Thursday, September 27, 2012

World Class??

Is this article an admission that our education system is sick? In it, the Deputy DG of the MOE admits that two-thirds of the English teachers who sat for the Cambridge Placement Test do not have the required language proficiency. How can 'half-baked' teachers produce good students? How to tell the students that they are on the wrong track when they can't even identify the errors themselves. Can a semi-blind lead the ignorant to light? Obviously we think it's possible cos where we are today is in part due to that.

For years now, we've been told again and again that our education system is world class. But every now and then, there'd be conflicting statements. A report by the World Economic Forum gives a clearer picture. Then there is the TIMMS 2007 report of our secondary school students' proficiency in Maths, English and Science. The rankings show that all isn't that well with our education system. And of course the recent National Education Blueprint Preliminary Report 2013-2025 which has given us snippets of the things which are not going well. 

On the ground, the general perception is that our education system has deteriorated. Now we finally come out and openly admit that 2/3 of the English teachers are not competent enough. What next, from here? If English teachers are so bad in the language, just imagine how much worse off the rest of the teachers are where English is concerned. PPSMI never had a chance. We just did not have enough teachers competent enough to deliver in English. It was doomed to die.... and it is on its last few gasps.

And this brings me to another point. If competency is an issue with English teachers, just try to think too whether there are competency issues with the other subjects... Physic, Chemistry, Add Math, Math, History, etc, etc... Cos if those are up to par, our TIMMS score would not have been that dismal. Bear in mind that countries which started with us such as Korea, Singapore, Hong Kong are doing way better than us... Singapore is an interesting comparison because of our cultural and historical similarities. And we are no where near them... that little dot of an island to our south did something that we didn't.

Incompetency is often times a product of the attitude. The powers that are seem to think that incompetencies can be resolved by just holding courses and sending teachers to attend them. Yet it is not uncommon to see teachers who have been teaching more than 10 years, some close to 20 not being able to form even correct Wh questions. How to change an attitude that has been ingrained? Especially if it's one that has been built on half-truths (or half-lies) and false affirmations. You get a lot of teachers who think of themselves as very good. There was one year when a colleague of mine came to me with her questions. I was horrified when I read through the questions. Most questions had glaring errors. And my colleague was feeling rather pleased with herself because she had formed those questions herself... by the way, she has a postgrad in English too if I am not wrong.... Strings of qualifications but seems to lack competency.

Over the years I've met and worked with many teachers. Sometimes their work comes back to us in the form of modules... errors abound in these modules these days. Take the recent PBS (for school based assessments) modules for example. Many of the assessments were dotted with errors. They are quite boring too.

Our public exam results go up every year despite all that incompetencies. Yet employers say many of our graduates are no good. Our politicians say our education system is world class. Yet it's difficult to find from among them, those who send their children to public schools. Most of their children are in a totally different eco-system! And of late, more parents are opting to take their children out of public schools and placing them in private ones. There is also an increasingly large number opting for homeschooling. 

In 2 decades, what I've experienced is a deterioration. Where once I could use English in a class to teach, these days, it's suicidal to use only English. I often get these 'no comprehension stares'. Where once extra handouts meant extra exercises they obediently do, these days those same handouts would be given a perfunctory glance and if answers are required, a free-for-all random circling (or writing) of answers. Where once students had at least some understanding of grammar, these days you can harp on the tenses and still find yourself in the same spot you started. Teaching English is a no brainer. When exam scripts come back to me, I often find myself staring at blank sheets or if they are filled, contain scribbles of questions copied from the question paper. But the passing percentage has been on an upward trend. How can that be? So, either I am stuck in a odd school eco-system or the authorities are not forthcoming. 

Our students are a confused lot. BM is used a whole load more than English in an English class. Teachers with different competencies confuse them further. Right is wrong for some, and wrong is right or worse still, no guidance cos the teacher herself does not know that she is wrong. I've ceased to be shocked by the lack of competency in the English teachers I have worked with. And I am only a ciplak English teacher. When I first started teaching, my role models used to be those teachers who truly knew their stuff. But they did not see me as one being incompetent in the language. I had a lot of rough edges which needed polishing and one did a good job by showing me the way. These mainly retired old timers knew their stuff well. They were mainly English Lit grads from UM, moving towards extinction.

We've been hiding our heads in the sand long enough. But sometimes we choose to hide our heads because hiding our heads there will shield our eyes from the wrongs that are being perpetuated right before us. You see, that's where our racial policies have done the greatest injustice. The purpose was to divide to rule. And we were all so easily blinded... in part I think because we were ignorant but perhaps maybe we wanted things easy. We choose not to see the skewed values because we are also recipients of the whatever that it has spewed out.

Nothing is sacred. But some people like to think that their faith still is... Truth is, we've all stooped so low that faith is also one of the many tools used by all to get what they want. And that's why things got worse... the building blocks that made up our foundation are porous....

Our education was once world class. Today we are getting world class institutions to set up campuses in our country. But in our very own backyard, things are rotting... our public universities will feel very inferior if we don't do what is right...

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