For school children in the UAE, home to more than 100 nationalities, learning foreign languages is not alien but the norm.
Julie D’Souza’s children, now 12 and 16, who moved to the UAE five years back, have attended Indian curriculum schools all along. Like their peers, the D’Souza children learned three languages before the age of seven. “In India, students generally learn three languages which are: Hindi, the national language, English, the medium of school instruction, and the native language, which for us is Malayalam,” says D’Souza. “My children started learning English when each [of them] was five years old. Anytime after that, I believe they would have found it difficult because they would’ve been less receptive to it.”
Indian curriculum schools tend to focus on a lot of theory in the later stages of school education, says D’Souza, which makes it harder for children to pick up languages because of the load of school work.
“In the case of my own children, they were able to pick up languages better when they learnt them at the oral stage of their education,” she says. The UK school system is set for curriculum reforms in 2014 with the learning of foreign languages mandatory for children aged seven as well as a new approach to teaching science wherein the emphasis will be on using the natural habitat around schools to teach science. D’Souza believes the latter approach could do well by being incorporated into Indian school curricula.
“Teaching science in Indian schools in the past was heavily theory-based but now we can see some applied elements being introduced. It could do with being a lot more hands-on,” according to her. “Although we have come a long way, there is much more ground to cover.”
She believes the reforms to the teaching of science in the UK are essentially reinforcing the transition from teacher-centred classrooms to child-centred ones. “In the UK, this transition has already happened but in the UAE and India, this is just starting,” she says. “Here, a lot of teaching is about lectures with students listening in, as opposed to teachers engaging and interacting with the children.”