Thursday, January 17, 2013
Teaching English in Bahasa Malaysia
WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 16, 2013 - 16:23
by Frankie D'Cruz
POSER: If one who speaks two languages is bilingual, what do you call someone who speaks no foreign languages? Answer: a Malaysian student.
Too many children start school and don’t speak English. That’s indicative of a dysfunctional education system.
Worse, it has now been alleged that certain teachers conduct English classes mostly in Bahasa Malaysia. That’s student rights abuse.
The guardians of education would be thoughtless to ignore how the plight of our students struggling to grapple with the English language is playing out. It’s extreme complacency that causes intense worry. It’s a complicated issue prone to unhelpful generalities.
That’s largely due to those who indulge in reckless interpretations of moves to bring English teaching assistants from abroad and local teachers who deliberately dumb down the importance of speaking and writing English.
The English language is under mounting threat from ignorance and inverted snobbery of teachers who stand in the way of government efforts to boost mastery of the language.
People are always asking me the best way for their children to learn English. That’s partly because music and Mandarin classes have replaced English tuition in competitive parenting.
Frankly, I’m an impassioned believer of more children, even at elementary school, learning languages, because they not only make remarkable additions to Bahasa Malaysia but lay the platform to springboard to global integration in their latter years.
English, Malaysia’s second language, allows children to emerge from school with a useful command of the language that they will retain for life. English is a practical add-on to one’s daily life, meshing — more than any other languages — with whatever career one chooses.
As primary kids we were made to read The New Straits Times by our parents to complement teaching of English in schools. They took it is a responsibility and an obligation to ensure we spoke and wrote good English.
That was when the newspaper was a true family companion. A true teaching tool of the English language. These days, students are shy or embarrassed to speak English if they did not speak it at home. Few read newspapers.
A parent in a recent letter to newspapers bemoaned the predicament of what most students get during their English lesson in public schools:
“My daughter started Year One in an old, established national school in Kuala Lumpur. On the first day of school, she was told not to speak English. She could only do so during English lessons.
“During English lessons, the teacher addressed the pupils in Bahasa Malaysia. She conducted most of the lesson in BM and occasionally switched to English.”
“When are kids, the future of the nation, supposed to learn to speak and write English?” “They are taught English in BM and banned from speaking English in schools.”
I discussed the matter with a dozen teachers, all of whom declared that English is low priority and that many teachers were struggling to teach the language simply because they themselves were deficient in the discipline.
So, where do children turn to grasp the English language?
So, why the policy drift among teachers who conduct English classes in Bahasa Malaysia?
Clearly, the tenor over the quality of teaching of English in schools has broadened, shaking the conscience of parents who sense that educational leaders have lost their way.
To be fair, the education ministry has taken various measures to improve students’ command of English. These include bringing in tutors from abroad and language laboratories.
But the ministry’s efforts are being stymied. Like the fuss over the proposal to recruit English language teachers from India. Why is it okay to have English language teachers from the United States, England and Australia and not India?
The National Union of the Teaching Profession (NUTP) in calling for a study on the proposal to recruit English language teachers from India, said discussions must be carried out with the union, experts and the education ministry to ensure the move would profit the government.
Its president Hashim Adnan said: “A study must be made to ensure nobody loses. It is better discussed by local language experts with the union and the ministry so that the subsequent decision will be profitable to the government.”
Nobody loses? And what does he mean by “profitable to the government?” Is he suggesting that a mix of teachers would burden the students and badly affect the national education system? Is the accent of Indian teachers a problem?
Hashim has broadly put himself out of the history of education in our country. He has to take a cue from Malaysian Teachers’ Foundation Berhad chairman Tan Sri Alimuddin Mohd Dom who noted that the early history in English language education in the country at the end of the 19th century was dominated by teachers from India who taught in mission schools.
“Historically, they (Indians) mostly served in the education sector and many graduates of mission schools had become leaders and leading national figures,” he said.
Still, what has the NUTP done to address the rapidly falling standard of English in schools?
Then, everyone talks about retired English teachers who should be recruited as they are from the same culture and background and know how to teach Malaysian students.
What’s stopping them from coming forward to volunteer their services? Perhaps, the NUTP could lead the way in bringing their “invaluable contributions” back into classrooms.
The immediate priority should be to ensure schoolchildren speak English and if this sounds simplistic in concept, don’t worry, it is. For starters, backward attitudes must be stamped out.
MULTI-AWARD-WINNING journalist and editor-at-large of The Malay Mail, FRANKIE D’CRUZ is the National Press Club-Scomi Journalist of the Year 2012. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org