Tags: skills

Knowledge and skills

WHAT kind of knowledge and skills do our children need in the 21st century?

What type of hobbies can be recommended and how do we encourage and support our children at school?

Globalisation creates unprecedented challenges and opportunities. It is therefore fundamental for the new generation to acquire the knowledge and skills of global citizens while still at school.

To begin with, they should master one or more languages, learn to read and write, express themselves and know how to communicate. These are all key basic skills.

Global citizenship is about valuing and respecting human dignity and cultural diversity. Global citizens should have the necessary knowledge on issues such as climate change, sustainable development, equality and conflict resolution.

We have to educate Malaysians on nation building, agriculture, energy to defence and healthcare. These topics matter. We also cannot ignore climate change and the environment.

Analytical and critical thinking is also important.

Learning to learn is an essential skill for personal development, at school and at work, where flexibility is key.

Young people should learn to collaborate with people from different backgrounds, cultures and disciplines to solve complex, multidisciplinary issues in a respectful and flexible way.

Cultural awareness is important, and so is the ability to appreciate and understand music, literature and visual arts.

Mathematical competence is needed in everyday life, as is an understanding of the natural world and the ability to apply knowledge and technology to different situations. Considering the influence and pervasiveness of digital technology in current and future societies, it is important that children learn how to positively engage with these tools in school and out of it.

I hope the new Education Minister can revamp our education system to meet the demands of the global economy.

Bulbir Singh Seremban The STAR Education 23 September 2018

Digital technology in our classroom

The ‘digital classroom’ is now the talk of our education system but schools with PAK-21 classes were funded with the cooperation of the Parents-Teachers Association (PTA) and alumni associations of the schools concerned, and the private sector.

Even our Prime Minister  was visually attracted to the use of the smart gadgets in the classroom and found the teaching and learning process more interactive, as well as capable of stimulating the students' interests and making the class more exciting.

We are now living in a high tech world, with high tech classrooms. For some educational institutions they do embrace the benefits of using the electronic gadgets for classroom teaching and learning.

The many benefits of using and incorporating technology while teaching, such as adding diversity to lessons, increasing student interaction, and to bringing new perspectives and knowledge to the class are no doubt well known.

Teachers and educators are required or instructed to make use the best tools of technology and MOOC platforms such as vleFrog, Schoology, Edmodo, Moodle or any other software provided by the ministry.

Educators and parents need also recognize the downsides resulting from inappropriate or overuse of technology which will have serious and long term consequences.

An article by Psychology Today mentioned about using technology can change a child’s brain and the way children think. The use of technology can alter the actual wiring of the brain.

Even now we can see parents providing their children mobile media even for children under the age of two.

Teens of 12-17 years old are the frequent group spending time online. It seems that the time spent with technology changes the way their brains work and doing things.

It was also mentioned that video games may condition the brain to pay attention to multiple stimuli; they can lead to distraction and decreased memory. Children using search engines may become very good at finding information but not very good at remembering it.

Children who use too much technology may not have enough opportunities to use their imagination or to read and think deeply about the material.

Meanwhile a report from the United Kingdom wrote that the overuse of technology can affect a child’s mood. It can affect a child’s ability to empathize and changes the way children feel.

Children on computer games and home internet for more than four hours do not have the same sense of wellbeing than who used less. Those children with less physical contact might have difficulty developing social skills and emotional reactions. Face-to-face interaction made students more sensitive to meaning in expression.

We must also be aware that children on technology may also be succumbed to sexual harassment and cyber-bullying. The improper use of technology can expose a child to numerous risks. Youngsters who utilize innovation may unwittingly share data that can place them in threat.

Sex offenders used social networking sites to get information about the victim’s preferences. And the anonymity of technology can also make it easier for people to bully others online. Teenagers say they have been bullied either by text or on the internet. Technology can open up privacy and safety at risk

Technology maybe to blame for the increased in child obesity. In most pediatric reports obesity are caused by the sum and kind of nourishments kids eat, but the fact is we exercise less as we use more technology. The measure of time we invest inactive expanded and our energy in physical action dropped.

