-trained teachers. Although the trained teachers attempted to make more use of the CLT method, there is little evidence of much difference in the existing classroom practices of trained and non-trained teachers (Table-1).

While the mean age of the teachers was 46 years, the highest teaching experience was found to be 34 years and the lowest was 3 years. The mean teaching experience was 18 years. The maximum number of student enrolment in class was 102 and the minimum was 21. With regard to student attendance, a maximum of 68 and a minimum of 10 students were present during the survey. On an average, 34 students attended classes regularly, a poor number compared to enrolment. The average planned duration of the English class was 42 minutes but in reality an average of only 38 minutes was spent in class.

Table-1 sums up some classroom activities of trained and non-trained teachers (related to criteria like classroom behaviour, teaching style, use of English in class, approach towards CLT, etc).  Teachers’ performance is shown in percentage.

Table 1: Classroom Performance of Trained and Non-trained Teachers in Percentage

Criteria    Classes of Trained Teachers (%)    Classes of Non-Trained
Teachers (%)
Dealing with mistakes    70    85
Illustrating topic with examples    45    39
Encouraging questions from students    68    51
Making purpose and guidelines of lesson clear to students    63    54
Responding to students’ questions sympathetically    80    74
Students responding to teachers’ questions enthusiastically    
88    
46
Meaningful communication taking place in class    33    21
Doing group/pair work appropriately with all students    45    23
Problem faced while doing group/pair work    23    18
Using English most of the time    52    38
Moving around in class    76    67
Using teaching aids productively    95    72

In case of dealing with mistakes, in about 70% of the classes of trained and 85% of the classes of non-trained teachers, teachers dealt with mistakes frequently, which occurred in sentence construction, spelling and grammatical activities.

Regarding teachers’ illustrating a topic by using real-life objects, pictures and charts (teaching aids), it was found to take place in 45% of the classes of trained and 39% of the classes of non-trained teachers. They used appropriate examples in a logical manner by using the blackboard.

Teachers’ encouragement of students in asking questions and clarification in classrooms occurred in 68% of the classes of trained and 51% of the classes of non-trained teachers. In 32% of the classes of trained and 49% of the classes of non-trained teachers, the teacher did not encourage students to ask questions in the classroom. In contrast to non-trained teachers, trained teachers appeared to play a reasonably supportive role towards students. In the case of students’ response towards teaching, in 88% of the classes of trained and 46% of the classes of non-trained teachers, students (especially front benchers) responded eagerly.

Group/pair work with students was appropriately used in 45% of the classes of trained and 23% of the classes of non-trained teachers. All the students participated in pair/group work and the teacher monitored their activities and time-keeping was done properly. But in large classes the teacher was not able to monitor student’s activities. Students thus became disruptive. Sometimes, while a teacher was conducting pair/group work, other teachers (in adjacent rooms) complained about the noise.

Students faced problems in group or pair work in 23% of the classes of trained and 18% of the classes of non-trained teachers. They were not able to complete their activities according to the teacher’s instructions. Sometimes, they failed to understand what they had to do. They also faced problems with vocabulary, sentence construction while working in pairs or groups. Teachers of both groups were not able to monitor students’ activities properly. That is why students did not perform satisfactorily. Sometimes teachers felt that the poor language ability of students was the cause of their failure to communicate in pair or group tasks.

Usually teachers used English in the classroom for giving instructions, answering/explaining students’ questions, presenting new words and asking questions. About 52% of the trained and 38% of the non-trained teachers used English in class most of the time. In comparison with non-trained teachers, trained teachers performed better here.

The most common teaching aid was the blackboard which was used well in 95% of the classes of trained and 72% of the classes of non-trained teachers. From class observation of both groups of teachers, some other findings that emerged were: teacher’s pronunciation, behavioural discrimination towards students, time management ,the level of professional skills, the approach towards poor-ability students, the manner of using the textbook and so on.

From the non-trained teachers’ classes, we found that most of them followed the traditional teaching style in class rather than CLT. They did not have sufficient idea about the application of four skills. Some of them did not give any attention to listening or speaking activities. They only followed the instructions of each lesson but skipped some of the activities given in the book and did not explain or elicit any information. Students often failed to understand the teacher’s instructions and resorted to memorizing.

In the case of trained teachers, we found they failed to apply CLT in class appropriately. Both teachers and students were found to be weak in English and that is why they were unable to use English communicatively. Teachers were not comfortable in teaching through the CLT method. Students were not familiar with the new way of teaching. Teachers who attempted to use CLT did not know how to make the class/topic interesting. They tried to use different types of classroom techniques like pair or group work, chain drills but failed to maintain time, monitor performance, complete activities or present the techniques interestingly.

