October 7th, 2012

English language teaching takes centre stage at Education Blueprint dialogue

KUALA LUMPUR: The teaching of English in schools took a centre stage at an open dialogue on the Malaysia Education Blueprint 2013-2025 preliminary report at the Kuala Lumpur Urban Transformation Centre, Pudu Sentral here on Saturday.

Education deputy general-director (education policy and development sector) Dr Amin Senin said participants were concerned about the quality of teaching method, syllabus and proficiency of English teachers in teaching the language.

"To allay parents and guardians' fears, the quality of English language teaching should be improved to ensure that students can master the language," he told reporters after the dialogue.

Amin, who is a panel member, said the input and feedback would be brought to a special committee chaired Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, who is also the education minister, for scrutiny.

"If the proposals and feedback can lead to an improvement in the quality of education, we are willing to incorporate them in the report," he said.

He said another dialogue would be held at the same venue on a date to be announced later following requests from stakeholders for a bigger hall to be provided for the discussion to accommodate more participants.

Similar dialogues will be held at the Johor Education Department, Johor Baharu, the Kelantan Trade Centre, Kota Baharu (both on Oct 13), Universiti Sains Malaysia, Penang (later this month), Kuching and Suria Sabah, Jalan Pantai, Kota Kinabalu (both on Oct 20).

Amin said the public could also post their proposals online from laptops provided at the venues of the dialogue.

The Malaysia Education Blueprint 2013-2025 preliminary report, which aimed at transforming the country's education system, was launched byPrime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak on Sept 11. - Bernama

The STAR Online Home News Nation  Saturday October 6, 2012

Teaching English, and grammar, the old way

BACK TO BASICS: Too many cooks have been spoiling the language teaching broth over the years

IT is comforting to know that Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin has instructed English grammar to be re-emphasised in schools. Too many cooks have been spoiling the language teaching broth over the years. English teaching has been treated like boutique hotels; it sounds cool, looks trendy, but has very little to offer.

I must confess, I suffered terribly learning both English and Bahasa Melayu (the term used back then). My teachers were horrible. They terrorised the class. We went through language drills not unlike the foot soldiers in the army. We were made to stand on chairs and tables and endured humiliation for failing to differentiate a transitive verb from an intransitive one. We learned the hard way. But we can never forget the principles in sentence construction, the role of verbs, adjectives and clauses.

My Bahasa Melayu teacher was the legendary Cikgu Mokhtar bin Talib or Matlob, a strict grammarian who couldn't tolerate idiotic mistakes (his words) in language.

My headmaster at the Peserian Primary English School was Ismail Omar better known as Master Ismail, a disciplinarian and an English teacher extraordinaire. And there was a Yorkshireman whose fierce look and even fiercer attitude towards English made us shudder in class. "No one shall speak a word of any other language other than English in class," he decreed.

I was mute for three months when I joined the school with hardly three words of English.

How, I wonder, can anyone learn a language without understanding its grammar? Yet, according to the Minister of Education, "grammar" as we understand it, has not been taught in school for many years.

Perhaps there are new techniques and pedagogical applications that have rewritten the way languages are taught in schools. Or perhaps, there are new ways of language learning -- a modern way, Gangnam Style, devoid of grammar and basic understanding of composition and condensation.

I still keep my New Method Malayan Readers by Michael West and H.R. Cheeseman which was first published in 1947, a standard English text in the 1960s.

Lesson One is about the story of Tiger the kitten and two Malayan boys, Ah Chong and Hamid. There was English Comprehension for Malayan Schools by Clifford H. Fisher, another must-read English text, published in 1958.

There were 22 passages consisting of texts and exercises to make us understand the meaning of words and basic grammar.

The Oxford English Course, published in 1946, too, consisted of revisions on text, verb, adverb and adjective exercises, composition, sentence drills and letter writing. We were given tables to construct sentences correctly.

More importantly, we were taught nursery rhymes to get the feel of the language. For a boy who grew up in a Javanese village, those nursery rhymes were godsend. I learned them and taught my friends.

Imagine the chorus of Baa, baa, black sheep, Goosey, goosey, gander, The Mulberry Bush, Hickory, dickory, dock, The grand old Duke of York, Humpty Dumpty, Jack be nimble, Little Jack Horner and London Bridge in Kampung Sungai Balang, 26km from the nearest town.

I was the only boy who went to the English school and my friends found it amusing learning those strange rhymes from me.

