Indians teaching English

From ‘Teachers from India’, 9 April 2011, My Point, ST Forum.

(MR NICHOLAS LOH): ‘Thursday’s article (‘Teachers from India join Singapore schools’) highlighted how teachers from India are being recruited to teach subjects including the Indian mother tongue language, English, history, geography and economics. While teachers from India may be well-suited to teach the Indian mother tongue, I am concerned about the language or accent barrier between these teachers and their Singaporean charges, in teaching the other subjects in English. English is not the first language of most residents of India, with most using it as a second or third language. How does the Ministry of Education plan to ensure that their spoken English will not compromise the quality of teaching?’

Hint of discrimination here, Nicholas, assuming that teachers from India necessarily have thick accents, without considering some of our local teachers, Chinese, Indian, Malay or otherwise probably speak worse English than our foreign teachers.  Even if our locals spoke the Queen’s English, there’s no guarantee that they would be good teachers or mentors either, especially the sort who come in and make you read chapters while they mark yesterday’s homework. Perhaps that’s why kids these days have textbooks and tuition, because nobody equipped them with the skill of understanding foreign accents, an inevitable consequence of fewer Singaporeans willing to take up such jobs in view of the hefty demands of the educational system. Well if people had stopped making a fuss about racism when accents are mocked for comedic effect on national radio and learned to embrace diversity with a sense of humour and tolerance instead, nobody would be complaining about thick Indian accents having already been exposed to it.

In any case, the quality of good teachers shouldn’t be judged by their mother tongues,  but by their overall ability to impart knowledge and, more importantly, have our kids scoring for exams. Unless you have an Indian literature tutor making a recital of Midsummer’s Night Dream sound like a chanting of the Bhagavadgita and turning students off the text entirely, I don’t see how heavy accents would bog students down, especially if there’s a motivation to excel with or without a teacher’s help (I once scored an A for a statistics module despite my lecturer having the most bizarre Hong-Kong accented English ever). We also tend to forget that we once had reservations against even Chinese teaching English, a time when the threat of Indian teachers competing with locals for jobs already existed (see below, Alien Teachers, 26 Oct 1935, ST). Thick accents aside, Indian teachers have always had other niggling stereotypes to deal with, the colour of their skin for instance, even till this day.





One Response

  1. I don’t think it is discriminatory, but a legitimate question. I recently started working in a school where most teachers are Indian. Whether someone is a good teacher or not is a different issue all together not based on English ability. However, the thick Hindi accents do have an effect on the student’s production and understanding. This is not meant to be discriminatory, but what I have observed. Sometimes the truth is not what we wish it were, but it still is the reality. And, I would not send my children to schools with mainly Indian teachers for this reason.

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