EACH year, the State spends huge sums of money on students of high schools to prepare them for university education, especially those planning to study overseas in foreign universities because of the poor level of the English language in spite of the long time they spend (12 years) in learning the language, while at the same time students who study in private schools need less time to ‘master’ the language and we ask, why?
Kuwait is one of the few countries in the underdeveloped world to teach English at the elementary level, which I did not know for a short while, thanks to the late education minister Ahmed Al-Rubei, but after 25 years of applying this system, there is a steady decline among high school graduates to learn English, and much worse. We saw during my school days the National Jaafariya Private School was superior because it was the first school to implement the system of teaching English in the early stages of Kuwait.
The students of this school were better in English than those who studied in public schools. This was clear when they were moved to government schools. An education consultant who has a long history in the field of teaching English said the efforts of Al-Rubei were lost in the urgency of choosing the curriculum without careful study.
Moreover, we did not benefit from the UAE experience in implementing this system although Kuwait used the UAE textbooks which were appropriately designed to go in line with the development of the students; the language was smooth and the method to achieve the desired objectives.
The consultant went on to say the Ministry of Education, during the era of Yousef Al-Ibrahim had contracted an Egyptian company to write the English language books after setting the standards and principles to be observed in general with specific objectives, and that included the training of teachers on the techniques of teaching.
The value of the contract was approximately $7 million, but in the midst of all this, the time schedule for teaching English in Kuwait was not taken into consideration, which is approximately 120 school days per year, or the time allotted per week. Each English class was up to 40 minutes per day only, but the books came stacked with information, vocabulary and grammar without any consideration for the time factor.
For example, there were more than 20 new vocabulary words taught in one period, not to mention the grammar and other things. The program did not take into account the psychological characteristics of the growth of students at primary level. A child cannot understand the tenses at an early stage, for example the difference between past, future, present perfect or past perfect.
The problem becomes more complicated when all these tenses are taught at an early stage and sometimes in sequential classes without the opportunity to review them. The program also focused on information without interest in skills. Languages are not information materials such as geography and history that are based on information but need to focus on listening, speaking, reading and writing skills.
The curriculum books were completely devoid of a systematic plan to teach reading or writing that could be followed but the focus was on completing the topics regardless of any other vital issues such as interest in language and skills.
The contract with the company was signed through its agent in Kuwait and it did not comply with some of the vital provisions, nor the techniques associated with the material, nor did it commit to providing them.
Although the contract was clear with the company, special things protected its status from any criticism. The project was neglected and caused subsequent damage to the students, and we are paying the price until today.
The consultant says if the ministry is really serious about getting public school students out of the pit of this language, which costs the state a lot, it must develop a modern English curriculum for primary schools that is acceptable to experts.
Many believe that opposition from ‘supporters’ of the Muslim Brotherhood group in the Ministry of Education to the idea of teaching English at an early stage has had a significant impact and in fact the students do not accept it as a vital subject.
By Ahmed Al Sarraf