In school, I learned many church songs, too, and we merrily sang them without having to worry that we would be converted to Christianity. We believed nursery rhymes, songs and dramas were tools to learn English.

How things have changed.

What happened now? Have we neglected the first principle in language learning -- to make it fun and exciting.

I was clueless who Shakespeare was but I loved the story of Macbeth, King Lear and Julius Caesar. I learned a lot from the stories in Sejarah Melayu from my Bahasa Melayu teachers -- the army of Raja Suran, the exploits of Semerluki, the strength of Badang, the loyalty of Hang Tuah and the ruthlessness of Sultan Mahmud.

We fell in love with the stories and we loved the language in which the stories were told.

Language learning should begin by making students excited and interested. Language is dynamic. It is alive and kicking. Great stories are told in beautifully crafted words. Wordsmiths are the geniuses of civilisation. They make us love the language. We admire their works for that.

To achieve that, they have to write well. Even if we can't be like them at least we can use language to communicate effectively or at least write simple sentences to express our thoughts and views.

It all begins with grammar.

Johan Jaaffar | zulu.jj@hotmail.com | Twitter: @Johan_Jaaffar  New Straits Times Columnist 06 October 2012

School-based system is excellent

ARE our schoolchildren subjected to too much physical punishment in the pursuit of academic excellence in SJK (C) and SJK (T)?

The letters from Worried Mother “Primary students need highly skilled teachers” (The Star, Sept 4) and Concerned Mother “Fast to use the cane” (The Star, Sept 25) may provide a glimpse into its usage in vernacular schools.

Take the case of the SJK (C) – parents enrol their children for its teaching of Mandarin and emphasis on subjects like maths and science apart from its promotion of cultural values through co-curricular activities.

It has become a popular choice among parents when choosing a primary school for their children. Without a doubt, the schools have fulfilled the task entrusted to them well, but at a price.

Top of the list are the workbooks of various subjects which presumably aim to help students achieve academic excellence. The work load can be reflected in the heavy schoolbags which they lug to school each day.

The teachers, while trying to carry out their daily lessons plan diligently, scramble to complete the workbooks and in the process, the student-centred pedagogy is side-lined and a cane has replaced it to control the class of over 35 energetic students to enable the teachers concerned to achieve the desirable level of learning.

Come 2013, the Year Three students will be taught an extra History subject which aims to instil patriotism among our young minds and before 2017, the Bahasa Melayu subject which is currently taught using a simpler syllabus, will be upgraded to the same syllabus used in the SK schools as listed in the National Education Blueprint.

By then, Year Four, Five and Six pupils will have to attend extra classes in the afternoons to cope with both tougher Malay Language and English Language in line with the MBMMBI policy.

While the noble aim of its implementation is laudable, students will be further taxed to perform to the expectation of their teachers. Thus, the implementation of ‘Penilaian Berdasarkan Sekolah’(PBS) or School-Based Assessment in 2012 is a move in the right direction.

It is less exam-orientated and the emphasis is on continuous assessment.

Currently, Year One, Year Two and Form One students seem to be much happier as they do not have much homework to do and literally no monthly exams and mid-year exams to sit for.

As PBS requires the students’ academic progress to be monitored constantly, the teaching and learning process and the subsequent school-based evaluations should be strictly gauged to reflect the true achievements of the students’ ability.

Theoretically, the students work on their own efforts and elicit the guidance of parents and teachers to complete the assignments given.

An alternative choice to SJK (C) or SJK (T) is the international schools. Those parents who have reservations about the teaching pedagogy and the amount of schoolwork of these vernacular schools can reconsider their choice.

The syllabus which emphasises English (some taught by native speakers) and mind-provoking Maths and Science is practical and realistic while other subjects like BM, Chinese, ICT, Dramas, Art and games are taught too in an interesting manner.

Classes are relatively small, facilities are adequate and physical lessons are varied.

My son, a former vernacular school pupil who frowned each time he returned from school, started to beam after I admitted him to Austin Heights International School in Johor Baru.

Though the fees burn a hole in my pocket, hearing him say “I enjoy going to school very much” is worth every single sen that I have spent on his education.

TING LIAN LEE Johor Baru The STAR Online Home News Opinion Sunday October 7, 2012

Local unis not in list

The two Malaysian public varsities which participated in an assessment conducted by an international rankings publication this year, were not among the top institutions in the line-up.

