Tuesday, April 28, 2009

If you fail, blame the Other

A colleague sent me an opinion piece from the Ukaz newspaper (in Arabic) in which the writer alleges that poor Saudis are being fleeced unethically by English language colleges in Australia. According to the author - who is not in Australia, and looks like he has never been - state-supported students are "forced" to pay anywhere between 2 and 2.7 grand to attend a 5 weeks ESL course in preparation for university. The colleges ensure they teach them nothing, fail them, and then inform their cultural missions that the students need to repeat the course.

It is amazing how conspiracy theories reach into the all areas of Arab life. The facts are, of course, very different. The "poor" Saudi students (and students from other Gulf states) come to Australia not only with zilch English language skills, but also with very poor learning and study skills. Their education, as many reports have stated, is based on rote learning and focused on Arab Muslim culture and religion (more than 80% of their curriculum consists of religious studies and Islamic history). They are used to private tutoring, aka spoon-feeding, throughout their schooling years.

So they arrive at X College to find out that we teach English in a way they are not used to: comprehension, opinion writing, presentations, conversation, etc. No grammar classes, no long vocab lists to memorize, no orthography, no dictation. And they get lost.

As a reaction to this, they often drop out of classes. Absenteeism in endemic. Medical reports abound. Only 5% make it past the English course. But without fully functional English, and without proper study skills, they will fail at university as well.

However, it is very easy to blame the Australian education providers. Easier than trying to learn something new.

You can add culture shock to this as well - sharing classes with people from ethnic backgrounds considered to fit into the "servant" category. With women (yikes!). Being taught by women (bigger yikes!). Having to take responsibility for their actions - no privileges just because you are male. Multiculturalism, religious pluralism, equality, etc.. Having to talk in class - although once they get a hang of that, you can't shut them up :-D

Again, it must be the fault of X College to have put all these persona non grata in the same class with them, making learning so much more difficult.

No comments: