Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Literacy...

Imagine this... 26 students in an Upper Secondary class who cannot use English at all! How do you teach Upper Secondary level English to kids who have not mastered any of the basic language skills? Skills which they were supposed to have learned in Primary school. They are in Upper Secondary, yet not able to follow the curriculum's syllabus. Not a single one in this class is able to make sentences beyond 'My name is....' or 'I live in....' and those too with errors punctuated. The language curriculum is also made up of oral test. Not one is able to hold even a simple conversation in English. Even when time is given to prepare their own scripts for test, there is no taker. And these are kids who have spent their last almost 10 years learning English.

There is no way they can pass their English. But English is not the only problem they face. They fare almost as badly in their other subjects, BM too. Many of them have behavioral problems, with some compounded by the problem of the marginality of teenage years. The thing is, most if not all of them find lessons daunting. After spending 10 years at school, most of them in this class can't even pass their subjects. How can one expect them to remain attentive in class since they also grapple with comprehension. We know that if a kid can do something well, he is more likely to enjoy doing it and will exhibit less of behavioral problem. But if the same kid cannot grasp much of what is being taught, it is also normal to expect them to show more behavioral problems. Kids need affirmation, both internal and external. But when they are in a system where academic results overshadows everything else, they turn to other means to get that acknowledgment of their self worth. I know how it feels cos my boy grappled with comprehension issue because Mandarin was a language he had massive problem with. There are probably other lingering effects still but we hope he'll rise above himself.

Problems plague more boys than girls. The most recent statistics show the current ration in our universities to be roughly 30:70, and girls overwhelm the boys. And in the recent PLKN (National Serrvice) intake they discovered that 1000 out of 10000 had literacy problems. One of our ministers say that it's a normal trend and nothing to worry about. Apparently our literacy rate is better than some 1st world countries. I think there is plenty to worry about. Socially, it's going to be a time-bomb too. Low literacy means difficulty in getting jobs.

Anyway, I come across classes like this every year, and there are more these days. There is a vocational subject in most schools offered these days but the places are far too few. Schools are still too academically inclined. Our vocational training doesn't kick in early enough to give these kids a sense of achievement. And it's limited.

As for teaching such classes. I am always at odd ends. Text books are not suitable. There is still the curriculum and the SPM to be taken when they're 17. Yet we only have one shoe for them. It makes school rather routine for them. Our schools may have better facilities these days but I don't know whether it's really doing a good job at producing graduates for the job market. But one thing I know for sure. Where English mastery is concerned, the situation is not getting any better. The solution is not getting Peace Corps or Fulbright volunteers to teach English in our secondary schools. The problem at the root ought to be tackled first. And that's at primary level. and attitude transformation...

I always remind my girl to finish as much of her homework at school cos she gets so many every day. However, one day she came back with all her homework not done. When asked she said that there were visitors at school that day and the kids had been reminded to pay full attention at class because those visitors were at school to give them marks (trade them). LOL! The inspectorate was there to audit/observe the school. Fast forward to the same type visit to my work place. The school went on a frenzy of getting the files ready for the big visit. Teachers were told to prepare for class observation... All the show that was being put up. I wonder whether they wonder if the contents of the files are authentic and not just made up. If a teacher performs exceedingly well in class just during that one time during the visit, etc., etc... Form over substance issues. A whole show gets put up... Why can't the inspectorate just show up unannounced, I wonder? That I feel is one of the issues which we should do some in-depth reflection.... and that too is also one reason why many at the helm today are performers first and foremost than teachers. Teachers teach, performers perform....

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