THERE were no Malaysian public universities in the top 400 of the Times Higher Education (THE) World University Rankings 2012-13.

Baty says the THE rankings has been developed to identify an institution’s performance regardless of size.Baty says the THE rankings has been developed to identify an institution’s performance regardless of size.

Phil Baty who is THE World University Rankings editor, said Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) and Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM) both participated in the rankings this year.

“As in previous years, both varsities did not make the top 400 and so do not have a ranking position,” he said in an interview.

Other prestigious Malaysian institutions such as Universiti Malaya (UM) and Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) did not take part in the rankings.

Baty explained that the institutions were invited to participate in the rankings exercise but were not compelled to do so.

“The invitation to take part is issued by our data provider Thomson Reuters. If they (varsities) do not want to do so, they are not included as is the case with UM and USM.

“We would like to encourage more institutions to work with us so that an even clearer picture of higher education in Malaysia can be formed, allowing it to create a better benchmark for itself against the world’s very best,” he said.

A total of 655 universities from 69 countries this year submitted data to Thomson Reuters and were therefore assessed for the rankings.

UKM’s participation is to know where it stands on the indicators for better planning, says Prof Sharifah Hapsah.UKM’s participation is to know where it stands on the indicators for better planning, says Prof Sharifah Hapsah.

UKM vice-chancellor Prof Tan Sri Dr Sharifah Hapsah Syed Hasan Shahabudin said the university took part as the varsity wanted to know where it stood on the indicators for better planning and improvement.

“It is not a failure not to be in the top 400 but it’s a failure if you choose not to know where you are on the measure,” she added.

Prof Sharifah Hapsah said the THE used a different weightage for the ranking criteria compared to the QS World University Rankings.

Under the QS World University Rankings 2012/3, UM was ranked 156 while UKM was 261, USM 326, Universiti Teknologi Malaysia 358, the International Islamic University Malaysia 401-500 and Universiti Teknologi Mara 601+.

“As such we need to improve our research performance significantly to get into the top 400 of the world rankings.

“However, under the Times Higher Education 100 Under 50 issued in June this year, UKM was the only Malaysian institution in the top 100 and we take this as a big motivation to work harder on research performance,” she said. The varsity was ranked 98 on the list.

Prof Sharifah Hapsah said the university had realigned its strategies and would also be able to do more with better resources under the Budget 2013 tabled last week.

Dr Radin Umar wants UPM to continue focusing on the fundamentals and do what is best for its students.Dr Radin Umar wants UPM to continue focusing on the fundamentals and do what is best for its students.

UPM vice-chancellor Datuk Dr Radin Umar Radin Sohadi said he took note that this time the institution ranked best among the public universities.

“UPM will work hard on the fundamentals and do what is best for our students and the country,” he said via a text message from the United States (US).

UM vice-chancellor Prof Tan Sri Dr Ghauth Jasmon said the THE rankings gave substantial marks for research funding, incomes and endowments.

“This criteria is unfair to universities in the third world, developing countries and relatively smaller economies like Malaysia.

“Our country does not have the culture of giving endowments unlike other countries,” he said.

Prof Ghauth explained that the QS rankings measured outputs and outcomes whereas THE measured incomes as well.

Performance indicators

The THE World University Rankings is an annual list of the world’s top institutions, using 13 separate performance indicators across five areas — industry outcome, teaching, citations, research and international outlook to comprehensively measure and assess all the core missions of a university using objective data over subjective opinion.

The core missions of any modern global university are research, teaching, knowledge transfer and international activity.

The list was announced on Oct 4 with the California Institute of Technology topping it for the second consecutive year (see table).

As with last year, Baty said US institutions still dominated the rankings, taking seven of the top 10 spots. This year the country had 76 institutions in the top 200, one more than the previous year. The highest-ranked Asian institutions were the University of Tokyo at 27, the National University of Singapore (29), University of Hong Kong (35), Peking University (46), Pohang University of Science and Technology (50), Tsinghua University (52), Kyoto University (54), Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (65), Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (68) and Nanyang Technological University (86).

He said leading universities from across Asia have won significant improvements in their positions in the rankings. China’s two top 200 institutions both rose — Peking University moved from 49 to 46 while Tsinghua University jumped 19 places from 71 to 52.

Outside the official top 200, evidence from the THE “best of the rest” table which lists institutions from 200 to 400, shows that other Chinese universities are moving close to the top 200.

