Teaching English (As A Second Language) To Nursery Schoolers

Specialists are divided over a French government plan to introduce the language of Shakespeare to three-year-old children

Paris nursery school (French govt)

Is it possible to teach English to pre-schoolers? Education Minister Luc Chatel's announcement that he intends introducing English lessons for children as young as three-years-old has left specialists in the field perplexed. Some such initiatives already exist, primarily in big cities and in bilingual and private schools, with innovative teaching techniques, such as Montessori.

At the Saint-Jean-de-Passy kindergarten in Paris, children currently benefit from one hour of English per week provided by a mother tongue instructor, paid for by the parents. Such examples amuse Michel Morel, a member of the Association of Professors of Living Languages. "These schools are putting aside substantial funds for the learning of languages even though few parents can afford to pay. How can one imagine teaching English to three-year-olds who already have enormous deficiencies in their own language?" Morel says. "At that age, levels of vocabulary can vary (greatly)," he said. "The risk is that children get confused."

Morel is amenable to the idea of "attuning children's ears to new sounds because their brains are more absorbent than those of adolescents." But he also counsels against teaching children a foreign language before they know they how to read and write in their mother tongue, "around six or seven years old." Sebastian Sihr, secretary general of the teachers union, is not against the idea. "One can imagine introducing awareness of foreign languages in the form of nursery rhymes or games, for example." But he "categorically" disagrees with Chatel's proposal that teachers could be replaced with remote learning programs, via video or the Internet. "Screens are a useful tool, but the idea they could replace teachers is unthinkable."

But training the teachers – there's the rub. For the past dozen years, primary school teachers are supposed to teach a foreign language. Since 2006, recruitment exams have included a foreign-language component. But although younger teachers have benefited from more language training than their older colleagues, many are not at ease with languages, especially speaking them. This is due to a lack of training, not just in the subject itself, but also how to teach it. Some teachers have had as little as nine hours of foreign-language training.

In the past, the language certificates were "handed out rather liberally by the administration," notes Morel. They allowed the ministry to provide a quick fix instead of bringing in outside language teachers or secondary-school teachers to compensate for the lack of primary-school teachers with the appropriate skills. Many teachers, who hail predominantly from a liberal arts background, have only studied written English. Some have studied no English since taking the Baccalauréat examination (advanced high school diploma). "I know English grammar, but am totally incapable of speaking English," said Justine, a schoolteacher in Nice. "I'd be too afraid of making pronunciation mistakes and so on." This is the reason she does not teach language to her class of nine-year-olds. Justine is happy to "play a few songs in English" for the class.

Yet according to the national curriculum, primary students should have an hour and a half of foreign language teaching per week. In reality, it is hardly an hour. Part of the reason is that primary school hours were reduced to 24 hours a week in 2007. That means teachers have to focus on the basics, such as French and mathematics, and cut back on other subjects considered less of a priority. "An hour a week is better than nothing," says Morel. "It's a start. The ear gets used to it and takes in some new words. But there is such a deficiency in funding that no one can claim at the end to have a bilingual classroom. As for teaching in nursery school, frankly, it doesn't seem like a priority," Morel says.

Read the original article in French

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Ecological Angst In India, A Mining Dumpsite As Neighbor

Local villagers in western India have been forced to live with a mining waste site on the edge of town. What happens when you wake up one day and the giant mound of industrial waste has imploded?

The mining dumpsite is situated just outside of the Badi village in the coastal state of Gujarat

Sukanya Shantha

BADI — Last week, when the men and women from the Bharwad community in this small village in western India stepped out for their daily work to herd livestock, they were greeted with a strange sight.

The 20-meter-high small hill that had formed at the open-cast mining dumpsite had suddenly sunk. Unsure of the reason behind the sudden caving-in, they immediately informed other villagers. In no time, word had traveled far, even drawing the attention of environment specialists and activists from outside town.

This mining dumpsite situated less than 500 meters outside of the Badi village in the coastal state of Gujarat has been a matter of serious concern ever since the Gujarat Power Corporation Limited began lignite mining work here in early 2017. The power plant is run by the Power Gujarat State Electricity Corporation Limited, which was previously known as the Bhavnagar Energy Company Ltd.

Vasudev Gohil, a 43-year-old resident of Badi village says that though the dumping site is technically situated outside the village, locals must pass the area on a daily basis.

"We are constantly on tenterhooks and looking for danger signs," he says. Indeed, their state of alert is how the sudden change in the shape of the dumpsite was noticed in the first place.

Can you trust environmental officials?

For someone visiting the place for the first time, the changes may not stand out. "But we have lived all our lives here, we know every little detail of this village. And when a 150-meter-long stretch cave-in by over 25-30 feet, the change can't be overlooked," Gohil adds.

