RECENTLY, Education Minister II Datuk Seri Idris Jusoh made an honest statement saying that 70% of our English teachers were not fit to teach the subject.
We must applaud Idris for being magnanimous in admitting the glaring weakness and a source of the problem in teaching English.
For too long, we have had ministers indulging in self-denial and bluffing their way through that everything is all right with the education system.
Hopefully, Idris’ courage in telling the truth to the public will become a new way forward in transformational leadership.
To the teachers who feel the heat, they should not take it as an insult, but accept it as a challenge to better themselves.
Idris must also accept the fact that the teachers are not to be blamed as most, if not all, are the products of the national education system where English proficiency is lacking.
He also did not blame the selection committee as they have to choose whatever is available as the good ones choose to either join the private sector or other services in the government such as the Administrative and Diplomatic Service.
Teaching English in a non-English environment is not meant for the faint-hearted. Instead, the ones who can overcome the odds are those who are truly passionate about teaching, love to guide students, and have a special mission in life to be the agents of change.
Idris believes that the serving English teachers who are not up to the mark can be a good change agent if they are willing to admit their weakness and resolve for continuous improvement by attending courses, seminars, public speaking, writing and not feeling shy to speak in English whenever there is an opportunity.
Idris also said the ministry was prepared to send them for further training and retraining if needed, either locally or abroad. What more can these teachers ask when they are given all the opportunity to improve themselves.
They should realise that they have to speak in English in order to create an English environment for the students. That is the greatest challenge as 97% of our national schools comprise Malay students who speak Malay among themselves and also in English classes!
Talking about an English environment, let me give a classic example where a diplomat friend who was from the Malay medium school was posted to the Foreign Affairs Ministry. From day one, everything was in English and he almost gave up.
However, he stayed on to prove a point that he could overcome his “handicap” in English. Being in an English environment dealing with seasoned diplomats, and with the right attitude, his English today can put an Oxford graduate to shame. He is now an ambassador in one of the Middle East countries.
Similarly, the 70% “unfit English teachers”, if they were put in an English environment, would probably make excellent English teachers too. They would even come to class complete with Shakespeare’s plays and quotations.
Meanwhile, let’s hope the National Education Blueprint 2013-2025 can make the quantum leap to put Malaysia on par with other Commonwealth countries where English language is concerned.
Hassan Talib Gombak The STAR Online Home News Opinion Letters 20/09/2013