Published:  12:39 AM, 10 August 2018

Why TESOL must be our focus for English teacher training

I begin by drawing readers' attention to a World Bank report made public in 2016 that identified English as a cornerstone that would equip every Bangladeshi citizen to be globally connected as efficient workforce. In this connection, the instrumentality of English for Bangladeshis to match global standards is an undeniable priority.

However, the varied literatures in the field of ELT in Bangladesh have rigorously highlighted the shortcomings associated with English Language Teaching (ELT) and learning. Chaotic language policy and planning and inadequate teacher training have been potentially dismantling ELT in this context.

Scholars, for the most, dubbed the teacher training programs offered by Teacher Training Colleges (TTCs) and Primary Training Institutes (PTIs) as inadequate, given that 6.3% of the total components concerns English in PTIs, and only 5% of the total components involves English in TTCs. Such scenario suggests the vulnerability of government-operated training programs. Consequently, all training programs became a part of the donors; yet these are not free from their shortcomings, as claimed manifestly by numerous researchers. Now, the pressing question is: how will Bangladesh withstand the impact of such phenomenon.

Given the growing need for efficient English teachers, ELT or TESOL programs, entitled as 'MA in ELT' and 'MA in TESOL', are being offered by the government and non-government universities. Though they all belong to same word group that are related to the teaching of English in general, the use of the terms 'English Language Teaching' (ELT) and 'Teaching English to the Speakers of Other Languages' (TESOL) have distinctive connotations.

In the first place, as a graduate level program, both of these student-teacher programs are highly regarded worldwide. ELT has its root little older in history while TESOL emerged as a relatively new idea. However, we may look at some fundamental difference between these two programs.

Like its name suggests, ELT means English language teaching which is more generic in nature, unbiased from native and non-native phenomenon. For examples, it can be a Canadian child learning English in a formal or informal setting just the way we learn Bangla in Bangladesh. The prime feature of ELT is, it does not distinguish among its learners; it focuses on the teaching of English itself. On the other hand, TESOL is created, as its name suggests, for non-native English speakers who are learning English.

The rationale behind the emergence of TESOL rests primarily in the second language acquisition theories. Without going much of theoretical detailing regarding it, it can be summed up as the difference of learning mother tongue and consecutive second languages, depending on the cognitive, individual, social, instructional and motivational aspects of learning.

These issues, if not totally, are largely absent in mother tongue acquisition. TESOL graduates have to take these into account when they design any student-teacher program for non-native English teachers. Therefore, TESOL is a more appropriate program to train.

The other aspect that has provided TESOL program an upper hand in non-native English speaking countries is the interdisciplinary nature of the program that embraces education, more precisely, teacher education theories into account which ELT programs do not possess. Therefore, linear to the notion upper mentioned specialized field, TESOL has adopted single/multiple teaching practicum courses.

Lastly, in a growing country like ours, where we are booming toward fourth industrial revolution, technological integration is a must for everybody. It is TESOL who could assume this future and has thus incorporated information and communication technology (ICT) in teaching English language. This is currently linear to policy of many non-native English speaking countries, including Bangladesh.

From my experience of research on Bangladeshi English language teaching setting, I can safely say the most consolidated effort regarding TESOL is present in BRAC Institute of Languages (BIL) in BRAC University. In fact, this TESOL program appears to be professionally enriching and innovative due to its approaches.

Ranging from the basic tenets of Linguistics to Teaching Practicum, all concerned areas are explored in the Masters program that it runs. Fundamentally, Methods and Practice of Teaching English as a Second Language, Syllabus-Curriculum-Materials Design and Evaluation, Second Language Acquisition and Psycholinguistics, Language Testing and Evaluation, Use of Technology in ELT, and Classroom Research and Research Methodologies etc.

shape the uniqueness in TESOL program at BRAC University. On top of that, two distinct teaching practicum courses are offered where one is related to direct classroom teaching and the other concerns acting as a shadow teacher beyond the classroom. As such, students are getting the essence of real classroom environment in conjunction with observing the actions of the language teachers.

A TESOL graduate from BIL, now a school teacher outside Dhaka, told me how he got his life changed by this program. 'Being a new teacher I was not sure how to teach or how to teach with technology, which is mandatory in secondary classrooms of English. I was frustrated. Then I came to know about TESOL program of BRAC from one my colleagues. I first did a diploma in TESOL here, and soon converted my diploma into Masters. Now I feel like an empowered teacher of English,' he confidently stated.

The technology in classroom is a reality for twenty-first century, adopted by our government as its prime policy after Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina had coined the term Digital Bangladesh as the nation's top priority. However, digitalization is entirely mingled with language of science. Thus teaching and teaching of English also been viewed as the top priority.

In order to materialize this priority, we must place TESOL, rather than ELT, as our focal point for English teacher training. Unfortunately, the government teacher training projects have been marred by widespread criticisms for long. It is high time we paid a wee bit attention to some effective TESOL programs, like the one BRAC University offers, for the sake of our huge population of aspiring English teachers.

The writer is a Ph.D. research fellow at the School of Educational Studies, Universiti Sains Malaysia at Penang, Malaysia

--Abdul Karim

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