Poor Quality of English Teaching in Schools

Poor Quality of English  Teaching in SchoolsPoor Quality of English  Teaching in Schools

English as a foreign language is taught in Iranian schools at middle and high school levels, but the large number of students who rush to enroll in private language institutes indicates that the Education Ministry has not been successful in creating proficiency among students in the language at the school level.

There are 128 private English language schools in Iran, including more than 30 in Tehran alone, and they continue to proliferate as successful business enterprises as the demand for English grows in every part of the country.

English language is seen as a gateway to interaction with the outside world, particularly for the large number of students seeking admission in higher education in universities overseas. It is a bridge to other countries and communities, providing opportunities for individuals in education, work, and mobility.

One of the major problems of language learning in Iran is that most of the students do not have the capacity to express themselves fluently even after studying English at guidance and high school for six years. In other words, they cannot communicate in the language because textbooks and teaching materials have failed to create the practical skills in spoken and written English.  

It seems that the problem is partly due to the textbooks prescribed, and partly the instructions, procedures and techniques used in teaching English as a foreign language at the higher school level.

The issue prompted the education authorities to revise in 2013 the contents of middle and high-school English textbooks, to focus on “speaking-centered” books from the earlier “grammar-oriented” ones; however, it has still not addressed the fundamental problems that hinder proper learning of the international language, Mehr News Agency reported.

 Not Enough Time

According to teachers, inadequate hours of training and high density of students in the classroom are among the main problems that hinder learning.

A 9th grade (first grade of high school) teacher told Mehr that “each week we should have at least two hours of English language classes, but at present only 75 minutes is allocated which is grossly inadequate.”

“One of the other main problems is inappropriate student-teacher ratio. I have 37 students in the classroom, so I cannot devote even two minutes of time to practice language skills with each student,” he said without giving his name.

He criticized the new books and said the first book (7th grade) starts with a conversation, while students still do not know the English alphabets. “We have been instructed to teach three alphabets each session.”

“As an experienced English teacher, I believe students should start learning the second language in primary, not elementary school. Also research findings show that children should start learning languages from age five until they finish university. But unfortunately in Iranian schools, the second language is introduced to students for the first time in 7th grade (when students are almost 13 years old).”

Another teacher also said that 75 minutes a week is not sufficient for learning a second language; but said the new speaking-centric books are better than the previous ones.

 Need for Change

The Education Ministry authorities admit that English teaching needs a change.

Mohyedin Bahram Mohammadian, head of research and planning organization at the ministry, says students should be given more time to learn the language.

“Last year, we increased class time to 3 and 4 hours for 10th and 11th grades, respectively; but other grades still have 75 minutes.”

“We are planning to further increase English time in weekly schedules, but have no plans to start teaching the second language at primary school,” he stressed without explaining why the ministry still refuses to teach English to the kids when they enter school.

Longitudinal studies by Harvard University confirm that learning additional languages increases critical thinking skills, creativity and flexibility of the mind in young children. Students who learn a foreign language outscore their non-foreign language learning peers in verbal and math standardized tests, indicating that learning additional language is a cognitive activity not just a linguistic one.

Children who grow up learning about languages develop empathy for others and a curiosity for different cultures and ideas and are better prepared to take their place in a global society. Furthermore, in later years, career opportunities are much better for those with additional language skills.

 Better at Multitasking

Also according to studies people who have developed the ability to think in different languages and move from one to the other become much better at multitasking.

A paper on the website says the current ‘revised’ syllabus in schools aims to move beyond a focus on reading skills and to develop basic English proficiency. However, the course materials at middle school primarily address alphabet recognition, pronunciation and limited vocabulary instruction, while those used at high school continue to focus on reading comprehension, grammar, and vocabulary development, with little emphasis on writing beyond decontextualized sentence practice.

Listening is almost absent in the syllabus, and speaking is limited to a few drills (mainly intended to practice grammar) and short dialogues to introduce language functions.