He added that thanks to strong income figures, Singapore’s two top 200 institutions were very successful with the National University of Singapore moving from 40 to 29, while Nanyang Technological University went from 169 to 86.

Baty said there was no question that the balance of power in global higher education is shifting.

“Strong support for world-class universities in the East, and a clear national commitment to driving the knowledge economy through investment in research and innovation, is paying off,” he added.

In contrast, he said funding cuts are hurting the West with traditional powerhouses of the US and United Kingdom losing ground.

Baty said there were improvements in many Asian universities on a number of indicators with the dominating factors in the results of the academic reputation survey and also financial indicators.

“However, Malaysia does not seem to be following this trend,’’ he said when asked about what prevented local universities from being on the list.

“The single area where Malaysian universities are under-performing the most is with regards to research-related indicators, such as scholarly papers per academic and research staff, and citation impact,” he said.

Focus on core activities

Baty said the THE Rankings relied on robust indicators that reflected the core activities of universities.

“That is, education at the highest level, high quality impactful research, knowledge transfer and international engagement. Unfortunately there is no short cut to improvements in rankings.

“A long-term strategic approach to create genuine improvements in teaching and research will ultimately achieve better performance and a higher ranking position,” he explained.

Baty said the rankings were carefully calibrated to overcome language and geographical bias. “Policy such as the use of multiple languages in the reputation survey and geographical balancing of reputation survey and citation impact results make the list the most unbiased rankings available.

“As a result, there is in fact a very high degree of international diversity in the rankings results,” he added.

There are many types of rankings available from the THE World University Rankings to the US News & World Report, the Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU) by the Shanghai Ranking Consultancy (formerly known as the Shanghai Jiao Tong University’s Academic Ranking of World Universities) and the QS World University Rankings.

Baty said the THE rankings relied on an extremely detailed and robust methodology.

“We make every effort to ensure that a university’s position in the tables paints a true, fair and whole picture of the institution in comparison to its global neighbours,” he said.

THE, he added, is different from the ARWU as the latter measures research output and therefore tends to favour science and technology-focused institutions.

He said ARWU is also a volume-based rankings system so large institutions tend to do well.

“By contrast, the THE rankings has been developed to identify an institution’s performance regardless of size, which is why the California Institute of Technology, though small, is rated number one in our list,” he explained.

For more information, visit http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/world-university-rankings/

KAREN CHAPMAN educate@thestar.com.my <a style="text-decoration:none" ="http:="" thestar.com.my="" education="" story.asp?file="/2012/10/7/education/12122807&sec=education&quot;" lj-cmd="LJLink">The STAR Online Home Education Sunday October 7, 2012

A need to keep high standards

THE Preliminary Report of the Education Blueprint 2013-2025 is indeed comprehensive, well-researched and generally sound. Nevertheless, as in any report, there are always areas for improvement.

First, with regards to the key attributes needed by every student to be globally competitive, it is rather surprising that no mention is made at all about self-esteem, achievement orientation and self-awareness.

Self-esteem is a prerequisite for productive behaviour in general. In the words of author D.C. Briggs, “Self-esteem is the mainspring that slates every child for success or failure as a human being.”

The blueprint also acknowledges the importance of soft skills but focuses only on leadership, communication skills, emotional intelligence and thinking skills.

We need an explicit soft skills framework which also encompasses achievement orientation, a strong work ethic (initiative, integrity, reliability, diligence), planning and organising skills and personal presentation.

It is interesting to note that based upon a questionnaire survey that I conducted in 2007 together with Wahab Bakar, leadership was only rated as the 15th most important soft skill sought by Malaysian employers in fresh university graduates.

The top five were integrity, willingness to learn, communication skills, initiative and achievement orientation. This is also true of numerous studies conducted in Canada, the United States and Australia.

There is also a need to include Learning Skills and Personal Development Planning in the curriculum

Most importantly, the Education Ministry should “walk its talk”. No amount of educational reforms will bring about the desired outcomes if we do not truly practise meritocracy in terms of hiring competent and passionate teachers, and high-performing school heads.

It is just as important that schools need to have a high-performance school culture committed to excellence and continuous improvement.

DR RANJIT SINGH MALHI The STAR Online Home Education Sunday October 7, 2012

Inspired by interesting article

I COULD not agree more with what your columnist Nithya Sidhhu said in her article under the heading “ Lasting impressions” (StarEducate Sept 30).

