RELATIVE ACADEMIC PERFORMANCES OF SECONDARY SCHOOL STUDENTS IN SCHOOL MILLEU
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The analysis of the application of CBA to English language teaching in secondary schools will be done in three main stages. The difference between the former objective-based approach (OBA) and the new should be clearly brought out first, as understood by the bilingualism inspectorate for English. Then the Cameroon curriculum as well as the new syllabus will be analysed. The last stage will consist in the possible challenges the teachers could face in the field, in terms of innovation or adaptation to novelty.
During the second seminar for English language teachers in the Menoua division held in November 2013, the regional pedagogic inspectors for the West made a presentation of the differences between OBA and CBA. The shift from the former objective-based approach to the newly adopted competence-based approach requires, in this study, that both approaches be compared from the point of view of the said language pedagogy authorities. The comparison is presented here in the form of a table, as follows:
Language is taught just as a subject, with more theory than practice.
Language is taught to prepare the learners for life (social integration and social roles)
The learners are taught about the language, to know the language.
The learners are taught the language from real life situation, for the purpose of proficient communication.
The teacher sets lesson objectives.
The teacher defines expected outcomes.
Instruction is skill-based.
Instruction focuses on solving real life problems.
The teacher deals with the classroom as a whole.
The teacher deals with students as individuals.
Evaluation is done through exercises.
Evaluation is done through tasks.
The teacher prepares the learners for academic performances (examinations). It is also in the schools interest to obtain a high success percentage at the official exams.
The teacher prepares the learners directly to be responsible citizens, placing them in problem solving situations.
The table is very explicit. In summary, OBA teaches subject content for the sake of knowledge and prepares the learner for the certificate exams. Unlike OBA, CBA teaches subject content towards developing real life problem-solving skills in the learner, in preparation for the learner’s sociocultural insertion.
A curriculum is “a performance-based outline of the language tasks that lead to a demonstrated mastery of the language associated with specific skills that are necessary for an individual to function proficiently in a society.” (Grognet and Grandall, 1986). According to them, students’ grammatical needs and functional needs are obtained through communicative exercises. Madson (1975:359) understands competence as a three-fold notion. It includes knowledge, skills and students output. The Cameroon curriculum is built around five broad topic areas as presented in the following table.
Table4: The Cameroon curriculum for Anglais. (Source: MINESEC (2012: 64 – 65))
Visibly, the English language stops being treated as an isolated school subject. It goes beyond to help prepare the student to use the language proficiently to solve real life problems. The new syllabus stresses this point as follows:
In the new paradigm shift, English language, as well as all other subjects, is no longer learned as an isolated school subject and for its own end, nor for the sake of passing an examination, but only as far as it contributes to the learner’s overall capacity to listen, speak, read, and write competently in real life situations. This means that, even evaluation as it is known and practised today, has to be re-orientated so as to focus on real-life situations. (MINESEC, 2012:66)
Teachers are therefore required to train and prepare students for life, not only for academic purposes. Also, the evaluation format has not yet been defined but has to be altered.
For Widdowson (1991:127), a syllabus is the specification of a teaching programme or pedagogic agenda which defines a particular subject for a particular group of learners. Such a specification not only provides a characterisation of content […] but also arranges this content in a succession of interim objectives.
The new syllabus, limited to the observation cycle (6e and 5e) at the moment, lays primary emphasis on the State’s ambition that “all Cameroonians should be able to understand and interact with their fellow citizens, who speak the other official language, especially in public services.” (MINESEC, 2012: 64). It is recognized here that the former syllabus has not helped achieve this goal satisfactorily. Therefore, this new syllabus targets at “helping Francophone learners of English to use the language successfully in real-life situations”. It rejects the memorisation of ‘relevant and irrelevant’ language items, with the hope that life situations will occur one day when the learner needs and applies such knowledge.
Thus, the syllabus identifies domains of life and the social roles that the learner may play in society, and adapts the curriculum goals to them. This accompanies every student “to develop their personality and become conscientious, autonomous and responsible citizens who can fully play their social roles”. This holistic education making the learner able to act and react competently in real life situations aims at developing a cross-curricular competency, through an interdisciplinary approach, including all various domains of social life. As such, it focuses mainly on three parameters:
- Developing the learner’s four language skills (listening, speaking, reading and writing)
- Developing the learner’s linguistic competence (phonology, grammar and vocabulary )
- Developing the learner’s ability to react appropriately to instructions.
In order to achieve the goals above, five modules are presented as to be covered in the year, as the following synoptic table (table 5) shows.
With the ministry’s submission that the former syllabus “has been difficult for teachers to exploit and execute due to many shortcomings” (p. 64), it appears relevant to compare both the 2004 and 2012 syllabi, in order to appreciate the innovations.
