Indian parents relieved as grammar returns to Australian classrooms

October 18th, 2008 - 11:09 am ICT by IANS  

Sydney, Oct 18 (IANS) Indian origin parents, for whom grammar books were part and parcel of the school curriculum back home, have welcomed the news of grammar being re-introduced in Australian classrooms after 30 years.The National Curriculum Board Friday proposed the introduction of grammar, punctuations, spellings and phonics for all students from kindergarten to Class 10 in order to stem declining literacy standards.

“I’ve been waiting for this about-turn for some time now. When I was growing up in London, learning grammar was deeply dull. Then there was a shift towards kids just ‘expressing themselves’. I would like to see the exploration of creativity together with some disciplined, yet fun, work with grammar,” Kolkata-born author Bem le Hunte, who has two boys in Classes 5 and 7, told IANS.

In the 1970s, the English curriculum in Australia moved away from grammar to a more literary approach.

“The re-introduction of grammar is a positive move. School students are assessed for grammar so it makes sense to provide systematic instruction on sentence structure and of language usage,” says Kaveri Rutherford, who taught English for 10 years at Delhi Public School (DPS) before moving to Sydney and teaching in state schools for the past nine years.

The push to learn the basics of the English language is part of the Kevin Rudd-led Labour government’s plan for a new national curriculum in English, maths, science and history.

As Ritu Shankar, a town planner who migrated here from Delhi, says: “We learnt to appreciate the language because we could understand the context in which it was written. Wren and Martin was like our Bible for English grammar.”

The board has also proposed a return to phonetics-(sound) based teaching. Sounding out each letter of the alphabet to help read was dropped in Australian schools in favour of a “whole language” approach, which uses a visual representation of the word (as in picture cards), next to its spelling.

Between 20 and 40 percent of children are said to be struggling to read using the “whole language” approach alone.

“It amazes me that Australia is only just beginning to consider phonetics-based teaching. My kids did their early school in India and learnt their alphabets using phonetics,” says Shankar, whose daughters are in first year college and Class 7 now.

The board has also recommended a return to teaching English literature classics such as William Shakespeare, Charles Dickens and Jane Austen along with modern Australian writers as the students’ progress to high school.

Shankar said: “I really do wish my daughter had been taught classics, at least in high school. She had to study ‘Journeys’ as a part of her Class 11 English curriculum by watching movies and television episodes to increase her understanding of emotions related to it.”

In recent years, some schools have been analysing television shows like “Home and Away” and films like “Star Wars” instead of novels or plays. The board has recommended that literary texts should take a broad range of form, including digital and multimedia formats, but not at the expense of novels, poetry, drama and short stories.

As Anita Yadav, an investment banker who has a daughter in Class 5, says: “I grew up studying three languages, English, Hindi and Sanskrit, with emphasis on grammar and it has certainly benefited me. Grammar is a study of rules, systems and structures of a language and in the global world we live, it will help my daughter understand the logical structure of other languages better.”

Today, students have become so accustomed to abbreviated terms like SMS, MSN and e-mails and written assignments done with computerised spelling and grammar checks that writing proper sentence structures with the pen is becoming a thing of the past.

“My daughters here, like many other kids, speak only English, but get away with fundamental errors in the language. I’m relieved that an action has been taken for an obvious flaw in the education system. It will save me teaching my kids at home what I was taught in my school back home,” Seema Sharma, a psychiatrist and an advocate of effective communication skills to solve personal and work problems, told IANS.

The situation is so dismal that John Harrison from the University of Queensland’s journalism school told Australian Broadcasting Corporation that even his students, who aspire to write for a living, struggle with basic grammar.

For those yearning for grammar to be taught in its own right, it is still “too little, too late”. The national curriculum’s final version is aimed at being implemented in 2011.

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