We are certainly not against the use of technology, as with most things, moderation is best. Teachers and parents who want their students and children to experience the benefits of technology, without the negatives should consider these ideas.

As parent, teacher educator or both, the need to monitor the use of technology is a must. Ensure you know how your kids are using technology, ensure restrictions be made.

We must also teach them responsible usage and talk on establishing a positive resolution, be familiar with technology or whatever the current online trend is, so you can recognize and head off any problems early on.

We need to ensure the classroom technology is used intentionally for teaching to the best, not as precedence. We may also at times go back to basic like conducting class outside where you can sit and discuss a topic without the usual distractions.

Technology does make our lives easier and make students have tremendous opportunities to learn and to connect by using it. But with each advantage comes a potential cost. When we understand those costs and can minimize them, we can keep the use of technology positive.

Azizi Ahmad The Malaymail Online What You Think November 12, 2017

Educators need social, emotional skills

Educators need social emotional skills

Educators and teachers are the group of people who will spend their working hours with the same group of students. The hours spend with the young people in the sessions will definitely forge a kind of deep relationship amongst.

For the primary educators, they will teach the young to read, write and enumerate, while the secondary and the higher level group of educators will teach the higher level of education accordingly.

Along the way of teaching, there’s a hidden curriculum that covers knowing them as human beings.

Though some relationships are sincere and truthful, some are fraught still the caring factors will still be displayed as the young are a part of family relationship.

Feelings or emotions are at the core of what educators do and why they do it. Any true educators come to educating with hopeful intention of changing the chances for distraught kids, rousing adoration for learning, or creating basic scholars.

In Malaysia, there is no data record or survey done on educators leaving the profession within their first five years of service. Most likely, many will complete their tenure as educator to the maximum.

Worry or stress among educators has achieved extraordinary levels in the west. The most recent MetLife Survey of the American Teacher stated, over portion of educators admitted that they are "incredible worry throughout the working teaching days." Record also shows that almost 40-50 percent of teachers will leave the services within the first five years.

Teaching is not like ‘bed of roses’, it is filled with emotional practice, and most educators must be strong and tough enough to face the stress and pressure. Educators do need powerful ‘support’ in ensuring their social and emotional skills are managed properly for them to stay long in the profession.

Social and emotional competencies (SEC) are basic to keep away from burnout and increment educator well-being.

Having the capacity to associate with our own particular feelings and sentiments before responding to student misconduct, looking for approaches to loosen up following a bustling day, or recognizing our interior drivers are all methods for utilizing our enthusiastic insight to feel better with ourselves and our general surroundings.

These competencies are actually not taught in the teacher training course program or professional development program (except for some ‘great minds’ institution) thus we cannot say for sure that all educators know these stuffs.

Like our students, we as a whole have qualities and a few difficulties! Some of these abilities may work out easily for a few educators, while others may require more consideration and extra advancement.

Research has discovered that students learn better in protected, strong conditions. The same is valid for grown-ups. Social Emotional Competencies are impacted by setting.

In the event that your workplace is brimming with talk and grievances, you will tend to show more negative practices; while on the off chance that you work in a strong, inviting environment, you will be more disposed to effectively oversee problems and request or offer assistance when required.

Consider your present working environment. How is it influencing your conduct and the courses in which you identify with students and colleagues? It is safe to say that you are ready to demonstrate your "better self"?

Monitoring how your workplace influences your conduct will enable you to settle on various decisions if needed.

Educators who are cool, positive, and content are more probable better prepared for treating students warmly and delicately, notwithstanding when students behave awkwardly. The quality of the teachers’ Social Emotional Competencies provides an impact on the student-educator relationship.

Most educators will meet upsetting situations consistently and students are watching! They gain from how their educators oversee dissatisfaction, manage clashes, or keep up control in the classroom. Educators tend to display Social Emotional Competencies for students, purposefully or not.

