Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Retrain English language teachers, enhance MBMMBI and offer PPSMI as an option

Hussaini Abdul Karim
Letter to the press:

Dear Sir,

Retrain English language teachers, enhance MBMMBI and offer PPSMI as an option

PPSMI still has a place in our national education system in spite of the calls by many parties to clear the perception about it being a superior policy. PPSMI is useful for students who are already good in English and many of our students, being taught English since their kindergarten days, are good in the language. It is however, not a way to improve one’s English. For students who are not good in English, the numbers are many too and they can be taught Mathematics and Science in the national language or their respective vernacular languages. Therefore, it will be a big waste for MOE to discard PPSMI altogether. The solution is to offer PPSMI as an option.

Recent PISA ratings registered our students poor standings, being in the bottom third, 52 out of 65 countries, but PISA ratings are not exactly based in the same way as how we asses our national schools students’ performance and so, I believe, PISA ratings cannot be used as a reference to assess the standard of our students. It is like comparing ‘apples to oranges’ and not ‘apples to apples’.

According to IDEAS Wan Saiful Wan Jan in his article, ‘Education crisis: disclose PISA results’ he said, “The latest PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) test results are alarming. Together with the TIMMS (Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study) test, PISA is seen as a global benchmark of how a country’s education system is faring.

Malaysia participates in both PISA and TIMMS. The government has said that they aim to put Malaysia in the top third of the tests. This is a very tall order because we have just been ranked at number 52 out of 65 countries, close to the bottom of the pile.

This result points to a crisis if we put the situation in its proper context. PISA tests students at the age of 15, which means it tests those at our PMR examination age. In the recently announced PMR results, more students than before achieved good results, with around 7 percent obtaining straight As.

But this relatively good PMR results is a clear indication of how bad our education crisis is. How is it possible that when we are getting better relative to our local standards, we are getting worse in global standards like PISA? Something is clearly wrong.

The answer lies in the way our school system operates. PISA tests the ability of students to apply their knowledge. It does not test how much you know, but how able you are to use the knowledge to guide your thinking.

So, PISA tells us that while our students can remember information that are tested in the PMR exams, when it comes to thinking skills, they are below average globally. Our school system produces students who can memorise but not think!”

Therefore, in order to be able to reach the upper rungs of PISA ad TIMMs in future, the entire national school syllabus will have to be revamped and emphasis must be given to ‘thinking’ instead of ‘memorising’ or ‘rote learning’. Otherwise, we will continue to remain in the bottom third.

The recent UPSR and PMR examination results show that our students’ have attained a higher standard in the two subjects Mathematics and Science in spite of those subjects being taught in Bahasa Malaysia compared to previous years. Eventually, our students attend colleges and universities for further studies, either locally or overseas and many complete their degree courses, in many disciplines, successfully. However, despite all that, many remain unemployed mainly for not being good enough in English, both oral and written.

So, how do we address this anomaly?

Obviously, our education policy, syllabus and curriculum, though they cover Bahasa Malaysia very well, lack the edge in making our students proficient in English. This is the crux of the matter and to address this anomaly, we need to have an English language policy, good syllabus and curriculum and good English language teachers in order to raise the standard of English in our national school system.

Before the 1980s Malaysia was known as one of the top English speaking countries in the world. We had one of the best national education systems in the world and our people were able to communicate with native speakers of the English language from the UK, USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand at the same level. However, ever since the switch was made to use Bahasa Malaysia in place of English as the main medium, the standard of our English has deteriorated so much that we now need interpreters to communicate with people from the countries mentioned. Only very few are able to maintain the former standard and the number is dwindling. This has affected almost two generations of our people and we cannot allow this to continue.

I suggest MOE should look at some of the teaching methods used in the 80s and earlier and adopt them into the present system. I am not suggesting that a re-vamp be carried out but perhaps what is needed is a change in the way English language is taught in primary and secondary schools. The ‘old way’ of teaching English language starts form the basic, i.e. the foundation of the English language, and that includes learning the alphabets, spelling and dictation, grammar, simple sentence construction, composition and essays and not forgetting reading. Now that we have IT and many programs and applications that can be used as teaching aids, it would be easier and more convenient to enhance the teaching and learning of English language.

Needless to say, English language teachers in primary and secondary schools must be properly trained before they are sent to schools to teach English and they should use the same basis in teaching the language as suggested above. This, of course, cannot happen overnight, but given time, we can attain our old high standards in being proficient in this language.

Whatever that have been done to improve our teachers and students command of English, such as employing the services of the British Council, engaging language consultants, using assistant teachers from the US and the UK to teach, etc. all seem to be wasted as the results do not show much success and a lot of money have been spent on them. It is therefore totally foolish and a waste of more money for MOE to continue with those programmes.

The National Education Blueprint 2013 - 2025 is a well thought out document and one that has been deliberated thoroughly with the involvement of all the stakeholders and being a keen observer of the developments that take place in the country from the days before the idea to come up with a national education blueprint was conceptualised, I know that MOE did a lot of work, took a lot of trouble and pains to come out with it. It should be made a living document with the current benchmarks set in it as its base but improved from time to time.

To make the National Education Blueprint 2013 - 2025 active rather than using it as a reference document only, it should be revised every six months and amendments or changes introduced at that frequency. There is no such thing as a ‘one size can fit all’ solution, especially one that involves something very big, general and sometimes vague such as education, but if the blueprint is revised periodically, given time, it will or come very close to it.

The majority of the people of our country, from all cross-sections and levels, want the best in education for our people especially for the young ones who are tomorrow’s leaders, and many, like me, express ourselves in the form of letters, for example, to get what we want. Beside us, I am sure, MOE itself have people monitoring the progress of the blueprint and from time to time may suggest or introduce new ideas, improvements and changes to make the blueprint better.

Amendments to the National Education Blueprint 2013 - 2025 in the form of booklets or leaflets should be distributed to the public and published on MOE’s website from time to time. I also would like to suggest MOE to conduct a national education dialogue every year to discuss progress in education and to welcome new suggestions, ideas, improvements and changes from the public to continue to improve the national blueprint.

Last but not least, our quest to improve the standard of English should not be done at the expense of our national language, i.e. Bahasa Malaysia, and let the MBMMBI policy continue unabated but the portion on the teaching and learning of the English language need to be enhanced and the use of PPSMI, as an option, if it is allowed to continue, will be an added advantage. This can be the first step at making the National Education Blueprint 2013 - 2025 ‘grow’. This way, our students can master two languages, at least, with equal proficiency and be effectively bilingual and hopefully the anomaly of many of our graduates to remain unemployed for not being good enough in English, both oral and written is cleared. This is what we call a ‘win-win’ solution for all.

Hussaini Abdul Karim, Shah Alam, Selangor

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