Students’ Perceptions
Students perceived that the trained teachers used some new techniques in their classrooms that were not previously used, but this was not benefiting them much. According to the students, the significant change that was seen in teachers’ recent behaviour was the way they spoke. Whereas teachers did not try to speak in English in the past, they now spoke frequently in English and also encouraged students to speak in English. Other changes that were noticed by students were the way the teachers used the blackboard to explain things. Students said that their English teacher encouraged them to read newspapers, and converse in English by sharing what they had learnt in the lesson with each other (Box 1).

Box 1: Students’ Comparative Perceptions of Trained and Non-trained Teachers

Although generally students felt more comfortable with Bangla, some of them tried to use English. For example, some students said, “Although very little, we speak now but before we didn’t know anything.” But the main problem that still existed for most students was their hesitation in communicating in English. Some said, “What will people say...that’s why we do not speak in English.”

The students of the non-trained teachers, on the contrary, are deprived of the opportunity of developing communicative language skills, as most of the non-trained teachers do not try CLT. For example, some students said, “We don’t know anything about group work, pair work. The teacher does not help us in practicing speaking English but he encourages us to practice English. Teachers use some very difficult English sometimes - this is hard to understand.”


The students of the trained teachers said that the teachers generally used English more than Bangla whereas the students of the non-trained teachers perceived that the teachers used more Bangla than English, sometimes no English at all. However, except for a very few, the students generally used Bangla while speaking in the class.

According to the students, trained teachers generally and non-trained teachers with an exception conducted pair work and group work and trained teachers did it more frequently than the non-trained teachers. However, students of trained teachers asserted that in many cases teachers went very fast in class which made the lesson difficult to understand. Again, students of non-trained teachers complained that there were English teachers who were not friendly. They used a harsh voice and even the stick for punishment. On the contrary, students of trained teachers stated that their teachers were sympathetic while correcting mistakes and in some cases encouraged peer-correction.

The students of both trained and non-trained teachers admitted that most of them did not understand English and they felt comfortable if the instruction was in Bangla. Although there were some attempts at using English by the students of trained teachers, non-trained teachers’ students did not attempt at using any English.

Challenges Faced by Teachers
Teachers perceived (with some exceptions) the training programme and the materials as both relevant to and useful for their professional development. However, they felt that they found it difficult to apply their training. Following are some of the challenges that the teachers were facing: a) the vocabulary stock was not adequate both for teachers and students; b) they were not proficient in speaking English. Sometimes they have to act out (mime) to make students understand; c) lack of realia (real-life materials); d) lack of teaching aids; e) students do not understand English and they are not regular in attendance; f) students’ hesitation and shyness; f) lack of English-learning environment (listening, speaking, writing) in the classroom due to shortage of time; and g) seating arrangements are not conducive to CLT.

Again, some teachers were worried about the non-cooperation of students seating on the back benches. A teacher said, “I found problems in dialogue practice. Back-benchers do not participate.” It was not only the lack of physical facilities or students’ lack of interest but the attitude of other teachers also was an obstacle (Box 2). They said that other teachers criticized this technique of teaching because it made the classroom noisy which disturbed adjacent classes. The headteacher was not bothered about CLT. He advised them to prepare more students for the exam. The supervision of trained teachers is also not adequate as school supervisors themselves are not technically knowledgeable to give feedback to the teachers in their respective fields.

Box 2: Teachers’ Doubts about Application of CLT

One common phenomenon was that although teachers thought that they had been benefited by the training, they doubted the proper application of CLT in the classroom. The following quotations reflect that perception:

“In my class, there are 135-140 students. So it would be too difficult to conduct pair work or chain drill. You know, there is a time constraint that does not let us take proper care of every student. I can’t monitor students in this period. Again, students are too weak to understand English in the classroom. So teaching in English is not possible in class. Everything that I teach has to be said in Bangla.”  (A Trained Teacher from Pabna)

“Although this method and the textbook both focus on developing the language skills in English, it wouldn’t help students do well in public examinations. More and more students are leaning towards coaching centres. As a result, effective application of CLT is not possible in the class.” (A Trained teacher from Pabna)


Teachers’ Perceptions  
The understanding of teachers’ beliefs was perceived through interviews. We tried to discern teachers’ perceptions in an in-depth manner by probing teachers’ views on various aspects related to CLT and training through these interviews.