Educators must keep up a feeling of coolness, be organized, and create social trust in the event that they need an efficient classroom that energizes inventiveness or student independence. Teachers’ Social Emotional Competencies influence the classroom organization and management.

Educators need to plan to use emotional intelligence in daily life by becoming more aware, more intentional and more purposeful.

Six Seconds, the Emotional Intelligence Network provide these pursuits for use:

Know Yourself means clearly seeing what you feel and do, knowing your strengths and challenges, and recognizing your behavior patterns.

Choose Yourself means proactively responding to situations instead of reacting on autopilot.

Give Yourself means putting your vision into action, knowing your purpose, and doing things for a reason.

We encounter emotions or feelings constantly, but we never stop to think and to consider what feelings are or how they influence learning.

The first thing to do step is to develop and cultivate self-awareness. Enthusiastic awareness begins for our capability will identify how we feel, not best the surface emotions (those that would obvious), as well as the ones that need aid concealed.

Teachers’ social and emotional would significant to making a difference dodging burnout, increment well-being, and creating a positive learning environment.

Educators can start creating their emotional intelligence by creating self-awareness. When we would careful of our emotions, we feel more in control also aggravate better choices.

Lifelong learning and learning on your own the way to go

THERE has been intense discussion in higher education forums and social media on re-examining and re-thinking the direction of undergraduate programmes and employability.

Graduate employability is taken as a good measure to show the quality of education and reflect the reputation of educational institutions. Is it true?

Yes, it is important and relevant, but that should not be the sole reason. There are deeper questions that do not often get addressed in public dialogues about higher education: what is the purpose of higher education today and the future? What do we want to achieve for the young talent we are nurturing? Or are we (educators) nurturing them in a true sense of providing wholesome and holistic education?

Curriculums should be designed to equip graduates with learning and thinking skills.

These questions challenge us to re-imagine the role of university and educators (lecturers) beyond that of graduate employability.

Our curriculum has been designed to focus on content. Yes, content (subject matter) is important and the curriculum should have breadth and depth.

This is to ensure we produce competent graduates in their disciplines, such as food technologists, pharmacists, doctors, engineers and economists. Unfortunately, the scenario in the marketplace is changing rapidly.

Employers are looking for multi-talented, multi-skilled knowledge workers. They are looking for people equipped with 21st-century skills, in addition to knowledge and competency on subject matters. These are the skills that need to be embedded in the curriculum design and inculcated in students through courses.

In other words, when we talk about graduate employability, we talk about the employability of our graduates for jobs that do not even exist.

I believe that the key is the curriculum and the catalyst is the lecturers (educators). We should change our mindset that our role is not only to teach but to nurture, that is, to nurture students to become lifelong learners.

As futurist Don Tapscott said: “It’s not what you know that counts anymore. It’s what you can learn.” In this regard, the curriculum should be designed in such a manner that our graduates are equipped with learning and thinking skills to make them more versatile, flexible, resourceful and adaptable.

When our graduates possess these skills, then they can learn new skills and adapt to the new environment. How do we incorporate a lifelong learning model into our educational framework?

It is obvious that our education system must no longer emphasise task-specific skills but must focus instead on developing learners’ decision-making and problem-solving skills and teaching them how to learn on their own and with others.

Achieving these goals requires a change in the way learning takes place and the relationship between learners and teachers.

Our graduates need to be equipped with the skills and competencies they need to succeed in the knowledge-economy. These include mastery of technical, interpersonal and methodological skills.

Technical skills include literacy, foreign language, math, science, problem-solving and analytical skills. Interpersonal skills include teamwork, leadership and communication skills. Methodological skills include the ability to learn on one’s own, to pursue lifelong learning and to cope with risk and change.

They are kids, so why the saws and paint?

UNDER the new Kurikulum Standard Sekolah Rendah (KSSR), upper primary school children have to take the newly revamped Living Skills subject, ICT and Design (Rekabentuk dan Teknologi).

