Teachers of international schools
‘Life would be marvellous for teachers if all students wanted to
learn’ (Biggs 1995:83). According to Biggs students are only motivated
to learn things that are important and meaningful to them.
However, most students in Sri Lanka are demotivated by the emphasis
placed on difficult and abstract declarative knowledge in school. As a
result, they tend to find learning in school uninteresting, or
irrelevant. So lack of attention, passivity, ‘off task’ attitude, and
other disruptive forms of behaviour are predominant in the classroom.
The situation is particularly difficult in the English language
classroom, where the learning activities are generally teacher-centered
and form-accuracy-oriented. They are representing a type of ‘classroom
English’ which does not help students to apply what they have learnt in
Since this form of English does not function like a language for
meaningful and purposeful communication, most of the students see no
need, and show little interest, in learning it.
Even the Government has made English language education in schools
compulsory, since it is seen as the key to communication with the rest
of the world; for future prospects. Most of the students have not yet
grasp the reality of possessing a sound knowledge of English.
That could be the reason why most of them are not competent enough to
express themselves in English even after 10 or 12 years of learning
English at school. This is the eternal question many of us ask and kill
ourselves to find remedial measures. But still we have not been
successful in this regard.
English, a language that brings solutions to many social issues and
boosts the learner to excel in society is quite successfully marketed in
certain well established International Schools in the island.
When a child of about four years who does not belong to an English
speaking family background is admitted to an international school he
acquires the language easily within the first few years or less than
Even if a student who has studied in certain grades in a Government
school in his mother tongue is admitted to an international school he
too picks up English and competes with the other students in his class
without any hesitation.
What is the secret behind this success? If the first child is
admitted to an ordinary Government school or the second child remains in
the same Government school would they acquire English as they do in the
International school? Is the secret behind the teachers or learners
Are the teachers of Government schools useless or the teachers of
international schools magicians? Is it the heredity or environment that
matters? Is it the environment in the International schools that provoke
students to acquire the language?
Language or Subject
First of all the teachers and the students should clarify whether
English is a language or a subject. Though many innocent students seem
to know the difference, when it comes to real classroom learning
situation, they are forced to forget the real meaning and difference
because the prevailing exam oriented system of our Government education
does not leave room for the students to accept it as a language because
the exam results that matters rather than their proficiency in their
Language is practical but our system of education and teaching
learning process somehow has made it more theoretical where practical
value is mostly nil in the classroom.
If English is learnt as a subject in the school, students limit their
learning to their 40 minutes period. If English is learnt as a language
with the subject matter, most of the problems like examinations and job
opportunities will be answered. Unlike learning their mother tongue, the
students force their teachers to teach grammar separate.
They learn the same lessons on grammar over and over again but still
they do not realize that learning grammar and grammar rules do not
strengthen their language proficiency.
The learners should be made aware of the difference between learning
the language to use it and using the language to learn it. Further the
learners should be encouraged to use the language to learn it. For that
integrating the language competencies and components are a must in
teaching and learning the language.
Government Vs International
How many English teachers use the language to teach the language? How
many of them use English outside the classroom with the students? How
many of them up date their knowledge with the present strategies or
methodology of teaching English?
How many of them follow up their educational or professional
trainings other than the compulsory Government teacher training program
at a Teachers’ Training College or Distant Education Centre? How many of
them are confident in teaching and handling any classroom situation? How
many of the English teachers are fluent and accurate in English?
In answering those questions except some of the Government teachers
in the leading schools in the cities and a handful of teachers in the
outstations, others cannot give positive answers to all. The main reason
is that they are on their own and there is no proper supervision.
Instead of cleaning the festered wound and keeping under medical
attention the plasters are changed. On the other hand in international
schools where efficiency and proficiency are more concerned active and
innovative teachers are welcome.
If their performance is not satisfactory, the principal or the Board
of Directors has the authority to decide the teacher’s further existence
in the school. International schools unlike Government schools are
private companies that should ensure their profits.
While satisfying the demands of their customers, they themselves
should make profits for their strong footing in the world of mushrooming
international schools. If the authority hastens to increase its income
annually, without concerning the quality and productivity, cheap labour
will be hired.
There are certain international schools that entertain cheap labour
and hire teachers of poor quality and run the show. What ultimately
happens is either the students find passage to some other quality
international schools or such teachers become laughing stock before
their students who know better.
Teacher becoming a puppet before the students for whatever the reason
is a crime because the students would lose their confidence in their
teacher and thereafter learning would not take place.
This can happen either in Government or international schools. In the
Government schools even the Director of Education cannot issue a
dismissal letter to a teacher for not teaching or satisfying the demands
of the students during the school.
When such teachers either Government or international schools bluff,
they are naturally ridiculed before the students who are well guided and
facilitated by their private tutors. (Most of these private tutors could
be Government teachers.) This situation is worse in international
schools because the students are fluent when they are in upper grades
and if a teacher of a poor quality in language is appointed, the
students know better and the difficulty the teacher has to face is
On the other hand there are certain international schools where the
students are encouraged to speak in English but they neither speak
English nor Sinhala, for eg instead of using question tags most of the
students even our adults including teachers use ‘no’- ‘You are coming,
no?’ Poor parents who do not know English are quite proud of their
children speaking such English. They do not know what the quality of
English is. What is the quality of English? Where is the quality of
Quality of English
Whether it is the Government or the international schools there
should be quality in English. The teachers or the students are not free
to use the language as they please.
They are not supposed to violate rules of the language. If a learner
has to use quality English, he has to acquire quality language from his
teachers, friends, media etc. If teachers are to produce quality
language they should learn first. Most of the teachers are not bothered
to improve or learn the language for many reasons.
Therefore it is of no use of looking for quality English in our
teaching learning process. If the ‘input’ of language and the ‘intake’
of language are of rich quality, the production of language of the
learners is high quality. Teachers are mostly held responsible for this
task. Curiosity and interest are the key components that should be
created in the learners to acquire the language.
Curiosity can be one of the teacher’s best friends because it signals
motivated students, eager to learn. The task of a teacher, then, is to
capitalize on students’ interest by further stimulating them and
maintaining an optimal level of curiosity.
The development of curiosity should be encouraged as soon as
possible-during the pre-school and elementary years. Students not only
acquire knowledge, but also learn about learning.
They become curious if their environment is stimulating. Similarly
they go for quality.
Interest is similar and related to curiosity. Interest is an enduring
characteristic expressed by a relationship between a person and a
particular activity or object.
Interest occurs when a student’s needs, capacities and skills are a
good match for the demands offered by a particular activity (Deci,
That is the task students find more interesting and the ones that
provide opportunities to satisfy their needs, challenge, skills they
have and care about developing and demand that they exercise capacities
that are important to them.
If the teachers are able to do this whether they belong to government
or international schools, their learners will be fluent and accurate in
the use of the second language. It is the simple magic any teacher can