AS parents we are concerned with the revelation that more than half of English teachers in schools are "unfit" to teach the language. We can't help but wonder what English our children are being taught.
The Education Ministry has been trying to improve the proficiency of these teachers. We have heard that English teachers are being sent for upskilling courses. We have heard that information communication technology facilities are being upgraded in schools so that teachers and students have access to state-of-the-art software to enable them to teach and learn more effectively.
The ministry, state education departments, district education offices, teacher training institutions and the trainers, tutors, facilitators and "buddies" (teaching partners) can all claim they have been doing something to help teachers improve.
But what about the teachers themselves? Are they taking the initiative to improve themselves?
Some may say they are not trained to teach English. But all the teachers and administrators in their schools must have checked their qualifications and concluded that they were the ones best to teach English. The schools must also have given them the opportunity to attend in-service or exposure courses.
We are aware that a short course would not be sufficient. It takes more than that. It takes learning and work put in by teachers before, during and after the courses. Teachers are not to simply sit in school and wait for the call to attend a course.
They have to develop a desire to learn the language at all times.
Do teachers turn to the dictionary for meanings of words new to them? Do they read English newspapers daily, not so much for the news but to pick up the language? Do they surf the Internet for sites that may help improve their pedagogy? Do they tune into TV or radio to listen to English programmes? Do they explore every opportunity to speak English? Do they attempt to write in English? Do they attempt to connect with their colleagues who are better in English? Teachers may be asking their students to do all of these, but sadly, some are not practising them.
In the early years, we had teachers who were not graduates and did not specialise in the sciences, but they were able to teach O-Level (equivalent to Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia) pure science subjects.
How? Because they had laboured to learn the subjects and regarded it as a noble call of duty. Some even went on to become facilitators and tutors for their subjects in in-service courses for young teachers.
Liong Kam Chong, Seremban, Negri Sembilan New Straits Times Letters to the Editor 27 September 2013