Monday, September 5, 2011

Help students learn a second language to be competitive, says PM

Teachers must help their students to attain proficiency in at least one other language besides the national language, urged Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak.

The Prime Minister said while Bahasa Malaysia was compulsory, he wanted students to become just as proficient in English and, if possible, one other language.

“We must speak well in Bahasa Malaysia because it is our identity.
One goal: Teachers waving the Jalur Gemilang while singing ‘Malaysia Berjaya’ during the inaugural 1Malaysia National Teachers Assembly at Putra Stadium in Bukit Jalil yesterday. Some 14,000 teachers took part in the event which was attended by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak and his deputy Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin. - NORAFIFI EHSAN / The Star

“But we need to know a second language. It is not a zero-sum game.

“If we learn a second language, it will boost our competitiveness,” he told 14,000 teachers at the inaugural 1Malaysia National Teachers Assembly at Putra Stadium in Bukit Jalil here yesterday.

Najib also urged teachers to refrain from making their students learn through memorising answers for examinations but instead encourage them to be curious about the world around them.

“By being curious, they will be read more and look for answers to their questions.

“As individuals, they will come to value lifelong attainment of knowledge,” he said.

“I want to see the education system develop the intellect of our children and build intellectual capital. This means to grow young generations who know how to think creatively and innovatively,” he said.

At the same function, Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin said teachers played a crucial role in Malaysia’s goal to become a high income nation and to nurture the spirit of 1Malaysia among the students.

Myhyiddin, who is Education Minister, said he was confident the nation’s teachers were capable of instilling the values of tolerance and togetherness among the students.

“They (teachers) also have a role to play in transforming the nation into a developed one, as we need to mould holistic individuals that are knowledgable, creative and innovative to drive the new economy.

“At the same time, the ministry will do its part in ensuring that all levels of society will have equal opportunity for education, including those with special needs, the orang asli and the ethnic groups of Sabah and Sarawak,” he said .

“This is so that we can make the required adjustments to the education system to ensure that it reflects the ever-changing needs of the local and global society.”

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Pleasurable pursuit

MANY reasons could be advanced by a teacher if a student were to pose the question, Please teacher, why should I read? Reading is a good or wholesome pastime. An old proverb says that the idle man’s brain is the devil’s workshop. Reading keeps the mind fully occupied. It is, I daresay, far better to be “hooked’ on reading books, newspapers, magazines or comics rather than be drawn to narcotics. 

Over the years, teachers have urged their students to read widely. That is the ideal way of developing confidence in language usage. Grammar is also mastered with relative ease through sheer familiarity. In Malaysia, it is openly acknowledged that general reading is not yet widespread. In buses, trains and aircraft, people seem to prefer to chat with a fellow traveller or just sit and stare in front of them. 
In England, to take a random example, people read as they travel to and from work or to the shops. Over a period of time, the individual becomes a citizen of a well-informed community. The mastery of reading by children requires cooperation between home and school. There must be a variety of print materials in the home. The more young children see parents and elders reading, the greater the probability that they will also take to reading. 
William James in his essay On A Certain Blindness In Human Beings relates the experience of a missionary in the depths of Africa. As he sat on the verandah of a bungalow reading a periodical, a crowd had gathered. They stood watching for a long time. Eventually one person approached the reader and quite reverentially, asked whether he could buy some of the “eye medicine” that the missionary was absorbing.
The illiterate ones, whether young or old, are unable to grasp the link between the human being and the printed page. Yet it is this mysterious activity that has to be promoted more vigorously by Malaysian teachers and parents. There is really no substitute for wide reading. Students will steadily obtain deeper insights into the use of tenses as well as increase their stock of vocabulary. It doesn’t matter what sorts of fiction or non-fiction a student is interested in. 
Adolescent boys will take to detective and mystery stories, as well as to ghost stories and adventure and war settings. Girls may prefer romances and family chronicles. In the course of time, students may, of their own accord, try reading the classics or simplified versions of them. “Never put adult heads on adolescent shoulders” was the advice traditionally given to teacher trainees with regard to reading for secondary school students.

