IN language proficiency, what do young Malaysian parents want their children to achieve in primary school?
I do not have hard empirical data but I have had many chats with many parents. Based on those anecdotal evidence, I could propose that these parents want their children to master Bahasa Malaysia and English and to also learn their mother tongue or a third language.
Happily, this attitude among parents resonates with one aspiration of our Education Blueprint 2013-2025, which is “that upon leaving school, the student should be able to work in both a Bahasa Malaysia (BM) and English language environment. The ministry will also encourage all students to learn an additional language” (Malaysia Education Blueprint 2013-2025, Executive Summary).
The parents’ thoughts and desires are important because this is a determining factor in their choice of primary school for their children. I believe this, in turn, has a significant bearing on our existing streams of primary schools.
All parents know and recognise well that the national primary schools (SK) are fully government schools. Generally, SK are well endowed, fully staffed and adequately equipped with both academic and co-curricular resources besides physical facilities. Most importantly, parents believe that SK provides the best environment for their children to learn and master BM and English.
In addition, the ministry is at present aggressively, intentionally and successfully promoting the “Upholding Bahasa and Strengthening English” policy in these schools. Surely parents want to see their children grow up in a school environment such as this.
But then there is another side of the coin. Parents also want to see their children learn their mother tongue or a third language. Here, I believe, is where there is much room for improvement.
In the SK today, the teaching and learning of mother tongue languages or more commonly known as pupils’ own language (POL) leaves much to be desired. POL periods are usually not in the main timetable. Classes are held after school or even on Saturdays which also normally are times when co-curricular activities are held.
Also, most SK are without in-house POL teachers. These teachers are normally “part-time” and made available by the vernacular schools nearby. Besides, teachers from vernacular schools sometimes have a biased, even resentful, attitude towards these POL classes for reasons best known to them. It is like, “If you want to learn your mother tongue, you should be in an SJK(C)/ (T)”.
As a result, among many pupils, their mother tongue is not really learned through these classes.
The third language is usually the Arabic language in primary (and Japanese, French or others in the secondary schools). The SK and SMK (national secondary schools) have in-house teachers for these language subjects and time-tabling does not pose major problems. So, pupils in SK can choose to learn a third language with ease under normal circumstances.
Parents thus look to vernacular or SJK(C)/ (T) schools for their children’s mother language learning. Certainly the vernacular schools deliver in this respect. But, again, there is another side of the coin here. The vernacular school policy seems to be to “master Chinese/ Tamil and to also learn BM and English”. So, the emphasis on language proficiency is distinctly different, and that is reflected in the “easier” BM and English syllabuses and exams taken by pupils in these schools.
Parents who know the way languages are learnt can’t help but worry and even fear that their children may not have sufficiently learned and be proficient enough in BM and English when they enter secondary school. This is a genuine concern.
That the majority of secondary school dropouts are those who are from vernacular schools and who have poor command of BM is painful evidence that cannot be ignored.
In order to get their children to learn their mother tongue, these parents are actually “compelled” in a way to put them in vernacular schools. If SK could handle the teaching of POL better, it would be a different scenario.
The children do not know any better as they just go to whatever school their parents put them in. Many parents do so not without fear, worry and concern, though. That may explain the popularity of pupils in vernacular schools going all out for BM and English tuition classes after school. Sadly, this is exerting a heavy toll on their otherwise balanced and enjoyable primary school life.
SK need to improve their handling of POL classes so that truly effective and efficient learning will take place. Vernacular schools have to intentionally and intensely brush up the level of BM and English taught to their pupils. It is hoped that the recently announced curriculum revamp will include these measures.
When parents have their first worry of their children’s language proficiency settled, their choice of school will be based on the overall quality of the school. Our school system will then gain, truly progress and improve. Liong Kam Chong The STAR Home News Opinion Letters Wednesday, 29 June 2016