Thursday, January 17, 2013

English Only Class is Unconstitutional

UPNG Literature students collecting traditional medicinal plants in Kwikila 2012

One of the most interesting discussions that I came across in recent times is one by Ian Hunter of Griffith University, Australia.  In that discussion he discussed English as a school subject that encompasses three sorts of pedagogical activity and outcome.

 “It teaches linguistic competence of certain kinds,” Hunter writes, “it inculcates an aesthetic use of literature; and it oversees a certain effective or personal development of students.” These are organized and known in the curriculum as rhetoric, literary criticism, and ethics.

Hunter adds further that the “superimposition in the English classroom is a relatively recent and contingent historical development, albeit one governed by powerful social and moral concerns.”  

The critical point Hunter makes is: “If the English lesson has been geared to the heightening of subjective states and the development of personal judgment, then the rhetorical regimen has been oriented to the perfecting of public linguistic competences associated with the legal, religious, and bureaucratic organization of social life.” 

The way in which English is taught in schools in Papua New Guinea matters a lot in our discussion here. The need for relevance and appropriateness of an English curriculum in a multilingual society like Papua New Guinea is a challenge for curriculum advisors and teachers.

Imposing an English only curriculum in PNG’s education system raises serious constitutional concerns. The Constitution recognizes all Papua New Guinean languages and Papua New Guinean ways. The National Goals and Directive Principles 2 and 3 emphasize Integral Human Development and Equality and Participation. Certain provisions in Integral Human Development are about developing education based on mutual respect and dialogue, and to promote awareness of our human potential and motivation to achieve our National Goals through self-reliant effort.

The Equality and Participation provision in The Constitution is critical to our discussions here: “(11) all persons and governmental bodies to endeavour to achieve universal literacy in Pisin, Hiri Motu or English, and in “tok ples” or “ita eda tano gado””

The imposition of English only curriculum in education system is against this provision of The Constitution and the spirit of The Constitution. Since when did we change this Constitutional provision in the Preamble.

Goal 5 is on Papua New Guinean Ways. In the language of The Constitution we accordingly call for: (1) a fundamental re-orientation of our attitudes and the institutions of government, commerce, education and religion towards Papua New Guinean forms of participation, consultation, and consensus, and a continuous renewal of the responsiveness of the institutions to the needs and attitudes of the People; … and (3) recognition that the cultural, commercial and ethnic diversity of our people is a positive strength, and for the fostering of a respect for, and appreciation of, traditional ways of life and culture, including language, in all their richness and variety, as well as for a willingness to apply these ways dynamically and creatively for the tasks of development; and (4) traditional villages and communities to remain as viable units of Papua New Guinean society, and for active steps to be taken to improve their cultural, social, economic and ethical quality.
The reference to the Constitutional provisions is to point out that our path to imposing an English only curriculum is inconsistent with the spirit of the Constitution. Are we now departing from the Constitutional provisions referred to here? Why are we imposing an English only curriculum when our Constitution does not permit us to do so?
Does it now warrant that we amend the Education Act to take on board this new government direction?
The Education Act (1983) has not changed its objectives as provided in Section 4 (1): “Bearing in mind the National Goals and Directive Principles of the Constitution, and subject to a provincial law and this section, the objects and purposes of the National Education System, by means of the maximum involvement and co-operative effort by persons and bodies interested in education in the country (including the State, the teaching profession, Provincial Governments, Local-level Governments, churches and the community as a whole) and the maximum utilization of the resources available from all sources are–(a) for the integral human development of the person; and (b) to develop and encourage the development of a system of education fitted to the requirements of the country and its people; and (c) to establish, preserve and improve standards of education throughout the country; and (d) to make the benefits of such education available as widely as possible; and (e) to make education accessible to the poor and the physically, mentally and socially handicapped as well as to those who are educationally disadvantaged, as far as this can be done by legislative and administrative measures, and in such a way as to foster among other things a sense of common purpose and nationhood and the importance and value of education at all its various levels.”
Second challenge in teaching English is on the issue of rethinking our attitudes to language use and behaviour. I heard teachers of English or Language and Literature complain that no matter how hard and strict they were on students to speak and write in English, Papua New Guinean students continue to speak and communicate in their vernacular languages and lingua franca. Some of our languages play a dominant role in the area where a school is geo-culturally located. We can have some of the best trained teachers who are passionate about teaching English or Language and Literature their efforts can easily be white-washed with the attitudes to language that PNG students bring to the school and classroom.
No matter what the arguments we make to improve the education system one thing that remains clear to me is that Papua New Guineans are proud people with many languages and cultures that an imposition for us to abandon our languages for English is tall call. Papua New Guineans will continue to speak and use their different languages to communicate within their own speech communities or will use the available languages for the sake of convenience and easier communication. 

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