December 15th, 2012

Make English pass compulsory

I REFER to “Language of opportunity” (The Star, Nov 30). While I have reservations about the author’s presumption that “the Examination Board of the Education Ministry … knew how the graph should be drawn to pass the correct percentage of students accordingly,” and therefore “that the majority of students will fail, is a myth,” I nevertheless agree wholeheartedly that the learning and status of English will be boosted if a compulsory pass is mandated.

The call for a compulsory pass in English in SPM (Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia) has been made for a long time now. The Education Ministry has yet to give a positive response.

The obstacles seem to be a big gap in opportunities to master English between students in the urban and the rural areas, and there being more English teachers in towns and fewer such teachers in rural settings. It is not a level playing field!

Perhaps we can consider another approach.

Considering that there are disparities in learning English between students from different socio-economic backgrounds and in different schools, and that it will be some time before we can have a level-playing field between rural and urban students, I propose that the English syllabus for different schools be the same, but the way it is dealt with should differ from school to school.

The subject syllabus could be the same, but the levels of depth and breadth or difficulty can vary depending on the school. The same goes for their examinations. Different schools should sit the same subjects, but with different papers.

When our schools are better equipped, we can have a common English syllabus and a common examination paper.

However, it is imperative and of immediate importance for all students to know it is their duty and responsibility to learn, master and pass English.

Also, they should realise that learning a language requires need, effort, persistence and hard work. It is not a matter of spoon-feeding.

It is time our students knew the ground rules and understand this axiom: no pain, no gain. The teachers before them, the textbooks before them and the language software before them are already sufficient.

It is their effort, commitment and persistence in mastering English that needs to be intensified. It is time for students to look inwards for solutions.

See also Language of opportunity

LIONG KAM CHONG Seremban The STAR Online Home News Opinion Friday December 14, 2012

Language of opportunity

I REFER to the report “Don: Give prominence to Bahasa Malaysia” (The Star, Nov 28). I support Prof Emeritus Datuk Dr Nik Safiah Karim’s call on the Government to emphasise the strengthening of BM by giving more prominence in the Malaysia Education Blueprint.

No right thinking Malaysian would deny that BM has been the language of unity in our beloved country since independence.

Suffice to say, it is the lingua franca used by everyone from all walks of life throughout the length and breadth of our land.

In addition, BM has been used by scholars, academicians and researchers in many public universities since early 1970’s.

Furthermore, BM has always been the compulsory language subject taught in schools since merdeka and it was made the medium of instruction to replace English in all national schools in the mid-1970s.

However, these days as we strive to a become a higher income nation with the Government’s transformation programmes, especially the Economic Transformation Programme, our students need to acquire, and if possible, master the language of trade, commerce and industry, that is, English.

Besides, 80% of the world’s information is stored in English in the Internet which is now used extensively by students, academicians and professionals.

I would like to repeat the clarion call made before by many concerned educationists and professionals to make English a compulsory pass in the SPM exam.

Obviously, it is suicidal for political reasons for the Government to implement such a policy now as election is just round the corner.

But I honestly believe if the Government returns to power, and is sincere to achieve the developed nation status in 2020, it must have the political will to make it compulsory for Form 5 students to pass English to get the SPM certificate.

Once it becomes a Government policy, everything will subsequently fall in place: the lackadaisical attitude of teachers and students towards the teaching and learning of English will change for the better; English teachers will upgrade themselves; and students will read more English materials.

For instance, in the mid-1970’s, when Malay was made the medium of instruction, every teacher and student faithfully switched from English to Malay without much fuss except for some hiccups, simply because it was a Education Ministry directive.

The assumption that supposing English is made a compulsory pass in SPM, the majority of the students will fail, is a myth.

When I was the examiner for the SPM English paper in the 1970’s, my fellow examiners and I found that a large number of students generally scored below 50% marks.

But as usual when the official results were announced, to everyone’s amazement, many of them invariably passed.

I presume the Examination Board of the Education Ministry was professional enough, and thus knew how the graph should be drawn to pass the correct percentage of students accordingly.

