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A national EFL syllabus.

No doubt, changing the currently used textbooks in the teaching of English in Morocco is a crucial necessity. However, before writing and publishing new textbook, there are other critical areas that have to be dealt with first; otherwise, the change would be no more that a waste of money for some and huge budgets for others.

There are so many problems with the current EFL  textbooks. I am not going to deal with issues that concern the activities,texts or any other materials in these textbooks; yet, my concern is with with some macro areas. The disparities that exist between the three textbooks that are used in teaching the baccalaureate level (and other levels as well) are due to the lack of a standardized structure that makes the broad goals (macro-competencies) that are targeted in all the textbooks coherent with each other.

For any possible reform to be successful in achieving the goals of teaching foreign languages in Morocco, it must start from building up a ‘robust’ EFL syllbus. It has never been enough to give textbook writers a list of topics and language items, and ask them to build a textbook that complies with the list(s).

For this reason, I do believe that starting from building a national EFL syllabus (some might prefer to use the term curriculum) is of paramount importance for many reasons. First, this syllabus should make clear the profile of the Moroccan EFL learner/speaker that we want to have by the the time he/she finishes the secondary school. It’s not enough to specify that profile in broad terms that might be cross-curricular or inter-disciplinary. The EFL learner should be specified in terms of what he/she can do with the English language in very clear,  manageable and measurable items.Certain statements such as ‘by the time he/she finishes the baccalaureate level, the Moroccan learner should be able to sustain a conversation to achieve his/her communicative needs” or “the Moroccan learner should be able to write a simple e-mail to inform the (recepient can vary) of his/her own persoanl life,culture, needs and opinions….). These are sample ways in which the profile of the learner can be specified in terms of his/her own performance, not in braod terms such as ‘to communicate with the other’. These performances should specify what the learner should be able to do in all the four language skills in addition to what he/she can do with the use of ICT to further pursue learning language and using it for inter-cultural communication.

By clearly determining the profile of the language learner we want, we provide the textbook writes with a road map to follow while designing the activities they will include in the textbook. These activities have to target developing specific language skills that contribute to the development of the general profile of the learner (language competencies). Many of the “activities” in some of the textbooks that are currently used have no clear objective,maybe more than throwing the learner into an ocean of language where he/she has to seek his/he chance of getting through it safely.

Of equal importance in any future change of the textbooks is the specification of the approach to be used for teaching EFL in Morocco.  I think that it’s high time clear terms were used. Textbook writers are not sure whether  the approach is “approach par compétence” or “standads-based appraoch”. This explains why one doesn’t find the specification of the targeted skills in clear ways at the beginning of every unit in the textbook. Sometimes the terms standard, skill and competency are used interchangeably. The focus should be on what is to be achieved, not on importing “concepts” that distract people’s (textbook writers’, supervisors’ and teachers’) attention from focusing on achieving clear competencies.

In my opinion, textbook writers and teachers should be aware of the approach that they have to follow while designing texbook activities/tasks or being involved in actual classroom practices. In language teaching, I suppose it is enough to make people aware of the main principles that are involved in language teaching. These principles have have to adhere to the ‘communicative function‘ of language teaching. Therefore, there is no reason to tell people in some references that we are adopting “the competency-based” approach, in others “the standards-based approach” and still in others “the communicative approach”…. Specifying the targeted competencies necessitates and drives with it a language teaching approach/method. In saying “the Moroccan learner should be able to use language to exchange information…’, it’s clear that any technique used to teach the activities that target such objectives must be ‘communicative‘. Teaching for communication doesn’t rule out comparing/contrasting cultures/languages; it neither neglects speaking about other cultures and getting insight into the aspects of life of other people; hence, I do believe that, without having to mention it, the 5 Cs of communication that are the cornerstone of the standards-based approach are embedded in any communicative classroom.

One last thing that has to be specified for textbook writers, and mainly for language teachers, is the type and function of assessment in language teaching. It’s high time teachers were clear about whether language assessment is  for learning or of learning. A national syllabus has to make it clear when to test the learners summatively because we need grades for reasons of evaluation ,and when to assess the learners -not because we want to collect grades- but because we want to understand and maybe redirect and correct the way we teach/the way learners learn. In other words,it just doesn’t make sense to to advocate ‘formative assessment’ and grade learners at the same time.

Changing the current textbooks, using new names, new colors is of great interest; however,  it  wouldn’t end the ‘communicative’ crisis our secondary school learners are facing when it comes to using foreign languages. Any coming textbook reform should be prceded by a clear text which specifies the terminal competencies of our learners, the approach that should be used to achieve those competencies as well as the role(s) of assessment in language teaching.

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