Saturday, October 22, 2011

PPSMI... Barking up a dead tree!

The ink is already dry on the wall. The voices of authority have been sounding it out... the text books are ready. MBMMBI is set to roll but many parents, students, NGOs don't seem to want PPSMI to be phased out. Many say teaching Math and Science in BM being the national language should be elevated, that BM is the mother tongue, but they forget too for some, English is a mother tongue... politics of expediency.

Would it really make a difference, going back to BM as the medium of instruction? Some of my colleagues feel that it would. But these are also people whose language competency is deplorable to begin with. Will the students' grades go up if we revert. I think it would but the rise would not be spectacular. The passing percentages in the public exams do not seem to indicate that the medium of instruction seems to matter. But argue what we may, we have not tackled the basic issues yet. English is important but no matter how important or necessary it is, there are 2 areas which we need to look at.

One is the teacher competency. You use peanuts, you get peanuts. Guy Kawasaki in his writing talked about how Jobs believed that 'A players should hire A players'. Kawasaki modified it to 'A players should hire A+ players', though. We don't see this happening in the teaching fraternity. If anything is to go by, there was one period of time when the MOE absorbed many of those who could not withstand the rigorous demands of the corporate sector. I think there is a general feeling that the quality of teaching have deteriorated. I am inclined to think so too. The state of the teaching profession today is in part due to this decision. I think they must have felt that anyone can teach or is suitable to be a teacher. We have many uninspiring teachers today. Promotions for the really capable ones, even if they are Malays are hard to come by. Don't even begin mention the non-Malays. So in this scenario, many of our Science and Maths teachers are basically incompetent in English. PPSMI would fail because there are far less competent teachers (in English).

The MOE tried to ensure competent teachers by sending promising young people to English speaking countries like the UK, Australia and New Zealand for their basic degrees in Science at the start of PPSMI. We're slowly getting these teachers into the system. Though some of them still do not have very good command of the language, they are at least competent enough to teach in English. Now we may never know whether this group of teachers can make a difference.

The second reason is the attitude of today's students. Say what one may that attitude can be shaped, etc, etc... But one thing that stands out is students attitude is bad. The statistics speak for this too... nearly 1 in 10 drops out. School is boring, students get away with their misbehaviour a lot these days. And many teachers seem unable to control their classes. It is not uncommon to go into your average school and find teachers and students talking at the same time while class is on. Meaningful noises? Add that to the marginality of teenage years, you find yourself in a cauldron of helplessness. Discipline should enforced strictly. Lack of parental supervision, family problems coupled with inept school management.... these are among the other problems which add on to the attitude problem.

Free netbooks, scholarships... the list is unending. The message that the students seem to get is they will still get these things even though their grades are bad. The recent 1Malaysia free netbook is one such example. We are teaching our kids that one will still get 'rewarded' even if one does not work hard. Same goes for scholarships.... There is no accountability there... they get the money.

So the MOE may say that they are getting native English speakers to teach or have more English teaching periods. But for as long as attitudes do not change, we are hitting the wall with all the programmes.

Send truly competent teachers to teach the early years in primary. Perhaps that's where we ought to send the native English speakers. By the time the kids are in upper secondary, with the exam to contend with, the teachers are at wits end what and how to teach. Coupled with teenage angst and myopia, it is difficult to make progress.

As for Math and Science in English, a choice should be given to parents. After all, MARA Science Colleges are continuing to teach in English, so it was reported. It would be rather elitist to just allow that. It's crazy to do Science in BM up till Form 5 and the switch to English. It's even worse for those who attend vernacular schools. In Primary, it would be in either Mandarin or Tamil. Then from Form 1 to Form 5, BM would be the language of instruction. And if the kid moves on, English would be the next language of instruction. Crazy????

If I had a choice, I would want my kid to study Math and Science in English.... for practical reasons. I wonder about all those who are vehemently against PPSMI. What would their choice be? If they are truly concerned, why all these policies which has caused us to end up with substandard teaching. The ranking (or none ranking) of our universities in the world ranking is one such reflection of the state of our education system. Just compare National University of Singapore and University Malay. Same roots, different outcome. NUS today is well-known. It is one of the top universities in Asia. None of our best universities come even close to it. The dumbing down of whole generations because of politics.

Alternative education???

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