Titles of modules
Year 1 (general and technical schools)
Language interactions for socialising
Interactions dealing with time and seasons
Interacting with things in our vital space (basic scientific competence)
Language interactions related to commercial transactions
Language interactions relating to health and well-being
Year 2 (general and technical schools)
Interacting on interpersonal relationships
Language interactions relating to safety
Interacting in English for better health
Language interactions relating to sporting situations
Satisfying language needs relating to receiving and sending messages
Table 5: Synoptic table of the modules, Source: MINESEC (2012:68)
The 2004 syllabus is more “skill-based and the various language skills are integrated” (MINEDUC, 2004: 4). The objectives are very behaviourist. At the level of grammar as a classroom activity, specific objectives are dominated by the cluster ‘[the learner should be able to] identify and use…’ This emphasis on the ability to recognize and read such and such, being able to pronounce such and such sound, being able to identify and use such and such grammatical structure, makes the syllabus focused on form, at the detriment of students whose teachers would not like to plan their teaching critically.
Unlike the former syllabus, the 2012 syllabus subjects every other classroom activity to real life situations, and equipping the learners with speech, grammar and vocabulary knowledge only to achieve this vital goal.
The face-value difference between these two syllabi is that the 2004 syllabus depends on pedagogic objectives, with a general objective for the level and six to twelve specific objectives for each of these classroom activities: listening, speaking, reading, writing, pronunciation, grammar, vocabulary and supplementary reading. The communicative framework is then summarised in a table, as one of the nine classroom activities. These objectives are all introduced by: ‘Learners should be able to’. This layout makes the classroom teachers responsible for organising the specific objectives of the different activities coherently and complementarily for each didactic sequence and each week. This could be an explanation to why many HOD’s for English language either depended on the textbook adopted by their schools or imported pedagogic projects from other schools, or still retrieved the previous years’ pedagogic projects without any further amendments.
In the 2012 syllabus, each level has five modules to be distributed over the six didactic or administrative sequences. They are not subdivided into nine classroom activities but into three columns, in turn divided into seven columns (See Appendix 5: Module 1, 6è for illustration):
- Contextualisation framework: Family of situations; examples of real life situations;
- Competent acting: Categories of actions; Examples of actions
- Resources: Essential knowledge (speech work, grammar and vocabulary), attitudes; other resources.
The module is organized and presented in a tabular form. With this layout, it becomes easier for the classroom teacher to correlate the different items. So, the classroom activities objectives for the level are defined independently in the former syllabus whereas the latter presents the successive modules with their skills.
The 2004 syllabus has always been sustained by a list of course books that the ministry selected as back up for teaching and learning. Such textbooks include Go for English, Stay Tuned, Way ahead in English and Break Through. The last three books have still been selected this year, when the method has completely changed. During the November 2013 seminar that was held at GHS Dschang, the regional inspectors explained that all textbooks are good for the new method.
Drawing much inspiration from Finley and Nathan (1980) in “Functional language objectives in a competency-based ESL curriculum”, it is possible to derive the following challenges in implementing CBLT.
The quasi totality of teachers presently in the field have not learnt English through a competency based approach. Therefore, they are unable to teach even as they were taught. Also, in the new syllabus, they may still find it difficult to understand some of the symbols in the speech work section.
In designing their pedagogic projects, the teachers may find it difficult to understand and implement some aspects of the new syllabus, for example, the speech work section. Observing the principle of specificity, the teacher should be able to know exactly (1) the behaviour to be produced, (2) the conditions under which it is to take place and (3) the adequate methodology to achieve this goal. Lesson planning will therefore require much creativity, especially in the absence of course books. It will also be time-consuming. The context being one of general poverty, audio-visual teaching aids (tape-recording, slides, films, games) and workbooks that could enhance and really facilitate teaching and learning, may be absent. The teachers might have to study the English language afresh since many of them have never been exposed to native speaker’s English as such. Learning so as to teach might prove tiring and demanding. Not many teachers would commit themselves to going through the curriculum, however demanding it may be, even financially. It might take browsing, buying books with functional approaches, contextualising the materials therein, adapting them to their students, environment and logistics.
- At the level of the procedure
CBLT encourages the pre-test – presentation – post-test pedagogy. First, the teachers may not find the time allocations for English language sufficient. In all the classes, only three (03) periods are kept for English, at the exception of the ‘A4 series’ where English is taught in four periods a week. Also, motivating the learners may be very challenging. They would feel that they present little input and that the presentation is teacher-centred. Second, individualised instruction is quasi-impossible because of class-size. Even with the standard of sixty students in a classroom, it would still be difficult to focus on individuals and assess them as such.
With such large class size and with the workload inadequacy, will it be easy for teachers to avoid the traditional pen-and-pencil tests so as to assess learners’ skills? What evaluation format will the teachers adopt? How will they create real-life situations for the evaluation? Are they ready to design adequate tasks for formative evaluation, that is practice and evaluation as the last two stages of a lesson, and eventually the end of module tests. How objective will it be?
With the advent of a syllabus novel in approach, content and layout, the challenges that secondary school teachers of English to Francophonesmay have to face could be the same that primary school teachers do face in understanding the method and implementing it at the three levels of teaching: lesson planning, lesson delivery and evaluation.
The order in the comparison has been altered and additional commentaries have been added into this table so as to make it more intelligible. The comparison was done by the pedagogic inspectors during the seminar.
This curriculum was also presented at the pedagogic seminar for ‘Anglais’ teachers, held in GHS Dschang on 21st October 2013. A national pedagogic inspector and three regional pedagogic inspectors made the panel. The entry ‘Human rights and duties’ was absent in their presentation.