This subject is meant to teach children the process involved in identifying a problem, concept and design, and execute the project in the form of a handcrafted object.

I am surprised that children of such a young age are required to use tools such as Warrington hammers and small saws for these projects. Is this really necessary?

Do children even appreciate the aim of the subject, which is to produce youth who can systematically find a practical solution to a problem?

Let primary school children polish their reading, writing and numeracy skills first before having them take age-inappropriate classes.

Imagine 10 to 12 year olds in a workshop holding nails (some of which are rusty) and trying hard to nail little wood cuttings with a hammer with very little experience and strength.

I am sure a lot of mishaps occur, despite the teacher trying his best to ensure children obey safety rules (also repeatedly highlighted in the textbook) at all times.

In fact, an introduction in the Standard Four textbook highlights the importance of wearing an apron, a special protective mask and gloves while working in the workshop.

Are these made available to all the children? These protective gear incur cost, not just to buy but also to maintain. These projects also teach children how to use spray paint.

This is another surprise as spray paint is a flammable product and contains harmful chemicals. It is clearly stated on the can to “Keep away from children”.

Ironically, children are required to use them in making the Standard Four lighthouse project.

Although under a teacher’s guidance and supervision, it is still very difficult to control a class of more than 30 children with spray paint in their hands.

Children using watercolour already makes for messy business, more so spray paint, which may end up on their clothing, face and arms.

The mist is harmful and again, a protective mask (not the regular ones used to protect from haze) is absolutely vital but do children even have access to them or wear them? Do all schools stock them for students to use? Of course, children must be taught various skills so that they become self-sufficient in the future but why do they have to be taught these kind of skills now?

There are many more issues that need to be addressed in the primary school learning environment. An hour spent on this subject could be allocated for other aspects, such as brushing up on reading and writing skills, regardless of their current ability.

Some still cannot master reading and writing in Standard Four and, as such, an hour a week could be allocated to such students catch up.

This will help the children tremendously when they move to secondary school, when it will be too late to help them as they would be lost without knowing how to read and write.

Students could also take more English lessons, especially the literature component. I have noticed that the Education Ministry has come up with a wonderful package for upper primary school children to learn English literature, but I am very sure teachers have limited time to allow each child to read all the beautiful poems aloud.

Classic stories and characters are hardly discussed, as teachers race against time to complete the core syllabus while also completing many other tasks during the academic year.

With more time on their hands, teachers can focus on and spend more time with the children. Children should be taught skills that are age-appropriate.

Such workshops are perhaps more suitable for secondary school students who are more mature and can handle complex tasks.

But for primary school children, let them polish their reading, writing and numeracy skills first, while also picking-up more age-appropriate skills in other fields, such as music, art and physical education.

Make use of primary school years to give children a solid foundation so as to minimise, if not totally eliminate, children who cannot read or write by the time they begin Form 1.

Honing the right skills to stay alive

THE live python is slaughtered right before your very eyes. Are you game enough to eat it?

Its head is then chopped off, followed by the skinning process. The flesh is cooked without washing. It is finally ready for serving.

You may feel nauseous. You may even vomit. Take it or leave it. Either you live or die of starvation. What is your reaction?

This was the jungle survival course I took part in, organised by the Penang Fisheries Department at Pulau Beras Basah, Pulau Langkawi in 1990.

It was led by its national enforcement chief Abdul Hamid Shukor.

If you are a castaway on a lonely island, you would have to hone your survival skills to stay alive. You would have to kill or be killed.

Eating python flesh was anadditional tip I learned from this Sarawakian jungle survival expert.

I could find none of these facts from the six hardcover survival books in my home library.

Not even in my Commando Survival Manual.

The long-haired and bearded survival specialist said the flesh should not be washed or it would become sticky.

Even crocodile and monitorlizard flesh are edible in the event of an emergency. The flesh of the serpent and other reptiles is pure white.

Mixed with some spices and taken while the soup is hot, it is palatable to some people.

