Becoming a teacher was one of the best decisions of my life. Since I found myself in a global staff room where I have contact with wonderful teachers from all around the world, I’ve been feeling more lucky and privileged. I think blogging and Twitter are very important turning points in my professional life. Both blogging and Twitter made me a strong believer in the incredible power of sharing knowledge. Sharing ideas, resources and experiences with colleagues from different countries also increased my curiosity about different cultures and education systems.
I’ve been thinking about how English is taught in different countries. It is very clear that learning English is considered very important all around the world and education system authorities and governments are trying their best for their young population to start learning English at early ages and learn it well. Different systems are implemented in different countries. I read and heard about the systems of a few countries and I am really interested in learning more.
I invite teachers who read this entry to share their reflections about ELT in their countries at K-12 level. I think it will be a very useful series of blog posts for all of us.
Some questions that might help us:
- When do children start learning English in different countries? How many hours of English do they have in a week?
- Are they taught English through other subjects? If yes, does this system work well?
- Are teachers encouraged to use specific methods in their lessons?
- Is there a national curriculum? Are schools free to create their own syllabi?
- How is technology used? Are there any policies regarding use of technology?
- What are the strongest and weakest sides of the system?, etc.
Let me tell you about the system in Turkey. (I am writing this in the light of my experiences as a teacher who has worked in four different private schools in Istanbul. So, what I have experienced for twelve years cannot fully represent the whole system in Turkey.) In terms of English programs, there is a considerable difference between state schools and private schools. In private schools, children start learning English at the age of 4 (might be even 2 or 3 in some schools). In primary school, there is, on average, 7-8 hours of English in a week (this might go up to 12 hours in some schools). Although the value and importance of an interdisciplinary approach is always emphasized, I haven’t experienced a school system where teachers of all subject areas work collaboratively and plan their lessons together (except one of the schools I worked that implement Primary Years Program (PYP), and I must admit that it was not an easy thing to do because there were quite a lot of ‘experienced’ teachers who were having difficult times internalizing the concept of ‘working collaboratively’.)
There is a national curriculum but it is designed for state schools and the English program starts in Grade 4 in state schools (with fewer hours than private schools). Therefore private schools implement their own programs (in line with the Ministry’s principles). Teachers are expected to use modern methods like communicative method but, I believe, there is a strong tendency to use mechanical approches and it is often paid lip service to ‘using communicative method’. This has several reasons and I don’t think this is a Turkey-specific problem. Regarding technology use, I can say there are more teachers who are reluctant to use Edtech tools than teachers who embrace technology and use the available tools effectively. Unfortunately, it becomes a complete waste of lesson hours if teachers adopt a mechanical approach and do not benefit from technology.
I think the solutions to the terrible “no-tech+mechanical approach to teaching” combination are:
- a better pre-service teacher education system
- school principals = visionary leaders
- regular, frequent & effective in-service training systems
- successful performance management systems
- better work conditions (fewer lesson hours, better salaries, good quality equipment & hardware)
- clear school policies about every aspect of teaching & learning process
- consequently, a system that takes demotivated and passionless people out of the profession who might be happy and productive in another career.
Well, yes, I was telling you about the system in Turkey but I guess I went deeper and started dreaming.
The closer we get to this vision, the more effective our education system can be, and this brings success to the ELT programs as well.
Yes, this is briefly “ELT in Turkey” from my eyes.*
I am looking forward to hearing your reflections which I would like to publish as a guest blog series called “ELT in My Country”.
I will get in touch with you if you drop me a line using the contact form.
* As I mentioned above, these are my personal opinions and limited to my experiences and observations and do not fully represent the big picture in Turkey. The big picture is more complex and I want to write about it as well after some more reading & thinking.