In 1975, a report entitled A Language For Life was published in Britain. It contains the findings and recommendations of a committee headed by Sir Alan Bullock. There are many useful observations and practical suggestions for all parents and language teachers.

The Bullock Report declares that the best way to prepare the very young child for reading is to hold him on your lap and read aloud to him stories that he likes over and over again. The printed page, the physical comfort and security, the reassuring voice, and the fascination of the story itself all combine in the child’s mind to identify books as something which hold great pleasure. I quote from paragraph 7.6 of the report: 
“Every time a parent reads aloud to a child, the child is learning that by some curious means the lines of print can be converted into stories which he can enjoy.”

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Fresh Approach To Teaching


LIM* frowned when she looked at the unexciting syllabus for the English Literature subject.

The senior English teacher knew she had to come up with a clever teaching plan or risk losing her Form Four students’ interest in learning the language which could affect their future career prospects, if they failed to master the international language.

She decided to change her approach and let her students play and learn English at the same time.

She then asked her students to act out Gulp and Gasp by John Townsend which required them to prepare their own scripts and costumes.
Young artists: Instructing pupils informally in English during Art lessons, may be a good way for children to pick up the language. – File photo

To her surprise, the 16-year-olds jumped at the opportunity which saw them work feverishly to perfect their pronunciation and intonation for the drama.

A boy, who had not been confident in speaking English, suddenly seemed inspired and even brought a wig to school and played the heroine in front of the class, she says.

“Not only did the drama help to improve their English, they also became more confident, creative and cooperative among themselves.

“The students had so much fun that they had forgotten that it was actually an English subject. They managed to step out of their comfort zone and showed less inhibition in using the English language,” says Lim, who has 25 years of teaching experience.

Forget about prescriptive textbooks and exams. The current exam-oriented system has not yielded promising results in increasing students’ ability to master the language.

With a touch of fun and creativity, the English language can be taught effectively too.

A check by StarEducate has found that, many senior teachers have in fact, taken their own initiative to help students maximise learning English in schools.

However, a lack of support from school authorities have dampened their spirits to sustain the work that they had carried out to achieve the goal.

But there may be light at the end of the tunnel, if the Government is serious about finding effective solutions to improve the standard of English.

Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin had recently said that the Goverment still placed emphasis on English as a second language, even though it had abolished the teaching of Mathematics and Science in English (PPSMI) in 2009.

He also said that many students were still unable to master English despite learning the language in school for 13 years.

This presents a perfect opportunity for the teachers to revive and incorporate some of the fun activities into the teaching of the language, if given adequate support and commitment from the school administrators.

Mary* said she initiated a link with a school in the United States (US) six years ago to provide her students with an opportunity to write e-mails and letters in English to their peers there.

Apart from learning about their respective cultures, the students also had a chance to practise using English in a more informal way.However, after a few exchanges, the interest died down.

While her students do not see economic value in the language, Mary is still determined to come up with activities to help her students master the language.

“Teachers should not be expected to work with a rigid syllabus, and must be given leeway in their approach to the language subject,” she says.

Lim agrees, saying that it is never too late for those who are poor in the language to buck up.

“I don’t like giving students written exercises because they tend to copy their answers from each other, so I prefer that they stand up and converse with their classmates in English.

“What teachers and students should do is to approach the English language as an everyday language rather than a subject,” she shares.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Language Letdown


While there are calls for action against the declining English standards, what needs to be done is to ensure that policies on improving the language should be for the long term.

LAST WEEK, Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin reportedly said that he himself was at a loss as to why Malaysian students have a poor grasp of the English language.

“I have instructed the education director-general to look into the curriculum to see why our students are unable to master English as a second language despite learning it for 13 years,” said Muhyiddin, who is also Education Minister.
... it is the students who become victims of all these ‘experiments’. — DATIN NOOR AZIMAH ABDUL RAHMAN
As always, this was the cue for a flurry of commentary over the declining standards of English and general hand-wringing over what can be done about it.