The reptile meat, when smoked, can be preserved for ration. It can help you survive for a few months until help is at hand.

Drinking water from a tree vine is another source of water in a jungle. The vine has an abundance of water stored inside. This tip was among the lessons taught to us.

Eating plant shoots and the right types of leaves act as an insect repellent.

While in a neighbouring country, I saw a roadside snake peddler extracting blood from the serpent by just pressing its mouth. He claimed it was effective for boosting the libido.

The blood dripped into a miniature glass. It was sold for a nominal sum. I just wondered about its authenticity.

It was a sales gimmick to earn a fast buck. Yet, gullible bystanders bought and drank the blood.

I came across a news report that a restaurant in Hong Kong offered snake soup in its menu.

Demand for snake soup is high, from the Mid-Autumn festival right up to the winter. The snake used for the soup was sourced from South-East Asia and not from China.

The shop is adorned with dried snakes and reptiles preserved with alcohol in glass jars.

In recent years, the shop used sea snakes. On a busy day, the owner can sell 800 bowls of soup.

A bowl of soup costs around HK$50 (RM28.65). Many western tourists patronise the shop.

My wife once served me a chicken speciality. She said it was given by a neighbour.

Only after I finished the dish did she reveal that it was actually rabbit meat. I pity the poor animal. But I like the taste as it is better than chicken.

Once again, I was taken for a ride when she served me horse meat instead of beef. After eating it, I felt very “heaty”.

The animals were slaughtered according to Muslim rites. So it was halal.

Today, I abstain from eating beef as I have a soft heart for these animals.

If you observe cows carefully, they have a melancholic appearance. Their faces are quite appealing, with a tender look in their eyes.

I do not mind eating live grasshoppers and dragonflies when it comes to the survival factor. They are rich in protein and easy to catch.

For those who love to venture into the wild, it is advisable they should have some knowledge in survival skills.

Be prepared in case you are lost or marooned. The harsh jungle conditions will have no mercy on you.

In some mountains I climbed, I had the opportunity to drink from a small hot spring from the rocks’ crevices.

According to my guide, the spring was patronised by tigers to quench their thirst.

The survival books in my possession are suitable for jungle-bashing as well as outings in the wild and deserts.

The other five are: Reader’s Digest Survival Against Great Odds, The Survival Handbook, Complete Book of Survival, Survival Tips and Outdoor Survival.

The bounty in the jungle is never lacking. You must have the know-how to source these items. Do you dare? You will be richer for the experience.

The solace will rejuvenate you. You will enjoy nature in all its splendour.

Start moving, then. The wilderness welcomes you.

A.R. Amiruddin is a former journalist with The Star for 19 years and the defunct National Echo for 10 years. The views expressed here are entirely the writer’s own. A.R. Amiruddin The STAR Home Metro Community Saturday, 2 July 2016

Tips to upskill English teachers

Attaining the proficiency of native English language speakers is possible if local teachers employ various tools and methods to continually upgrade themselves.

IT is very disturbing to know that around 15,000 English language teachers are not really proficient enough to teach the global language despite the many initiatives of the Education Ministry. The authorities recognise the importance of teaching English as a second language (ESL) in the country.

The training of future teachers is commendable. It is the language proficiency of the teachers which has to be improved further.

What is required is lifelong teacher development until a teacher retires. The specific areas that ESL teachers need to focus on are the four macroskills of listening, speaking, reading and writing, together with the many subskills associated with them.

These include their pronounciation skills, grammatical and lexical competence.

As non-native speakers and teachers of English, we have to step up our efforts to be of native speaker competence.

Completing a TESL (Teaching of English as a second language)/TEFL (Teaching of English as a foreign language)/TESOL ((Teaching of English to speakers of other languages) programme ought to be considered the commencement of a lifelong quest to improve ourselves to teaching a language, which for many of us is not our dominant language.

The observations here are based on my experience with numerous graduates. It outlines where the weaknesses are and steps that may be taken to rectify the situation.

