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Feb 19, 1998

Educators examine new approach to teaching English

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We like to tell anyone who will listen that Belize is an English speaking country. While that may be true on paper the fact is that, quite apart from the thousands of Belizeans whose mother tongue is Spanish, the language the rest of us call English is not always the same as that spoken by our venerable Queen. That may not bother us very much… until we have to take standardized tests which pit our students against those from all over the region and world. Today educators met in Belize City to give our English teachers some support. Patrick Jones, himself no slouch when it comes to the written and spoken word, reports.

Brenda Armstrong, President, B.A.P.S.S

“Attitude is everything, full stop.”

That’s the approach that secondary school English teachers have adopted in their quest to improve on the performance of Belizean candidates in the C.X.C. examination.

Brenda Armstrong

“The Caribbean Examinations Council, which we all prepare our students for, has indicated that in the next few years, we may be having an oral component to our English Exam and with all of the first languages that we have in Belize, that presents a difficulty in itself.”

Difficult? Yes, but not impossible. Over the next three weeks, high school teachers countrywide will be taught the basics of teaching English as a Second Language.

Deryck Satchwell, Principal, Anglican Cathedral College

“I think we are just making a start now in terms of getting wider recognition for the fact that in teaching English we are in fact teaching a second language. I think we have had a lot of resistance to that idea that English is in fact a second language for the majority of Belizean students and we have managed to get a lot of recognition and acceptance of that and so we are starting to work on equipping teachers with the techniques to address that situation.”

Brenda Armstrong

“Perhaps we have been teaching English from the viewpoint that this is a language all contained within itself. Now referring to it or dealing with it as a second language automatically brings new approaches. Of course an essential component would be a respect of the first language that the student has rather than a downgrading or an ignoring of that existence and so this is the challenge that will be tackled over the next two days, how do you approach getting a student to speak a language that is not his or her first language, to write the language, to live the language.”

The first of its kind workshop is being facilitated by Doctors Dick and Jackie Rutter. It is the joint effort of the Belize Association of Principals of Secondary Schools, the Summer Institute of Linguistics and the University College of Belize.

Q: “As a tertiary level institution, what importance does U.C.B. attach to this effort that is being made at the secondary school level?”

Eve Aird, Coordinator, English and Education Programs, U.C.B.

“U.C.B. regards this as extremely important. We don’t only want to train teachers at U.C.B. to go back to the high schools. We have a very close partnership with the high schools, they take our practicing teachers every year and give them experience in the classroom under the supervision of their more experienced teachers, but more than that we want to be involved as much as possible to the needs that is coming out of the high schools. We are morally obliged to assist the high schools as much as we can.”

The workshops are focusing on the principles and practices of E.S.L., in developing the four language skills of listening, speaking, reading and writing in the secondary classroom.

Eve Aird

“I think in very small ways we can expect almost immediate improvement but this is in fact a very long term project. One of the things that we need to work out is exactly why we are teaching English in the school system, teachers need to be aware why we are teaching English. We need to change the attitude from teaching a language with a set of rules to teaching a communication tool.”

The participants are being give principles not ready made answers. The success of their efforts at teaching English as a Second Language will be up to their creative geniuses in the classroom. Patrick Jones, for News Five.

The two day workshop in Belize City will be followed by regional meetings in Orange Walk, San Ignacio and Independence.

Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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