As I walked in, I noticed that my Year six student’s face was very gloomy. He was obviously sad and he looked like he was about to cry. His mother briefly mentioned to me that you wanted to show me his English UPSR trial paper. He had scored a B. I flipped the question paper and went through the questions that he answered wrongly. As I was reading the reading and comprehension text and poem I was shocked. The language and complexity was the level of a 15-year-old. It was a tough paper for 12-year-old. The first thing that went through my mind was this is nuts! I told my student not to worry about the grade or that he made the mistakes he made because he was not tested based on what he should have been tested.
This clearly did not sit right by me. Before the class ended, I had a conversation with his mother and then it hit me.
Their exam questions are beginning to get really really hard and complex because of the current situation with this generation’s graduates who are not able to speak in English. So the government is putting more and more things for our young kids to learn and I’m not just talking about English. Even for the other subjects I see that kids are made to learn way too much, beyond what they should be learning. They are mitigating the current proficiency issues by making the small ones learn more. Now I’m fine with more. But this is unnecessary more. More that is causing the kids a whole lot of stress.
I’m going to stick to English. The level of English amongst our graduates right now has plummeted not because of the English curriculum. Instead it’s the system that is the problem.
Think about this.
Why is it that our parents and grandparents could speak very proficiently in English? And mind you, speak Bahasa Melayu really well too. They are really good at the language because they were learning in an English medium and what that simply means is that they were learning English in English. They spoke to the teacher in English. They spoke to each other in English. They continues to use English in their homes. They listened to how their teacher used English. They heard how their teachers asked questions. They used what they learned.
Now? In this Bahasa Melayu medium, English is taught in Bahasa Melayu. Teachers are explaining in Bahasa Melayu. Asking in Bahasa Melayu. And students end up talking to each other in Bahasa Melayu.
When are they using English? When are they given the chance to be comfortable with English. When are given the opportunity to experience how easy English is? When are they practicing? How do they get to become proficient English speakers? How do they improve? How do they develop the skill to master the English language? When are they learning to express themselves in English? When are they trying to ask questions in English?
How oh how if teachers are asking and explaining English in Bahasa Melayu?
The problem is not the curriculum. It’s the system. Now I’m not sure if there is going to be anybody in government or Ministry of Education who will see the root cause of this problem; the system, not the curriculum. So I do not know if we can actually depend on them to really know what they’re doing in developing proficient English speaking graduates.
So what do we do?
We start making a difference in the lives of our children. Start helping your children to learn English at home. We cannot depend solely on school.
Learn with your children. When you’re learning with them, trust me, they will be more motivated to learn the language. If you’re not sure what to do for them, give me a buzz. If you’re not sure what to say, let me know. I am more than happy to share tips and even things to say for you and others to learn from.
I’ll share simple ways to create a conversation with your children. I will ways to encourage your children to embrace the English language. Let’s do this together.
It starts at home.