September 11th, 2013

70% of English teachers not fit to teach

SHAH ALAM: About two-thirds of English Language teachers in the country have been classified as “incapable” or “unfit” to teach the subject in schools.

Education Minister II Datuk Seri Idris Jusoh said such teachers had been sent for courses to improve their proficiency in the language.

“The ministry will also consider sending them overseas for exchange programmes to take up TESL (Teaching of English as a Second Language) courses,” he said during a dialogue session on the National Education Blueprint 2013-2025 held at the Karangkraf headquarters here yesterday.

Idris, who did not state the number of such teachers, assured that a good portion of them had enrolled in English courses locally.

Recently, it was revealed that about 70% out of the 60,000 English Language teachers, who sat for the English Language Cambridge Placement Test, performed poorly.

On allegations that the Government was sidelining vernacular schools through the blueprint, Idris denied this, saying “all schools were treated equally”.

“We do not sideline any party. In fact, the ministry encourages everyone to learn more languages. Be it Chinese, Tamil, French or Spanish, the government will be proud if a Malaysian can master these languages,” he stressed.

The United Chinese School Committees’ Association of Malaysia (Dong Zong) protested against the blueprint, saying that increasing teaching time for Bahasa Malaysia from 270 minutes to 300 minutes for lower primary and 180 minutes to 270 minutes for upper primary pupils was a move by the Government to eradicate mother tongue education.

The STAR Online Home News Nation September 11, 2013

Producing the best educators

Brilliant teachers are the backbone of educational excellence in schools

WITHOUT quality teachers, where would the Malaysia Education Blueprint 2013-2025 be? Currently, those teaching are products of universities, teachers' training colleges and sometimes fresh school-leavers who fill in the gaps in primary schools. Of course, those working with secondary school students are mostly graduates. Unfortunately, many of them are those who had failed to qualify for other undergraduate disciplines after matriculation or its equivalent. In the earlier days, however, a diploma in education was pursued after qualifying for a degree. The graduate teacher then would have been trained in a special academic discipline and also possessed teaching skills. It is obvious, therefore, that in the old days, society was particular about the quality of educators. However, the advent of universal education forced the government to make compromises.

Fortunately, that time is past and considerations of quality over quantity have become the focus of education again so that it might be on a par with the world's best. The blueprint aims for a comprehensive overhaul to effect improvements in the outcome of the transformed system. It is an important component of the National Transformation Programme and needs to be right in its implementation over the next 12 years if it were to contribute to the nation's progress. Towards this end, the imperative is to prepare a supply of excellent teachers. Of course, those already in the vocation will be given the opportunity to improve themselves further. At the same time, the Education Ministry had announced its intention to recruit 30 per cent of the cream of the annual graduate crop into the profession. Taking the best away from an alternative future of bright prospects cannot be achieved without the right incentives. It follows naturally that the remuneration structure, too, will undergo the necessary upgrading.

Also, to secure a ready supply of the best brains in the profession, brilliant Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia school-leavers must be persuaded to become teachers. In order that the intellectual wherewithal of the teachers is guaranteed, those applying must have minimum 7As for SPM. The future schools will not be unlike those in the developed countries, where head teachers hold doctoral degrees and have somehow distinguished themselves intellectually. This is why the government is setting aside 16 per cent of the country's annual budget for education, one of the highest allocations in the world. In short, the brilliant teachers will have the solid school infrastructure and support to fulfil their obligations of delivering to Malaysia first-class human capital.

The New Straits Times Online Editorial 09/09/2013

The truth about facts and fallacies

Teachers must be frank with their students when they are unsure of answers, instead of “bluffing” their way through a lesson.

YOUNG TEACHERS develop fast when they aren’t intimidated, shy or afraid to ask questions of their experienced colleagues.

As for senior teachers who choose to view these questions in the right light, even the most innocuous questions can have educational value.

A case in point was when a young Science teacher in her twenties asked me the type of material used in Visking tubing.

The question was interesting, even to me, because while Science teachers do make use of the Visking tubing in experiments, we rarely think of anything else but its semi-permeable qualities.

According to this teacher, one of her bright students had queried her about this in the laboratory and she had been stymied by it.

I was equally baffled but we “googled” and researched and found our answers.

The Visking tubing is made of processed cellulose. Some websites claim that it is made of regenerated cellophane.

Either way, the tubing still has tiny pores that allow the passage of small molecules, such as water and glucose, and thereby serves as a model of the small intestine in experiments.

I must say, I learnt something new that day. Anyway, in that year, this young teacher often turned to me to seek answers to questions that rattled or had been asked by her students.

I often knew the answer, but there were times when online reading helped us both, not only to verify facts but learn new ones.

What I liked about this lady was her professional integrity.

She did not believe in “bluffing” her way out of tough questions but chose instead, to embark on fact-finding missions first before doling out any answers.

Such is not the case with some teachers who think nothing of practising the art of deception. Some do it skilfully and get away with it, while some end up damaging their credibility as teachers.

I also know of teachers who masterfully avoid questions or promise the answers at a later date, and then do not get back to their students.

Rather than admit that they lack the knowledge or aren’t sure of the answer, some even come up with “facts” thought up on the spot.

Laughing stock

The danger with such an approach is that they may end up, being wrong or worse, as a laughing stock.

Once when I entered a Form Three class, I found a group of students laughing their heads off.

They were tickled, not at some joke, but at the ignorance of their new English Language teacher, who had insisted that the female gender for peacock did not exist. According to this teacher, if the peacock is a female, it is simply called “a female peacock”. (The correct answer is “peahen”.)

Upon hearing this, one of the students who spoke excellent English had daringly stood up and said, “That is a cock-and-bull story.”

Not understanding the idiom, the teacher had replied seriously, “No, please don’t say that. The peacock is a bird but the bull is a cow. They are two different animals.”

This answer and many others of a similar nature were the direct cause of their mirth and merriment.

I don’t know why this English Language teacher had not chosen to confess his ignorance and then gone on to look up the correct answer.

I guess some teachers just do not like to be seen as incompetent or incapable of holding their own.

In my case, I am extremely careful and have been so for years. Once, while teaching the Krebs cycle in class, a Form Six Biology student of mine asked me if the malic acid found in fruits such as apples and berries was the same chemical substance as ‘malate’.

His father, he said, took a supplement that contained L-citrullinemalate that reputedly helped boost his energy levels.

He also wanted to know what the letter “L” stood for.

Looking for answers

Respecting his intelligence, I asked for some time to look up the answer.

The amount of online material I discovered in relation to this topic was mind-boggling but the very next day I provided him and the whole class a well-informed answer.

Here’s another thing: Every time I did research of this nature, my own knowledge base expanded.

For instance, until I read up on the topic, I had not known that ‘malate’ supplements are used for building fitness and strength!

I also learnt this: Students develop a healthy respect for honest teachers who neither dismiss their questions nor take them lightly.

On my part, I have often encouraged my students to read beyond their textbooks in search for such information and knowledge.

However, given the huge amount of materials they have to study for examinations, many of them profess they have no time to do so!

In the same breath, I have also come across students who have confessed to me that for the sake of their own amusement, they are not above “testing” their teachers on purpose by throwing them a “difficult” question or two!

This only means that teachers have to exercise caution before they choose to give any off-the-cuff answers.

Also, if you have inadvertently given out a wrong answer, there’s no shame in admitting your mistake and correcting it.

Since September heralds the beginning of the examination season, teachers would be well-advised to be thoroughly prepared for all manner of questions!

The New Straits Times Home News Education 08/09/2013