Friday, November 10, 2017

Guide students to use ICT responsibly in classroom

It cannot be denied that electronic gadgets can improve the learning process of students as they can access information easily via these devices.

In the near future, students may have to put away their books and take out their electronic devices in classrooms. Education Minister Datuk Seri Mahdzir Khalid recently has said that starting from next year, students in 10,000 schools will be allowed to bring certain mobile devices to class.

However, it was reported that mobile phones would not be allowed as students must concentrate on studying and not chatting with their friends.

Some people claim that phones are more distracting compared with devices that depend on WiFi or a local area network to connect to the Internet.

However, the latest technologies and applications are able to establish both voice and video communication through laptops or tablets.

I hope that the guidelines being drafted by the ministry will take into consideration this issue as the technology is evolving so fast that the guidelines might be obsolete few months after its introduction.

I urge the ministry to study this proposal and get feedback from tech experts when drafting the guidelines.

With information and communications technology, it will also be easier for students to understand what is being taught in the classroom.

However, we must have strict guidelines to ensure students do not misuse or abuse the technology by accessing unapproved sites. The ministry must also decide who will monitor the use of these gadgets in school.

As in previous cases, teachers will be forced to shoulder the responsibility although we know that they have to handle too many tasks at present.

At the same time, we must know who will supply the devices as not all students can afford to buy them.

If students are allowed to buy the electronic gadgets themselves, those from the well-to-do families will bring the latest and expensive devices, creating low self-esteem among poor students.

It can lead to theft and other disciplinary cases as some students may be tempted to steal the gadgets that they could not afford to buy.

The wide use of such gadgets could also expose students to cyberbullying as some students may exploit social media to harass and bully the victims.

Based on CyberSecurity Malaysia statistics, cyberbullying among students is serious — 250 cases were reported in 2012, 2013 (389), 2014 (291), 2015 (256) and last year (338).

A survey by Digi Telecommunications Sdn Bhd and Telenor Group last year revealed that one in four students admitted to having experienced cyberbullying.

Also, the astronomical cost will be an issue since there are five million students nationwide.

Therefore, the ministry should discuss with the National Union of the Teaching Profession, parent-teacher associations and other stakeholders to ensure that the guidelines cover all issues and must be updated in tandem with the ever-changing technology.

Tan Sri Lee Lam Thye, Senior vice-chairman, Malaysia Crime Prevention Foundation

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

How To Reclaim English Language Proficiency In Malaysia

I REFER to the reports “Raja Zarith: Stem decline in English language proficiency” (Sunday Star, Oct 1) and “Students must overcome fear of speaking English, says Mahdzir” (The Star, Oct 2).

The first reported on Johor Permaisuri Raja Zarith Sofia’s call for the Government, NGOs like the Malaysian English Language Teaching Association (Melta) and the private sector to raise the level of English proficiency and competency of our students so that they would eventually become global players in multi-national companies and world renowned universities.

The second report was on Education Minister Datuk Seri Mahdzir Khalid highlighting the problem of students conversing in English, particularly those from the rural areas.

From my experience managing and teaching English for decades, I know that getting students to speak in this language is an almost insurmountable task even in urban national and national-type schools despite numerous “pushy” and “forceful” campaigns to get them to do so.

Perhaps a multi-pronged approach can be adopted to reach the goal of improved English literacy among Malaysians.

The authorities should consider reintroducing English-medium schools along the lines of private and international schools but affordable to a larger segment of the population.

Before the mid-1970s, almost a third of students were enrolled in English-medium schools which were ethnically mixed and growing in significance compared with other vernacular schools.

Another option would be to make English a compulsory pass in SPM. This was actually proposed a couple of years ago but was shelved because of, among others, the lack of qualified English teachers.

We are hearing now that there are enough competent English teachers who have achieved the C1 level, the highest benchmark set by the Education Ministry, to teach English.

Without doubt, parents and students must be made aware of the importance of English as the language of the world. Principals and teachers should use every opportunity, including parent-teacher association functions, school assemblies and co-curricular activities, and take various initiatives in their interaction with parents and students to promote the use of English in schools.

Parents must be reminded that learning and pursuing knowledge in English will not erode national integration efforts or patriotism or make us less Malaysian. In fact, virtually all our past and present prime ministers were educated in English-medium schools. They are certainly not less nationalistic on account of that experience. On the contrary, they are more confident and accomplished on the Malaysian and international stage because of it.

Bringing back the teaching of science and maths in English, and introducing other subjects like history in English would also create opportunities for students to immerse in English. More importantly, in this digital era or Internet age, students would be able to access unlimited storehouses of up-to-date knowledge which is predominantly in the English language.

Currently, teaching English only as a subject and devoting just 10% to 15% of the teaching hours to it may be inadequate in building English operational proficiency.

Hopefully, the powers that be will act with strong political will to reclaim our lost ground in English language proficiency!


Friday, November 3, 2017

The English Teachers Have Done Their Best

TEACHERS have often been blamed for the poor standard of the English language in the country.

Many have argued that today’s English language teachers are not competent and can hardly speak English fluently and have no passion for teaching.

Some go on to blame the selection and training of teachers which is based on their academic qualifications.

If teachers are to be blamed for their poor language skills, it means that universities and teacher education institutes have failed in producing linguistically competent teachers.

A majority of today’s teachers are the product of the post 1970’s era when Bahasa Malaysia was the medium of instruction for all schools.

This was about the time when English language was taught as a single subject.

Before the switch, all subjects were taught in English except Bahasa Malaysia and the vernacular languages.

With regard to their selection and training, today’s teachers have excellent academic qualifications.

Many of the English language teacher trainees have obtained A1 or A2 in the SPM examination for the English language paper and go through a stringent oral interview to check their proficiency in the language.

In the teacher education institutes, the English language teacher trainees are drilled and grilled in grammar, language skills (Listening, Speaking, Reading & Writing), pedagogy, methodology and teaching practice.

When these teacher trainees graduate they are prepared and equipped to cater to the needs of their students and the schools.

Many rural schools are facing a shortage of trained English language teachers because trained and experienced teachers are not willing to teach in the remote areas.

In rural schools, non option English teachers (teachers who have been trained in other subject disciplines other than English language) are directed to teach the English language.

There are more than 10,000 non option teachers teaching English in the country. They have volunteered to teach English because of the shortage of English teachers in their schools.

Many of them are in their late 50’s and have an English schooling background. They are competent and proficient in the language.

It is not fair to blame these teachers for the poor state of English.

Some English language teachers have been accused of using workbooks, worksheets and revision books to teach English to cover up their oral and verbal interaction with the children in the English Language classroom.

English language teachers use workbooks and worksheets because of the emphasis on exam-based learning.

Teachers teach English for students to pass examinations. The emphasis is on examinations and testing.

Teachers are therefore unable to use interactive language games, songs and other fun activities in their teaching because they have to complete the syllabus and prepare children for the examination.

Let us not be too judgmental about the competence and proficiency of our English language teachers. They are doing their best despite the odds heaped against them.