Monday, March 14, 2011

Standard of English...

... it's in the dumps, that's almost certain. Read in the papers how the Academy of Malay Studies (AMS) undergrads at UM got angry at their VC for asking the undergrads to improve their English. And true to the constant 'brainwashing' that we've all been getting about how unpatriotic one is deemed if one pushes for English, the undergrads went ballistic at the VC! ... even labelled him biadap (uncouth)! I guess this is what sums up the AMS mentality. This mentality convinces its inadequately equipped owner to look inward, to reject outright things not understood or not good at. Basically it makes us arrogant in a silly way. Arrogance out of ignorance and ignorance continues to breed ignorance.

Despite PPSMI running for so many years, my Form 1 batch of students generally have a horrendous command of English, with most if not all, not able to even make simple sentences, let alone converse. English mastery is in the dumps... major dumps. We just didn't have enough teachers with mastery and commitment to carry it through.

My first few weeks of English with my Form 1 students sounded more like BM lessons than anything. For the past 2 months, I've done nothing but lots of written work to familiarize the kids with English words. Even comprehension passages are not spared from copying.... most of these kids are so tuned off to English that what goes in one ear goes out the other... with not much to stop those words for processing in between.

I've come up with this conclusion after years of observations. In order to learn after all these years, what the eyes see, the head must process for the hands to produce. Read that as enforced reading with reinforcement. Printed materials (handouts) don't have the desired effect as most would resort to just randomly circling the answers. Very little learning takes place, making those lessons, lessons of futility. Our environment are way too BM for any meaningful learning of English. I suspect in many primary schools, teachers are more comfortable teaching English in BM.... a sure fail method!

So, as unsophisticated as this age-tested method may seem, it gets the kids places. A small number is now able to complete their tasks with some comprehension. I basically overwhelm them with written words (with meanings written on the board for selected words). One or two have even begun to see some light, even able to answer those simple open-ended Wh-questions that I am beginning to put up ever so often on the board.

Progress, unfortunately today is very much linked to mastery of English. Some day, it might be another language, Mandarin or even Hindi.... or even some of the other languages which are considered minor today. But our politicians (especially one former leader who actually should just keep his mouth shut) keep telling a particular segment of the population, they need to be helped.... I wonder if I continue to make sure my children always need me, will that mean that I'll go on to be like the Empress Dowager in their lives... indispensable, always keeping them weak so that I remain supreme.

That's why we're just trudging along while countries like Indonesia and Thailand, despite having their own disadvantages (compared to us) are slowly beginning to whiz by us. It used to be our competence in English that gave us an edge... These days, we've all but removed that edge from ourselves, thus putting ourselves further on the bottom pile of competitiveness. Add that to a big number of the populace being the recipient of NEP... read somewhere that most Malays think of getting a job with the civil service. The government has to put the graduates somewhere... so where else but the civil service. Else we'd have lots of unhappy grads. Hence, we've one of the biggest ratio of government servants per population. And it results in a civil service that is not reflective of our multi-cultural diversity.

One more observation. It always strikes me how when a Malay English teacher meets another Malay English teacher, the language they use to communicate with each other will somehow always be BM. Communicating in their mother tongue happens less among the Chinese or Indian English teachers. There are other underlying reasons such as the diverse dialects of the Chinese and Indians at play here too. So, if you go by this simple observation, that generally makes a Malay English teacher less effective in class... the tendency to use the same language as her Malay students is almost unavoidable.

Instead of digging into the wealth that the diversity our multi-culture and multi-ethnic society can offer, we keep harping that a certain race still needs crutches. So a major segment remained clutched by these crutches. On a chessboard, we are pawns divided. Instead of allowing these pampered ones to learn a few knocks from the school life, we continue to incapacitate them by not allowing them to sharpen their survival tools. English happens to be one of those tools now.

As for VC to be labelled as biadap for asking the undergrads to improve their English??? What is so uncouth about that? They should thank him for the reminder. AMS grads are among those who have the most difficulty landing a job upon graduation; one reason being their poor command of English...
Berita Harian
I guess this qualifies too as an AMS mentality... looking inward at themselves that they think this is creative; when tens of thousands perished in the tsunami after the great earthquake in Japan. This got us mentioned in CNN... done in really bad taste. I guess the artist must have thought that it was funny.... and being so full of his own creativity, he forgot that there was great suffering and despair.

So this AMS mentality... who is responsible??? I guess the rot always begins from the head...


Dino said...

Problem starts at the top of the food chain. When i was applying for my visa to come to the US, i came across some people at the embassy, and was horrified to learn that they work for a multinational company but they can't communicate in English. And they were sent to US for training.

AJ7 said...

Quite biasalah. You can send Malaysian students overseas but when they come back, still don't have a good command of English... they create their own Malaysian wherever they go. Refuse to integrate with the local community, so no surprise that we still have problem where integration is concerned in our country.