In spite of some attitudinal changes towards a positive stance, teachers were generally found to be sceptical about the effective application of CLT in the classroom setting of rural schools. They believed that the environment was not quite congenial to CLT practice in these schools. They stated that colleagues criticized them when they applied the method. They complained about the students’ dependence on coaching centres.  They also identified some reasons for their impression: a) students’ incompetence in understanding English properly; b) students’ tendency to follow traditional methods and memorize the textbook content for the exams; c) students’ lack of willingness to learn more than their syllabus; d) large class size made it difficult to conduct group/pair work and chain drill; e) students’ fear of learning English; f) students’ lack of class participation; and g) classroom and seating arrangements were not suitable for the new approach. In short, large class size, time constraints, students’ language incompetence and non-cooperation were regarded as the main problems in applying CLT in the English class.





CONCLUSION

The findings point to a mixed picture. Positive signs are apparent in a general improvement on some particular issues but it did not take place at a regular pace. The effects of the training may be summed up in the following manner:
a.    With some exceptions, there has been a general improvement in teachers’ knowledge and skills in the application of CLT.
b.    Although trained teachers attempt more use of the CLT approach, there is little evidence of much difference in the existing classroom practices of trained and non-trained teachers.
c.    Students perceive that some trained teachers use new techniques in their classrooms not previously used, but few students are benefited by this. Inspite of some attitudinal changes, teachers do not believe that CLT can be effectively applied to classroom settings of the rural schools thus implying a set of ingrained beliefs, which influence teachers’ attitudes and behaviour.

RECOMMENDATIONS

Based on the study findings and the discussions above, there is obviously a need to broaden the parameters of the current BRAC training programme in order to achieve the objectives of the training framework. We also emphasise the importance of recasting ideas within one’s own frame of reference, in order to ‘appropriate’ ideas to suit the local culture. Within this perspective, a number of recommendations are offered below:

•    Focusing on components that engage with trainees’ beliefs/attitudes to enable them to change their attitudes towards applying CLT. This may be done through introducing:

a.    The elements of ‘reflection’ (group and individual) – the strategies introducing reflective practices are found in abundance in the teacher education literature.

b.    Observation and analysis of actual classroom practices (real-class observation, transcripts of recorded lessons, videos of lessons, teachers’ diaries, etc.) and relating them to proposed changes within a participatory ethos rather than a top-down approach.

•    Avoiding the narrow “dress-rehearsal approach” (Widdowson 1987) of the BRAC programme because conditions and contexts in classrooms differ from place to place. Instead, the training needs to encourage capacity building in trainees that can enable them to understand the actual on-going purpose of the training and the fundamental principles of the CLT approach.

•    The issue of supervised teaching in actual classrooms, mentored teaching and a practicum may be considered in the light of the principles of effective teacher development.

•    An element of guidance and counselling may be introduced. This will provide some scope for listening to individual problems as well as problems in classroom teaching.


•    The need for a well-informed cadre of trainers with their own belief systems compatible with the assumptions of the programme, e.g. clearly understanding and believing in the outcomes of the training. This obviously points to the necessity of increasing the number of professional full-time trainers with less dependence on part-timers.

•    More attention needs to be given to the improvement of the trainees’ (and trainers’) English language skills.

•    Introducing some effective incentive packages so that the trainees are motivated and can concentrate on developing themselves. The innovation literature advocates that it is important for participants to have a stake in the innovation they are expected to adopt. In terms of incentives, teachers should be able to perceive some sort of ‘reward’ for changing their instructional behaviour.

•    Introducing some sort of formative assessment of the trainees individually and in groups.

•    Periodic refresher courses need to be seen as a progression to professional development and need to be run by competent trainers in order to link past training, current practices and future developments.

•    Similarly, creating a supportive environment for the self-development of the low-achieving teachers (on pre-tests) is an issue that needs to be addressed.

•    Ensuring that only English subject teachers attend the BRAC programme so as not to waste valuable time, money and resources on non-English teachers.


REFERENCES
Howatt, A. P. R. (1984). A History of English Language Teaching. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Hargreaves, A. and M. G. Fullan. (1992). Introduction. In A. Hargreaves and M. G. Fullan (eds.) Understanding Teacher Development. New York: Teachers College Press, Columbia University: pp 1-19.
PACE (undated). A Brief Introduction on PACE Initiatives, Dhaka: Post-primary Basic and Continuing Education (PACE), BRAC.
Richards, J. C. and T. S. Rodgers. (2001). Approaches and Methods in Language Teaching. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Widdowson, H. G. (1987). Aspects of syllabus design. In M. Tickoo (ed.) Syllabus Design: The State of the Art. Singapore: Regional English Language Centre.

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