This is not the first time that the dumpsite has worried local residents. Last November, a large part of the flattened part of the dumpsite had developed deep cracks and several flat areas had suddenly got elevated. While the officials had attributed this significant elevation to the high pressure of water in the upper strata of soil in the region, environment experts had pointed to seismic activities. The change is evident even today, nearly a year since it happened.

It could have sunk because of the rain.

After the recent incident, when the villagers raised an alarm and sent a written complaint to the regional Gujarat Pollution Control Board, an official visit to the site was arranged, along with the district administration and the mining department.

The regional pollution board officer Bhavnagar, A.G. Oza, insists the changes "aren't worrisome" and attributes it to the weather.

"The area received heavy rain this time. It is possible that the soil could have sunk in because of the rain," he tells The Wire. The Board, he says, along with the mining department, is now trying to assess if the caving-in had any impact on the ground surface.

"We visited the site as soon as a complaint was made. Samples have already been sent to the laboratory and we will have a clear idea only once the reports are made available," Oza adds.

Women from the Surkha village have to travel several kilometers to find potable water

Sukanya Shantha/The Wire

A questionable claim

That the dumpsite had sunk in was noticeable for at least three days between October 1 and 3, but Rohit Prajapati of an environmental watchdog group Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti, noted that it was not the first time.

"This is the third time in four years that something so strange is happening. It is a disaster in the making and the authorities ought to examine the root cause of the problem," Prajapati says, adding that the department has repeatedly failed to properly address the issue.

He also contests the GPCB's claim that excess rain could lead to something so drastic. "Then why was similar impact not seen on other dumping sites in the region? One cannot arrive at conclusions for geological changes without a deeper study of them," he says. "It can have deadly implications."

Living in pollution

The villagers have also accused the GPCB of overlooking their complaint of water pollution which has rendered a large part of the land, most importantly, the gauchar or grazing land, useless.

"In the absence of a wall or a barrier, the pollutant has freely mixed with the water bodies here and has slowly started polluting both our soil and water," complains 23- year-old Nikul Kantharia.

He says ever since the mining project took off in the region, he, like most other villagers has been forced to take his livestock farther away to graze. "Nothing grows on the grazing land anymore and the grass closer to the dumpsite makes our cattle ill," Kantharia claims.

The mining work should have been stopped long ago

Prajapati and Bharat Jambucha, a well-known environmental activist and proponent of organic farming from the region, both point to blatant violations of environmental laws in the execution of mining work, with at least 12 violations cited by local officials. "But nothing happened after that. Mining work has continued without any hassles," Jambucha says. Among some glaring violations include the absence of a boundary wall around the dumping site and proper disposal of mining effluents.

The mining work has also continued without a most basic requirement – effluent treatment plant and sewage treatment plant at the mining site, Prajapati points out. "The mining work should have been stopped long ago. And the company should have been levied a heavy fine. But no such thing happened," he adds.

In some villages, the groundwater level has depleted over the past few years and villagers attribute it to the mining project. Women from Surkha village travel several kilometers outside for potable water. "This is new. Until five years ago, we had some water in the village and did not have to lug water every day," says Shilaben Kantharia.

The mine has affected the landscape around the villages

Sukanya Shantha/The Wire

Resisting lignite mining

The lignite mining project has a long history of resistance. Agricultural land, along with grazing land were acquired from the cluster of 12 adjoining villages in the coastal Ghogha taluka between 1994 and 1997. The locals estimate that villagers here lost anything between 40-100% of their land to the project. "We were paid a standard Rs 40,000 per bigha," Narendra, a local photographer, says.

The money, Narendra says, felt decent in 1994 but for those who had been dependent on this land, the years to come proved very challenging. "Several villagers have now taken a small patch of land in the neighboring villages on lease and are cultivating cotton and groundnut there," Narendra says.

They were dependent on others' land for work.

Bharat Jambucha says things get further complicated for the communities which were historically landless. "Most families belonging to the Dalit or other marginalized populations in the region never owned any land. They were dependent on others' land for work. Once villagers lost their land to the project, the landless were pushed out of the village," he adds. His organization, Prakrutik Kheti Juth, has been at the forefront, fighting for the rights of the villages affected in the lignite mining project.

In 2017, when the mining project finally took off, villagers from across 12 villages protested. The demonstration was disrupted after police used force and beat many protesters. More than 350 of them were booked for rioting.

The villagers, however, did not give up. Protests and hunger strikes have continued from time to time. A few villagers even sent a letter to the President of India threatening that they would commit suicide if the government did not return their land.

"We let them have our land for over 20 years," says Gohil.

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