Hence, if English is made a compulsory pass in SPM, I guess there will not be a significant drastic drop in the SPM passers.

Therefore, it is my fervent hope that the Government will also give equal prominence to English besides BM by making it a compulsory pass in SPM for the sake of the students, particularly those from the rural schools, who need English as it is the language of opportunity now and perhaps forever.

THOMAS KOK Ipoh The STAR Online Home News Opinion Friday November 30, 2012

Still no response to errors spotted in the Chemistry SPM paper

I REFER to the letter, “Gross errors in exam papers” that was published in The Star on Dec 6.

Up till today, there has been no reply whatsoever from the Ministry of Education or any spokesperson for the Lembaga Peperiksaan and this silence is indeed deafening.

I reiterate here that the mistake I pointed out with regards to the SPM 2012 Chemistry Paper 1, Q20 asking for the chemical pair that “produces the highest heat of neutralisation” has two answers, namely involving both hydrochloric acid and sulphuric acid reactions with potassium hydroxide.

If you look through the Chemistry Textbook Form 5 (p169), you will see clearly written these words, “sulphuric acid, H2SO4, is a strong acid, sodium hydroxide, NaOH, is a strong alkali. So, the heat of neutralisation is –57 kJmol–1”.

Thus, so long as it is a reaction between a strong acid and a strong alkali, the heat of neutralisation will always be –57 kJmol–1.

Nevertheless, enough of chemistry lessons. What I wish to also share here is that the same mistake, ascribing the value of a higher value when involving sulphuric acid, is perpetuated in at least three SPM revision books by reputed publishers.

In fact, I found only one revision book where the correct fact is mentioned and it takes no second guess who the author of the book is. He is an accomplished writer of chemistry revision books especially at STPM level even from my Form 6 years in the 1980s.

As I pointed out in my earlier letter, there seems to be gulf between Form 5 level Chemistry and Form 6/college level Chemistry. There are also other instances where a chemical equation is perfectly acceptable worldwide but is sadly rejected according to the SPM marking scheme.

On top of that, how many SPM chemistry “graduates” realise that in electrolysis, anode is the positive pole but when in a voltaic cell, anode becomes negative pole, and more crucially the reason behind this seemingly contradicting paradox.

What I can conclude is that the state of our Malaysian education has entered a phase of self-contentment, accepting the standard we are currently in. Well it works while we are still within the shores of Malaysia.

Yet sadly, a shocking experience awaits the unsuspecting and ill-equipped young Malaysian in his undergraduate years.

BOO SOON YEW Penang The STAR Online Home News Opinion Saturday December 15, 2012

Bilingualism is the way to go

The emplacement of Bahasa Malaysia as the national language and medium of instruction in national schools has resulted in its steady growth as the language of official and academic communication.

Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka (DBP) has played an outstanding role in standardising the linguistic structures of the language, viz its syntax, morphology, phonetics and phonology, as well as coordinating its vocabulary, viz semantics, lexicology and terminology.

DBP has ensured that Bahasa Melayu has grown from its role as the lingua franca in pre-independence Malaya to being a veritable modern language with formal systems, structures and rules to govern its use.

The growth of a language with a large community of users who use the language for different purposes will produce regional dialects and socio-cultural varieties each with its own registers and conventions.

DBP is playing a key role in monitoring the standard variety of Bahasa Malaysia and ensuring that its development upholds the most sound linguistic principles and theories as well as the most urgent national needs and aspirations. Bahasa Malaysia is now firmly entrenched as Malaysia's official language and as the medium of instruction in the national schools (Sekolah Kebangsaan).

In the second half century of Malaysia's development, when the country is committed to becoming a global player in technology and innovation, commerce and industry, there has to be a firm commitment to a national education system where English, the global language, is positioned as the natural complement to Bahasa Malaysia.

The discourse on education has seen countless cries for the reinstatement of English as a strong second language in which Malaysians should acquire knowledge and skills. There is no doubt that English will equip the nation's young with better prospects for employment, both locally and internationally.

