kheru2006 (kheru2006) wrote,

Lessons for the Education Ministry

The UPSR leak fiasco was something waiting to happen because of KPIs and a culture that puts too much emphasis on scoring A’s.

IT has not been a good time for the Education Ministry. There’s this leak of UPSR exam papers. It’s embarrassing.

What’s worse, though, is that a headmaster and a clutch of teachers, all of whom are under the ministry, have been arrested over the matter.

But this time, the principle of accountability has been adhered to. Two top Examinations Syndicate officers have been suspended, at least from their duties. Someone has to be held responsible.

Of course, those arrested are all presumed innocent until proven guilty but still, it makes for a sad state of affairs.

The problem, however, is bigger than that. What drives people to cheat in an exam for 12-year-olds?

Parents just want to see a bunch of A’s in the children’s certificates and teachers are also forced to deliver. Their KPIs are dependent on how many A’s the children score.

So, the stage has been set for such an unwanted event. We really need to get away from such high expectation of our children.

Other teachers are understandably upset. The arrests have, in their opinion, tarred the whole profession. Theirs is a tough job – they are not too highly paid and have to put in long hours, and take a lot of work home. This spate of arrests is not helping.

However, the police swoop on some teachers (there’s an insurance agent and an engineer in there, too) is not an indictment of the whole profession.

We all know that most teachers are dedicated to their jobs, and many go beyond the call of duty.

In this very same column on Teachers Day, I had written about the many great teachers I have come across.

There was Ms Lim Swan Kim who picked me up at home and drove me to school before going on to her own workplace, Mr Kee York Sit who took me into his house like a friend, Mr N. Velupillay who spent his money to help his students, the many others who would buy me school uniforms and shoes whenever I did well in my studies because they knew my parents could not afford them.

And of course, Mr Koh Sin Ghee, who made learning English such fun with his sexual innuendoes and jokes, and his rich knowledge of the language and its Latin and Greek roots. He just didn’t teach, he imparted knowledge and, in our joy, we absorbed like sponges.

Which brings me to my other problem. English.

The ministry has now decreed that a pass in English is a must before anyone can get a degree in university.

About time, too. Even militants who are ready to die seem to know the importance of English.

There’s this Malaysian family of four fighting in Syria. According to reports, father and son are taking up arms and fighting alongside the militants, mum is cooking for them while the daughter is teaching English to the children of the militants.

Yes, English. That’s how important the language is – even when you are staring down the barrel of a gun every day.

So, the ministry move to demand an English pass is a great move. After all, we know that graduates need to be competent in English to be able to be employed and to succeed in an ever-shrinking world.

But, wait a minute. There is something that’s not quite right here.

A student need not bother about English until he gets past his SPM and into matriculation or diploma programme. Even then, he doesn’t have to bother about his English.

Finally, when he is about to get his degree, he now has to worry about English? How good would his English be then?

It’s a lot like putting the cart before the oxen – and without the yoke.

Shouldn’t we be worrying about English at the grassroots level? At primary schools and secondary schools before demanding that graduates get a pass?

What we really need is a policy that gives the language its rightful place in the education system from day one, and work our way up from there.

It may take some time, given that we have been regressing, as far as the English language is concerned, for several decades now. There is a lot of work to be done.

The fact is: we don’t need militants, we need English teachers.

And it’s back to the teachers. Some 70% of the 60,000-odd English teachers in Malaysia are said to be incompetent in the language.

So, shall we start by teaching the teachers first?

And the writer, has a daughter who sat for her UPSR last year. And there was no string of A’s. But it’s not a problem, life is always full of promises ahead.

DORAIRAJ NADASON , who can be reached at The STAR Home News Opinion Why Not?  Friday September 19, 2014 MYT 12:00:00 AM

Tags: assessment, exam, pentaksiran, upsr

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