Questions have also been raised over the need for a new study following the current implementation of Upholding Bahasa Malaysia and Strengthening English (also known by its Malay acronym MBMMBI) policy, as well as the new Standard Curriculum for Primary Schools (KSSR) introduced this year.

Also left unanswered is whether English will be made into a must pass subject for the Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM) examinations; the idea was mooted by the minister himself in 2009.

Although the ministry stated then that 80% of the feedback received supported the proposal, there has been no subsequent developments on the matter.

Among those concerned over the issue is Parent Action Group for Education Malaysia (Page) chairperson Datin Noor Azimah Abdul Rahim.

“I think this admission reflects poorly on the ministry,” she says.

“Why weren’t these studies conducted before RM3bil was allocated for the MBMMBI policy?

“Education policies need to be well thought-out for the long term, and we cannot afford to have new policies with each new minister.

“In the end, it is the students who become victims of all these ‘experiments’.”

To be fair, the ministry has embarked on initiatives to improve English language skills to complement the MBMMBI initiative, the latest of which is the Pedagogy Standards for English Language Teaching.

Launched by Muhyiddin in July, the standards were developed by the English Language Training Centre (ELTC), the Education Ministry’s in-service teacher education provider.

Goals for teachers

ELTC director Dr Ranjit Singh Gill says the standards served as ‘aspirational’ goals for English language teachers rather than prescribing a minimum requirement.

“The main aim is to help teachers identify their strengths and weaknesses to help them chart their own career development.

“It will also help us in designing programmes to cater to teachers’ needs,” he says.

While it is still too soon to gauge the response to the project so far, Dr Ranjit thinks that teachers will be open to using the self-assessing standards.

“Judging from the number of teachers who take it upon themselves to further their studies, I think that there is a genuine desire among our teachers to improve themselves,” he says.

Former education director-general Tan Sri Alimuddin Mohd Dom also believes that the MBMMBI policy is sufficient to cover the language issue.

“The MBMMBI initiative is suitable because it addresses both the role of the national language in ensuring social cohesion, while recognising the importance of English as a global language.

“We should keep in mind that the purpose of the national education system is not just to prepare students for the workforce, but also to promote national unity.

“Of course, it will require all parties to play their roles if it is to work; teachers have to be passionate about teaching English, students need to be motivated to learn, and parents need to be more involved in their children’s academic study,” he says.
Staging plays and dramas are another avenue through which schoolchildren can express themselves in the English language.
Alimuddin also thinks that there is a serious rift in the public discourse of education and language, based on comments published by the media and posted on the blogosphere.

“On one hand you have those who are pushing for the direction of English medium schools, while on the other, there are those who lament the position of the national language.

“If these two divisions cannot reach a consensus, it will be a very problematic situation for the national education system as a whole,” he says.

A notable feature of this ‘rift’ is the Teaching of Mathematics and Science in English (better known by its Malay acronym PPSMI) first introduced by then Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad in 2003.

Announced six-months before its implementation to the tune of RM5bil, the ministry reversed the policy in 2009.

PPSMI proponents continue to applaud the policy’s aims of exposing students to Mathematics and Science knowledge in English, saying that this will enable Malaysia to achieve a developed nation status.

Detractors meanwhile, say that the policy was implemented at the expense of Bahasa Melayu’s status as the national language, and cause rural students to lose out in their academics.

Numerous surveys have been cited by both parties to support their arguments, but a 2010 study stands out both in its methods and findings.

Carried out by Universiti Teknologi Mara researchers, the study involved 186 urban and rural Year Four pupils taking two sets of Mathematics tests; one purely in English, the other in both English and Bahasa Melayu.

The study concludes that all the students performed poorly in both tests, with the rural students being weaker than their urban counterparts.