I was about to board my flight to Kuching, Sarawak when the article caught my eye and I could not help but think of the good old days when many of my teachers had left an impression on me.

I recall with fond memories the wonderful teachers I had irrespective of race or faith who had their own teaching styles and personalities. They taught us about values and shared their wisdom and opinions on a wide range of issues — from simple matters to complex issues.

Just like “Harry Potter” and others who’ve made an impact on your columnist, I am sure there are teachers who feel the same way about their students too.

There was a time when I sat next to a gentleman at a restaurant and greeted him. He was my former teacher and although he had forgotten my name, he was happy to see me.

”I must have done something right when you were my stud-ent,” he said upon seeing me as I was dressed in my official attire — the uniform of a senior police officer.

It was both a happy and extraordinary experience for me to catch up with my old teacher as he had taught me about values and humility back then.

As for him, I could see that he was elated and beaming for he was truly proud of his former student. It was truly a memorable encounter for both of us.

SUPT MOHD ZANI CHE DIN The STAR Online Home Education Sunday October 7, 2012

A need for students to learn and think

Seeking an education is to acquire knowledge and ensure learners think and analyse, but have our students and stakeholders been successful in achieving these goals?

ONCE again we return to the perennial question of the kind of education system that we have in the country.

Indeed, it is not an exaggeration to state that our present academic set-up, instead of encouraging critical thinking, acquiring soft skills and other relevant intellectual weapons, is precisely the very one that kills creativity, stifles innovation and impinges on independent dynamism.

Indeed, our prevailing exam-oriented, score-based, points-mindset educational system undeniably distorts motivation and learning by our overemphasis on the importance of scores as outcomes and measures of students’ abilities.

This “myopia” is one of the root causes why our students lack personal confidence and intellectual creativity.

Sadly, they are not even qualified enough to fulfil future tasks that requires beyond memorising.

I am specifically referring to jobs that demand conversation, writing and oral or verbal communication.

I doubt, if receiving instructions, writing memoranda, engaging in a discourse or presenting one’s idea in a meeting can be memorised. I doubt if there is a book that will teach our kids to learn those methods, skills and craft!

It is my contention that those skills can only be harnessed and cultivated by the very act of practising them inside the classroom and even beyond the four corners of the university.

There seems to be a grave confusion with regard to what we want for our students as against the interest of the general system.

Confusing objectives

Extrinsically, we are encouraging them to memorise and to get high marks, yet intrinsically we are demanding that they must possess critical thinking, creativity and persuasive discourse.

This is a blatant contradiction and self-defeating to the utmost.

How can we expect our students to possess critical thinking when we are not encouraging them to speak their minds?

How can we expect them to become creative if we consign them to the borders of the lecture-notes and syllabus of the subjects? And most importantly, how can we expect our students to express and talk in a brilliant persuasive discourse if they lack the personality, the basic foundation and the necessary training (both the written and the oral form)?

I believe that it is unjust for the system and for the teachers to expect too much from the students, given the confusion and contradiction of the system.

It follows that it is also unfair for the student to be expected to deliver when they are not even trained and nurtured in the first place.

How can one expect the horse to run fast, if the trainer of the horse does not fully practise and exercise the maximum speed of the said horse?

If we do not allow the horse to run freely in the plains to explore the vastness of the wild; but rather subject the same to the four corners of enclosure, do we expect the horse in question to perform well the day we release it for the race?

Lastly, if we do not give the “finest grass” and the “best vitamins” to the horse; do we have the right to expect the animal to launch and unleash its full prowess and potential?

Teacher’s obligation

At this juncture, I would like to talk about the paramount duty of the trainers, the mentors, the lecturers, and the teachers.

The obligation of the teacher is to inspire and guide his students to think, to question without fear nor hesitation, to speak courageously, to express boldly and with fortitude, and to be confident.

The teacher must be able to make his students think.

Not all students understand the process involved in the different thoughts and ideas that will lead them to a much higher plane of diverse views and more superior discourses.

If students can grasp the inner workings of this complicated, yet truly liberating process through their meticulous efforts and painstaking endeavour to render justice to the whole enterprise and craft; and if they can draw the comprehensive paradigm of the interconnection and the interdependence of the different ideas and varied thoughts, as discussed in the class; and if they could see the ultimate similarity and the profound inter-relationship of these various and multifaceted elements, then the entire class will be happy.

This is because the teacher has won in his academic passion and it will be a victory for both the teacher and students.