What the country urgently needs to move forward is a transforming bilingual education system supported by a sound bilingual education philosophy or policy that governs teaching and learning in the public schools.

To circumvent the continuous bargaining between the country's three major ethnic groups in their bid to assume linguistic and cultural superiority, the English language must resurface as a peace and pacemaker. Whether they study in the Sekolah Kebangsaan or Sekolah Jenis Kebangsaan, Malaysian students must be equalised in getting the same access to English.

Voices of Peace, Conscience and Reason (PCORE) recommends that the Education Ministry define the integration of the various streams entrenched in the national education system in a clear policy statement on bilingualism, where English can be used to unite the schools, teachers and students who are growing further apart as they operate within their own linguistic and cultural silos.

If Bahasa Malaysia is positioned as the language which fosters national integration, English can be positioned as the language which promotes national and international networking for pragmatic purposes.

To be seriously implemented on the ground, bilingualism must manifest itself in a clear policy statement such as: The national education system upholds and promotes bilingualism (Malay and English) in the curriculum of national schools and higher institutions of learning in order to produce students who will acquire knowledge and skills through their mastery of both languages. Malaysians who go through the national education system will enter the employment market with a high level of proficiency in both languages, where Malay will optimise their work and career opportunities at the local level, and English at the global level.

The teaching and learning of the English language in schools must be structured to produce a higher level of proficiency in the following ways:

STREAM students according to the different levels of proficiency or group them based on their skill level. This allows for the use of materials and methodologies that are suited to the needs of each level or group. Students who meet the target determined for each level or group can move to the higher level. This can be implemented within the year or the class;

RECRUIT teachers (local or foreign) from among those with a high level of proficiency in English and who are trained in the relevant methodologies. One cannot assume that because they are native speakers recruited from abroad they are necessarily well-trained or good models of spoken or written English. In-service training must be conducted regularly to enable them to be retrained and to share experiences and expertise;

PREPARE and select teaching materials carefully to ensure they are context-relevant and effective. External consultants, programme providers and contractors must, therefore, be selected with the greatest care and scrutiny to ensure they meet the local needs and requirements of Malaysian teachers and students;

PLEDGE a firm commitment to using alternative teaching and learning methodologies and methods which have proven to be very effective in the international arena. This includes the use of computer-aided learning, language labs and tapes to provide opportunities for immersion into the language. Distance learning through radio, audio and video is another area that needs to be fully exploited and developed in language learning and teaching. Films can be used effectively to augment teacher-talk. This will greatly help to circumvent the recurring problem of poor teacher quality and inadequate access to materials in English, especially in the remote areas;

INCREASE exposure to English in the curriculum in order to simulate an environment of total immersion by making English the language of instruction for subjects such as Moral Education, Civics and History where students will get more opportunities to use the language receptively and productively; and

INCORPORATE English reading and references for the subjects taught in Bahasa Malaysia, Mandarin and Tamil to enable teachers and students to operate in both or all the languages. This will increase their range of vocabulary and terminology besides improving their interpretation and translation skills.

DEVELOP Literature/Readings in English as an integral section of the greater English Language curriculum to be assessed as part of the English Language paper and not as a stand-alone subject. In this, the books and materials must be grouped and graded in terms of different levels of complexity or word lists. Schools can select the materials that are suitable for their students' levels of proficiency.

With the Education Blueprint, the government is taking a giant step forward in formulating an expansive set of proposals to transform the national education system. It must be scrutinised with the greatest care to ensure the resources are properly utilised to produce optimum results.

If the democratisation of education and the equalising of educational opportunities, facilities and infrastructure for Malaysians is the outstanding battle cry, this must be formalised in a well-stated education philosophy and policy. It is time for bilingualism to take on this role.

By Datin Halimah Mohd Said,PCORE Education Committee, Kuala Lumpur | letters@nstp.com.my | New Straits Times Letters to the Editor 14 December 2012 |