This is another in a series of papers written by post-graduate students. The author is ethnic Vietnamese who teaches ethinc minority students in the Central Higfhlands. This paper gives an ourstanding glimpse into the problems facing secondary school English teachers.
Bby Lê Xuân Hương
In Vietnam, there have been two English programs for high schools. One for the “ brand new” English learners (known as English for 3 year students – Tiếng Anh hệ 3 năm), and the other for students who learnt English at secondary schools (English for 7 year students). It is the privilege of the headmaster of each high school to assign the program for his/her school. Because of the classification of 3 and 7 years for learners, it also indicates who the learners are, what level of the English mastery of learners; and no headmaster wants to be “left behind” by choosing the 3 year program. The program used nationwide is English-Students’ Books set (English 10, 11, 12), the fifth edition, published by the Educational Publishing House. There have been unsettled down controversies about English program for high schools. At the very beginning of the program, according to the authors: “ …It is designed to provide a comprehensive course for senior secondary students who have completed the series of ENGLISH from ENGLISH 6 to ENGLISH 9. It continues to train the students for the four language skills: listening and understanding, speaking, reading, and writing, in that order, but gradually focus on developing his reading skill. For that purpose, besides engaging students in aural-oral activities, it introduces the him, by degrees, to the world of facts and ideas and makes him familiar with a wide range of different styles of writing”. There is no doubt that: the author’s will are to develop students reading skills and communicative not paid much attention. With an insider view, the program itself reveals some inappropriate aspects: differences in student’s levels create difficulty for teachers; and testing style always puts the teachers of English under pressure to teach the curriculum rather than to motivate learners.
First, students do not start at the same levels of knowledge hinders the requirements in the program. For instance, at the beginning of the high schools program, grade 10 students must learn a unit about writing informal letters to invite, refuse invitations. That is to say, all participants of the course must master tenses, functional structures and a certain amount of vocabulary to cope up with the lesson. In fact, many students find it difficult to understand the content of sample letters let alone forming or practicing various activities assigned. It’s common knowledge that English is the compulsory in every secondary curriculum nationwide; it means that by the time students stand at grade 10, they have learnt English for 4 years. Yet, apart from central schools, in remote or rural schools English is viewed as the most difficult subject and it reduces the passing rate of the school. As a result, schools officials will substitute English with other subject like history or geography, then students’ mastery of English in those schools is likely zero. With such multilevel students, it is very difficult to fulfill activities required by the textbooks when they reach to high school program.
Second, in Vietnam everything relating to learning or teaching is assessed by examinations or the testing results of students; testing style reflects the way teachers teach students. Testing is basically in written form for all levels and tests simply are to check students’ vocabulary and grammar at the end of each course. As a consequence, to pass the English exam at the end of each semester, teachers do not need to pay any attention to other communicative activities such as pronunciation or speaking since they will not help students in exams. What teachers teach and students learn inside or outside the classroom is all for the final exam or further is the university entrance examination; the teachers follow exactly what assigned in the course-book and they are supposed to teach the curriculum rather than motivate their students. For an English class, what needed is a teacher’s handbook, a grammar book a textbook and a sample test book. By teaching the curriculum, the teachers don’t need to find out if their students are interested in what they are teaching or not. They just do their usual work, read the lesson plan, ask some questions as long as students can memorize and copy what they said to perform the exams. To be successful, teachers need to have abilities to combine the approaches and techniques to cram students for exam; Teaching and learning English are heavily based on syllabus for exam-oriented.
In short, it is clear that all things the educational administrators expect from the program and high school students need is the sound knowledge about grammatical structures, vocabulary and some fill-in-the-gap skills but communicative activities (are left out). Just as there is no one” proficiency method”, there are no “ proficiency textbooks” per se. However, some textbooks can be more proficiency-oriented than others in terms of their design and general approach to language learning, Omaggio Hadley (1993).
Omaggio Hadley, A. (1993). Teaching Language in Context. Boston: Heinle & Heinle