Theory without practice is dead, in the same vein that a good point, without the confidence and the courage to justify an argument in an open discussion in a classroom, is totally unacceptable.

The relationship between the teacher and the students must always be present, from the beginning of the lesson right up to its completion.

A true teacher is one who can gear his students to think independently.

The teacher must be able to discover and consequently construct their own truths, to nurture and create their own structure and foundation, and to simultaneously answer their own questions.

Let me dwell now on the other perennial problem of the matter and that is the focus of the system.

The ultimate problem of the whole academic system is our extreme emphasis to the extrinsic aspect of education as against the intrinsic element of it.

This aspect refers to the memorisation and rote learning of our children so that they will get high scores and good marks in an examination.

At the outset, there seems to be no problem here; however, look at it again and analyse the whole spectrum.

Getting good scores and full marks in the test is not bad in itself; it becomes bad the moment an educational system devotes its entire focus and energy to it at the expense of the intrinsic part of the whole general education!

In the critical words of political author Chris Hedges: “We’ve bought into the idea that education is about training and ‘success’, defined monetarily rather than learning to think critically and to challenge.

“We should not forget that the true purpose of education is to make minds, not careers.

“A culture that does not grasp the vital interplay between morality and power, which mistakes management techniques for wisdom, which fails to understand that the measure of a civilisation is its compassion, not its speed or ability to consume, condemns itself to death.”

The intrinsic part of the education is precisely the key, in order for our students to develop confidence and nurture creativity.

These are necessary ingredients in order for them to develop soft skills and other inter-personal skills.

The intrinsic aspect is the practice, the practical part or the practicum.

What we need is the rational and reasonable merging of these two elements for the benefit of our children!

Henceforth, it is my suggestion to the stakeholders concerned to take a break and pause and think about what we truly want for our children.

Having said so, it is my firm belief that the Education Ministry in particular must re-evaluate and review the education system

The stakes are high as it affects not only the future of our children, but also the future of the whole country!

The writer has a Master’s degree in Philosophy, a law degree and a degree in AB Political Science. He was previously teaching Philosophy, Ethics and Anthropology at an institution of higher education in the Klang Valley. OPINION By JOSE MARIO DOLOR DE VEGA The STAR Online Home Education Sunday October 7, 2012

What adult learners want

Teaching the older generation to read and write is different from children as illiterate adults have different needs that must be considered.

ACCORDING to international literacy organisation ProLiteracy, the United Nations (UN) had estimated a decade ago that there were over 860 million illiterate adults in the world.

Over 570 million were women. The UN definition of illiteracy is “the inability to read and write a simple message in any language”.

Every nation has an illiteracy problem with research showing that illiteracy is a major contributor to poverty, national unemployment, child labour, infant mortality, the spread of HIV/AIDS, and the deprivation and violation of basic human rights.

Low-level literacy-skilled adults do poorly in the job market and suffer serious financial and social disadvantages.

Most cannot effectively access the health care systems with the vast majority being forced to live in sub-standard circumstances.

A key objective of the Australian International Language Academy (AILA) is to play a major remedial role in addressing what it sees as a 21st century international illiteracy crisis.

By training teachers, tutors and parents, particularly in developing countries such as in South-East Asia, AILA believes it can make a difference.

Through the Manila Bulletin “English Is Power” column, one of my personal objectives over the last year has been to present ideas and information to assist teachers, tutors, trainers and parents in the challenging and often despairing “mission” of teaching English to other adults.

The focus in part has been mature learners who have failed in or failed by the formal education system, or who have become “literacy casualties” because of a myriad of reasons, be they parental, cultural, financial, social, attitudinal, migrational or self-inflicted.

Underlying this objective is the belief that illiterate adults are very different from most other learners.

“Baggage”, “barriers” and “beliefs” usually have to be dealt with before any real progress can be made and above all, they have to believe that what they are undertaking will be of personal benefit to them.

Consider these 10 special needs of adult learners:

1. Need to be made to feel that they can do it — particularly men and male teenagers.

2. Need friendliness and acceptance — vocalised support is appreciated and often a necessity.

3. Need to be in a non-threatening environment and atmosphere.

4. Need to be told when they are correct — not just left wondering.

5. Need to be told if an answer is wrong in a way that doesn’t make them feel like an idiot.

6. Need to know they are on the right “track”.

7. Need to know regularly how they are progressing.

8. Need to be treated as an adult.

9. Need to be able to approach the tutor as an equal adult, not just as a student.

10. Need recognition of their personal worth regardless of their academic deficiencies.

While the task of teaching illiterate adults is rarely an easy one, knowing the benefits for the learner and the positive consequences for the child or family of the parent becoming “literate”, makes the effort that is required worthwhile.

