A Brown Bag Seminar organised by the QED consultancy firm on the theme “English Medium Schools in Bhutan: Is It Working?” was held at the YDF premises on May 28. The session was moderated by Dr Mark LaPrairie who has extensively researched on the topic for his PhD dissertation, in collaboration with the Ministry of Education.
The research was done to understand the perceived disjuncture between policies and practices. He also wanted to study the perception of low proficiency in English and the future education and employment prospects of schooling in English medium schools.
Dr LaPrairie’s research reveals that despite schooling in the English medium schools, the average Bhutanese has lower than expected levels of proficiency in English. He cites inhibitory factors such as cultural dominance, anxiety towards learning a second language, incomprehensible teacher input and a teacher dominated class, as the possible reasons for the low English proficiency. He also mentioned that apart from English language teachers, other subject teachers do not contribute towards improving the English proficiency in children, even if the medium of instruction of their subject is also English.
Since the good portion of the school hours are divided in learning different subjects, Dr LaPrairie believes that subject teachers are better able to support the learning of second language, especially by adopting the content and teaching methods like, the language integrated learning system. As per this system, both content of the subject and language in which the subject is taught are given equal priority.
The seminar highlighted the fact that all teachers should have a good proficiency in the English language, irrespective of the subjects they teach, since the medium of instruction is in English. He said the teachers should have a methodological approach so that both content of the subject and the language (English) is intricately balanced.
Dr LaPrairie suggested limiting the use of languages other than English in classrooms, and adopting ‘language sensitive classroom practices’ and planned lessons for every class to improve the standard of English in schools. He said teachers must also be evaluated on language proficiency.
The winners of an essay competition organised by QED on climate change were awarded after the seminar. Kezang Wangchuk and Kinley Paydon Dorji, both from Royal Institute of Management, bagged the first and second prizes respectively while Promela Acharya from Sherubtse College was awarded the third prize.
Dr LaPrairie is from Canada, and he has worked as an English teacher in Trashigang during the early nineties. Thereafter, he served as the UNICEF Education Project Officer in Bhutan and Burundi. He has also served as the World Bank Representative to Bhutan and as an Education Specialist in the South Asia Region where he led the World Bank financed education projects in Bhutan, Pakistan and Bangladesh.