The Star is always encouraging students to “read” by offering a subsidized subscription for school students. You can take the teacher out of an NiE program but you can’t take an NiE program out of a teacher, it seems.
So last Sunday we took a look at the freshest news in the Education section. First up : more periods for English and Bahasa Malaysia in primary national and vernacular schools. In general, students disagree with the move – which periods are going to be replaced without extending school hours? Most suspect it’s a political move to reduce the number of periods that are being conducted in the Mother Tongue language. Well, it’s been approved by the Cabinet so what is there to do about it?
A homeschooling parent commented on my Facebook Page that adding more time for the teaching of English (let’s leave out Bahasa Malaysia) is akin to drowning a plant with more and more water when we realize it’s withering. Honestly, that’s how I kill my plants – from leafy ones to cacti. I ignore the fact that I have to be sensitive to what each plant needs for it’s optimum growth – all I knew about plants was what I had learned in my primary Science textbook. That’s generally the way I’ve been approaching everything in my life – using a sanitized,textbook approach. Isn’t that the consequence of modern schooling?
The general feeling, from the teachers and parents interviewed in the article and from students in class is that we should just have better teachers. So what makes a better teacher? It’s true that with better teachers you might not even need a standardized curriculum after all – only the most incompetent teachers or the most elementary of students need a textbook to lean on. A majority of English teachers just wing it and they are often able to take students to greater heights this way.
We had a raised hand offering the idea that “CRITICAL THINKING” maketh a good teacher. But critical thinking is not something you can teach – or can you? Another student suggested, then start nurturing critical thinking from a young age.
I think we have to look at the origins of schooling for some context. The purpose of schooling was never to help us learn. We were learning fine for thousands of years and great civilizations have come and gone and brilliant technologies and arts have been devised and created without the need for schooling as we have come to know it. The purpose of 20th Century schooling – and to highlight a point made by Ken Robinson – there were no mass schools prior to the 20th Century, they came to be to support the needs of Industrialism – is to create good, obedient, factory workers.
If critical thinking were allowed, our world would be a lot flatter. If critical thinking were allowed we wouldn’t have had the same government for as long as the Chinese have had a Communist Party.
So you see, it is pointless to argue about how to solve the problem of English language proficiency in Malaysian schools. It is just another sugar-coated distraction to placate voters angered by the abolishment of the teaching of Science and Math in English. We simply cannot find enough people in their 20s and 30s with the proficiency and with-itness, willing to be a cog in the terrible machinery of 20th Century schools. Teaching is the one profession where more money is not necessarily the carrot that moves the donkey. Good teachers do not make good, little, factory workers nor efficient paper pushers.
Voters and vernacular schools beware. I honestly doubt the BN-government’s intentions of adding more English periods. It’s about the kind of teachers you have, not cheaper textbooks, more workbooks or longer hours. Do read this post about what teachers in other parts of the world have to say about what really matters when it comes to a quality learning experience.