The 4S methodology and the associated Accelerated English Programme (AEP) mentioned in this fortnightly column are now being used internationally to enhance the English proficiency of people with different competency levels.

Keith Wright is the author and creator of the 4S Approach To Literacy and Language (4S) – a modern, innovative and proven method of accelerating the learning of English.

EXPLORING ENGLISH By KEITH W. WRIGHT E-mail contact@4Sliteracy.com.au for a free copy of the PDF file on Teaching The 7’s To The 77’s. The STAR Online Home Education Sunday October 7, 2012

How many schools teach children to learn?

A COUPLE of thoughtful emails come in response to last week's conversation ("Power of Words Will Move People to Action"), one from a young lady who declares that in this momentous year she has reached the age of thirteen. She writes so very well that I can say that she has found a way of learning, which is what education is about, to teach people how to learn.

But who and what do you teach in the first place? Do we teach people who are clever and praise them when they score high marks? That sounds like a very good idea, and then what? What about those who have fallen by the way side? And what if those intelligent ones lose their gleam and start to think unthinkable thoughts?

Well, as they say, give a person a fish and he'll be fed and teach him how to fish and he'll be good. And this brings us to the smart school: is it a congregation of clever birds or is it a place where learning is taught? How many schools nowadays teach children how to learn rather than just praise them for clever marks?

We saw motivation last week and how it could mean little if taught in the abstract. Give them the oomph to learn and then praise them once they've scored dazzling marks and this will put the smart school in good stead, especially if the children enrolled are already smart by the definition at the school's entry gate. But how often do we see smart children fall by the wayside, from boredom, maybe, from a loss of direction as they wander and continue to deteriorate on the playing fields of the educationally abject?

What a waste of potentially good lasses and lads, and what further waste in those who could not make the grade and are just peering in from the outside. Can't the smart ones continue to be smart, can't those outsiders be taught to throw away their dunces' caps?

And hey, why can't we turn this on its head? Why don't we teach them all how to be smart?

We are, in our society, always in the process of weeding out: the wheat from the chaff, the floppy caps from the top hats. But ask any number of people who have made it to the top and a considerable number will tell you that at school they were sub-standard. So what is it they have found that has pushed them to the top, or at least to the road that takes them away from the crowd?

Let's presume now for our purpose that they have found this thing called motivation (which last week I tried to sell to you as a tool-box of words). But now, now, what is this if not just a word? Well, yes, it is is, and no it's not.

Carol S Dweck is at Stanford University in the United States and she has been looking into the self-conceptions or mindsets people use to structure themselves and guide their behaviour. She says in a published interview that the most intriguing thing she has found in her thirty years of research is the power of motivation. "Motivation is often more important than your initial ability in determining whether you succeed in the long run... many creative geniuses were not born that way. They were often fairly ordinary people who became extraordinarily motivated," she concludes.

There is a story that she often tells to illustrate her point: that of a Nobel-prize winner who later in life got hold of his high school records where he discovered that his IQ score was not very high.

His response to that was if he had known about his poor IQ he would not have tried to become a scientist. And then there would not have been those path-breaking discoveries, says Dweck, and what a loss that would have been for the world.

As we move from our cradles to the long road, we will start by discovering our sense of self and what we are worth. And it is this that shapes us. We are what we teach ourselves and schools are where we are taught to be - a wise guy or a dumb ass, a failure or one who strives to achieve.

So there is something else that Professor Dweck has found in her work: students should be taught how to learn and not praised blindly for being smart. This means that they should be commended for having found a method to success and not put on a pedestal for simply being gifted, or brainy or right.

Clever children will be demoralised the next time they fail to achieve a result, or they will stop trying (be motivated) because of their fear of failure that will stop them being smart, whilst pupils who are praised for their keenness to learn will continue to strive to learn. Performance oriented versus learning oriented, in other words.

It is this desire to learn that motivates them; and that certainly opens the door to a lot of us.

Wan A. Hulaimi is based in the UK Wan A. Hulaimi | elsewhere@columnist.com New Straits Times Online Columnist 07 October 2012