February 7th, 2013

The 'accent' should be on quality teachers

PRIME Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak recently commented about bringing in English teachers from India to raise students' English proficiency.

Some comments were made by the public about the accent of Indian English teachers, which Malaysian students may find difficult to understand.

The older generation of Indians used to speak English with a heavy accent, but in the last three decades, many improvements have been made, especially in Indian private and missionary schools.

The students coming out from these secondary schools are on a par with any in the West or Commonwealth.

Just look at the tens of thousands of Indians working in multinationals, tertiary institutions and other sectors in across the world.

Look at how India's sportsmen, corporate leaders and film stars speak English. They are the products of India's educational system.

Of all the former British colonies, it was only in India and Pakistan where English was truly nurtured, and this explains the large number of people from these two countries who converse well in English.

India has a strong pro-English lobby which has defended the use of English in the country, and fought off attempts to reduce the importance of English in India.

Since the 1980s, proficiency in English has enabled India to become a powerhouse in information and communications technology and today, most Indians realise the economic value of English.

Indian English teachers are highly in demand, especially with the mushrooming of international schools worldwide.

These teachers command high salaries.

They place more emphasis on literature, grammar and other linguistic skills and their teaching methods have been found to be effective as proven by the thousands of Indian students who secure places in top universities.

Malaysian students will benefit from Indian English teachers, who could prove to be better than native English teachers, whose own accent is a big problem for students, especially in rural areas.

V. Thomas, Sungai Buloh, Selangor | letters@nstp.com.my New Straits Times Opinion 07 February 2913

Band system is tedious

THE school-based assessment, or its Malay acronym, PBS, continues to cause much hue and cry in schools. It is understandable. Let me share my observations and inferences.

First, the band system makes no substantial or material difference.

Under PBS, students' mastery of a subject is assessed and ranked with reference to bands one to six, with one being the lowest and six the highest.

How different is this from the A-to-F grade or percentage-score systems?

Secondary student will associate Band Six with Grade A and a percentage score of 80 and above.

Students with a Band Six must have "mastered" the subject as much as one who scored a Grade A or a percentage score of 80 and above.

If the questions are of standard quality, then only those with a good understanding of the subject can score a Grade A or a percentage score of 80 and above.

Second, the band system is a tedious process for a normal school with normal-sized classes.

Imagine a class of 35 students. How is a teacher going to "band" each student for every topic taught, for that's what banding is all about, if it is to achieve its effectiveness and efficiency?

The teacher has to enter all these data online into System Pengurusan Pentaksiran Berasaskan Sekolah, which is a computer program for the school-based assessment.

Teachers are also required and responsible to teach students in different bands differently and take them to Band Six.

How can this be done in a 40-minute period or an 80-minute double period of teaching?

On the other hand, experienced teachers know the percentage of students in the class who can grasp a topic taught.

The percentage varies with the difficulty level of the subject taught.

Experienced teachers who know their class well know this at the onset of the lesson or they will detect the level of understanding the class can achieve as the lesson progresses.

There is no need to do banding. Teachers know if they have sufficient time with their students.

PBS takes away this interaction time from the teachers.

To improve efficiency, teachers will gear their teaching approach for the benefit of the majority of the students. That is a practical approach.

Third, the idea that every student can be taught to reach Band Six in every subject matter is hypothetical.

At lower form and with simpler subject matters, this may be possible within a larger range.

But try it with, for example, some Form Four or Five Additional Mathematics or Physics topics, which are difficult for most students.

A teacher can tell you that for some topics, some students just cannot grasp the reasoning and rationalisation that are required to build on the topics, least of all to solve problems that require the applications of many ideas.

Fourth, if teachers spend sufficient time with students, they can discern the bands their students are in.

Without the banding exercise, teachers can spend more time deliberating on their teaching and improving their professional understanding of the knowledge contents of their subjects.

That's the way to improve teacher quality.

Liong Kam Chong, Seremban, Negri Sembilan | letters@nstp.com.my  New Straits Times  Letters to the Editor 07 February 2013