Sunday, October 10, 2010

Views: System Needs Revamp

Dear ETs,
A constant plea of concerned voices about the state of our Malaysian education system has been ringing for a very long while.

The proof is all around us: we worship straight A achievers but yet many could not cope with higher education. Numerous others after receiving their degrees are unemployable!

Lucille Dass whom I have met at English teaching conferences is a typical voice who said that something drastic must be done. This active, retired educator voices out things that have been said over and over again.

For one, we need quality teachers who are passionate about teaching our young and have the necessary training to do so.

Anyway, read on to know more.

Rodney Tan
Sunday August 1, 2010

System needs revamp



SO MUCH has been said by so many. Educators — past and present — continue to fill these pages with substantial comments, concerns, opinions and suggestions, that repeatedly and singularly underscore a plea-mantra: review-revamp-reinvent-refresh for an improved education system.

Given the centrality of education to the making of a sober and robust nation, passionate educators feel concerned that the purpose of education has gone awry and should be brought on track, like ... yesterday.

Indeed, we should be courting a “systemic change and not a piecemeal” quick-fix-it reactionary approach any more.

There is much sense to be made of the education-related content continually contained in these pages. Content that is time-sensitive, relevant, real-world requirement material, and refreshing. The key to all this is an openness to UNDERSTAND what it means to “educate” a person.

A cross-check with our National Philosophy of Education will reveal how we have veered off course. En route to realising the national project towards developed status, the nature of our education system suggests that we have not been keen investors in the potential development of our most important resource – the human resource.

Character development is an integral part of education. To partially quote Charles Read, “Sow a character and you reap a destiny.” Whither our destiny in the light of recent happenings?

To create a nation of fully functioning people (as encapsulated in our National Philosophy of Education), we must begin with the end in mind.

In this context I admire the former Education Ministry director-general Tan Sri Dr Wan Mohd Zahid Mohd Noordin for his forward thinking, his “bold imaginings” and his time-sensitive resolve “to depart from the beaten paths … ” (George Bernard Shaw).

While the destination might remain the same (or not), the journey counts. Ignore the journey and you ignore the progress. Life is a process-product, and we will reap what we sow. After painstakingly sowing exam-oriented teaching and learning, we are reaping routine teachers and rote learners.

We celebrate our unending list of A-bearers and then wonder why many cannot cope with the demands of higher learning, or cannot be gainfully employed upon graduation.

We boldly proclaim that our English language teachers are well trained, and then wonder why the standard of English continues to backslide.

We are not being honest. The system has been ailing. Allow me one personal take here. In the early 90s, while still in service, at a meeting on “quality in training” with a visiting official from the ministry’s teacher training division, a concerned colleague stood up to lament the (already) appalling level of language proficiency among the new recruits for the Teaching of English as a Second Language (TESL) course, only to have it unflinchingly dismissed with, “The ball is in your court. What are you going to do about it?” I inwardly retorted “That ‘ball’ landed in the wrong court and needs to be kicked out!”

Honestly, if after 11 years of learning English at school, students are still found to be severely wanting, how are they to measure up in a TESL course? Or, later as teachers? Probe, and you’ll open up a Pandora’s box.

After months of remedial work to help them cope with lectures, the futility of it finally dawned on me. Was I doing a service or a disservice in training them to become teachers of English?

Out of frustration I asked why they chose to major in English. I lurched at the response.

They didn’t; they were given English! Trainers have no choice but to accept the situation. Much as I loved training (and still do), unfortunately, I could not compromise.

You need quality raw material to work with in the first place because the results are far reaching, otherwise you are simply perpetuating the deterioration that has already set in.

We need competent and dedicated educators at all levels. At school level, these precious few feel maimed, even “inadequate” because of the system.

In my frequent training interactions with them I’ve come across many who enjoy the creative training experience, and see value in it, but feel restricted to employ the same in their own situation.

Recently, one teacher told me, “You don’t understand! We have to finish the syllabus for the exam; give them practice. No time for all these fun activities!”

I’m just quoting one teacher, but it is a shared mindset, cultivated over long years of rigid practice to produce exam-scorers.

Aghast, I ask, “No time to simply put your hands together for a ‘clappity-clap’ rhythm, or add a tambourine-beat, to your otherwise dreary pronunciation drill?”

The problems loom larger than exams.

There is limitless value in an overall and accurate understanding of “education” and matching it with action. Time to figure out: whither education … or, wither education?

Lucille Dass is a former lecturer, teacher and Newspaper-in-Education (NiE) trainer.


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