Saturday, November 14, 2009

Syllabus Without Learning Resources

Steven Winduo's reaction to the PNG Department of Education's Language and Literature Upper Secondary Syllabus, published in The National newspaper of August 28th, 2009.

The Department of Education has made available an electronic version of the Language and Literature Upper Secondary Syllabus (2008) a year after publication.

The Language and Literature Upper Secondary Syllabus for grades 11 and 12 has come a long way from the days when I was part of the Syllabus Advisory Committee. In the early 1990s we changed the subject name English to Language and Literature at Jais Aben meeting. As UPNG representatives on the committee Ms. Garua Peni and I suggested the subject name change to reflect the study of language and literature at the higher levels of education. The committee agreed and thereafter all upper secondary schools teach Language and Literature, with the final imprint of the same name on grade 12 certificates.

Several observations on the new syllabus are due. First, the syllabus, a broad guideline provides the most intelligent document to guide teachers and students in their learning environment. It is simply an instruction to teachers and students about what they need to do to achieve a specific knowledge gap, what they are expected to achieve as the final outcome, (but not in finality), and the list of resources they need to enable the wheel of knowledge to work.

The Secretary for Education, Dr. Joseph Pagelio introduced it in these words: “The Upper Secondary Language and Literature Syllabus contribute to integral human development as it is based on the students’ physical environments, societies and cultures. It links to the National Education Plan’s vision, which is that secondary education enables students to achieve their individual potential to lead productive lives as members of the local, national, and international community.”

According to Dr. Pagelio students will “relate their learning to society, the local culture and the global culture; and to influences that direct the course of change in these environments. Students learn the art of effective communication and the skill of sound decision making, and accept and value views other than their own.” Such a vision is valued for its desirable outcome.

The issue that seems to pop its ugly head up, however, is that the effectiveness of the Language and Literature Syllabus is measured, eventually by its outcomes. Right away one would ask: What are the instruments for measuring the outcomes of the new syllabuses? Are there study resources and manuals to assist teachers and students achieve a measurable outcome? Are there programs to assist teachers to achieve effective delivery of the subject?

My observations are in no way a measure of the outcomes of the Language and Literature Syllabus, but indicate my concerns for the instruments and methods of delivery used in achieving outcomes. The units have a basic structure: introduction, learning outcomes, content (more like outcomes, text types and recommended texts. The syllabus says nothing about how and what to teach in each contact periods, weeks, or a term. It is too general.

The syllabus says nothing about how to plan a course, how to teach the unit, or give model lesson plans to follow. There are no directions on how to deal with pedagogical and learning issues and challenges in effective delivery of the subject.

Consider this: How will a teacher teach about Paliau Moloat when he or she doesn’t have a book on or any knowledge about the person? Are there books about Moloat and the Paliau movement? Grand Chief Sir Michael Somare’s autobiography Sana is out of print and has never been reprinted since 1975. How many schools have a copy of Sana in their libraries? About 99 per cent of recommended textbooks, films, and readings materials in the syllabus are to the best of my knowledge NOT available to teachers, students, and their schools. Many schools do not have advance information technology and internet facilities to access electronic learning resources.

The designers of the Language and Literature Syllabus should have recommended or suggested commissioning local language and literature specialists to write how to study language and literature handbooks, how to research and write literary essays, how to do book, film, essay reviews, how to teach and not teach literary texts, and using of critical study or essays about novels, poems, plays, short stories, writers, and their works. The so- called outcome based Oxford publications do not correspond to the texts listed on the recommended reading list for each unit.

Can a teacher in Buin Secondary School, for example, teach Witi Ihimaera’s The Whale Rider or show the film version, if he or she doesn’t know or have access to studies done on the novel and film by scholars and critics of the Ihimaera’s work, the Maori culture, indigenous knowledge systems, or the New Zealand society? Can a teacher in Brandi Secondary School teach the greatest Eighteenth Century British writers in the likes of Blake, Bronte, Wordsworth, Christina Rossetti, Tennyson, and to the modernist poets: T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land and the Irish national poet William Butler Yeates? How many teachers know that Chinua Achebe’s novel Things Fall Apart was derived from W. B Yeates’s “The Second Coming” poem? The second coming was about the fall of the great civilization of Byzantium and the vision for its rehabilitation and glorification in the modern European cultural imagination.

Apart from the major discord with the recommended list of drama books, books, films, and other resource materials I am more concerned with the impossibility of finding a film like Wokabaut bilong Tonten (1976), Billy Eliot, The Color Purple, Betelnut Bisnis or books such as Wole Soyinka’s Ake: The Years of Childhood, Malcolm X’s Autobiography of Malcolm X, Richard Branson’s Losing My Virginity, or Steven Edmund Winduo’s Hembemba: Rivers of the Forest. This is unreal and will not work.

An immediate revision of the Language and Literature Syllabus for Upper Secondary level must take place. Develop how to teach manuals or resource books for teachers to use in teaching Language and Literature courses. I also suggest running short courses or in-service workshops in conjunction with specialist academics from our universities to make the syllabus work.

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