Training in progress: English teachers during an upskilling programme.They need to attend courses to constantly hone their skills in teaching the language. - File photo.

The majority of ESL teachers are non-native speakers.

But if we are to excel, there has to be a change in our mindset.

If English language teaching (ELT) is our chosen vocation, we need to multiply our efforts to have the proficiency of qualified native speaker teachers.

This needs to be our benchmark.

So, we need to make a transition from being non-native speaker teachers to near-native speaker teachers.

English teachers here, and in other countries where English is a second or foreign language, need to adopt a multi-pronged approach to enhance their knowledge of the language and raise their proficiency.

The specific areas that ESL teachers need to focus on include the four macroskills together with their numerous sub skills.

The teachers need to have knowledge of applied linguistics, appropriate classroom methodology, grammatical and lexical competence as well as familiarity with international English usage and language change.

There are many books on these skills that can contribute immensely.

Prominent educators have emphasised some of the essential characteristics good ESL teachers should have. Besides equipping themselves with a TESL diploma or degree, they should have a liking for the English language.

They must upgrade themselves continually. They must also be eager to know more about the target language speakers. They have to strive to attain communicative competence in the English language .

Focus on grammar

Let us now look at a few essential components in language teaching. Grammatical accuracy is no less important for teachers.

The acquisition of grammar is neither simple nor easy. English grammar is inherently difficult.

Usage of the tenses, verbs and prepositions accurately is not without problems.

When we watch international news, read magazines or online material, we may be confused by the grammatical usage in them.

Grammar acquisition is not solely about grammar facts and rules. We need to have the linguistic skills to use grammatical structures accurately, meaningfully and in context.

Teachers need to be aware of the emphasis on certain grammatical categories and changes in grammar.

If we are not dominant speakers of English, there may be some gaps in our own knowledge of the grammar. So, we need to consult grammar books and dictionaries, especially those which have entries from authentic sources that exemplify real language use.

We ought to analyse material of various genres to fill the gaps and enhance our grammatical knowledge and proficiency.

If we are to be communicatively competent, we need to be grammatically competent too.

A command of vocabulary is also essential to a teacher’s linguistic competence.

Vocabulary is not just about the acquisition of words. The ability to communicate successfully and appropriately is important in social and occupational contexts.

It must be acknowledged that language users may still be able to communicate to some extent even with deficient grammar, but in the absence of appropriate word choice, intelligibility of meaning may be compromised.

A teacher has to know the denotation and connotation of words, their grammatical and lexical properties as well as their general and specific meanings. How they are pronounced and spelt is also part of knowing the word. The formality of a word has to be understood.

Extensive reading and listening will enable teachers to possess extensive vocabulary and knowledge of their use. There is much language change involving lexical items.

What used to be harmless or neutral in terms of their meaning, has now got to be used appropriately.

As professional educators, we need to be keenly aware of contemporary lexical change. All vibrant living languages change over time, they do not remain stagnant.

We cannot become dinosaurs in our profession. English has borrowed numerous words due to language contact.

Many have been Anglicised as well. These should not be dismissed as non-English words as they have entered the lexicon of English.

Teachers ought to be familiar with the natural usage of lexical items in various genres, both in the spoken and written medium.

Frequent reference to contemporary dictionaries which use authentic examples is essential for comprehending the behaviour of certain lexical expressions.

With regard to our pronunciation, ESL teachers must aim for global intelligibility. By this, it does not mean that ESL teachers should be able to speak like their American and British counterparts.

The English we speak must be understood by others. A strong foreign accent does not help in ELT.

The variety of English we use should not be a challenge for our audience to comprehend.

One does not have to go to a country where English is used as a primary language. Thanks to the modern mass media, we are able to listen and watch various programmes, including language enhancement ones, for a global audience.

This indirectly enables us to pronounce the language in a way which more people would be able to understand.

Teachers also need to be aware of the pronunciation variations between the two globally influential varieties – Standard American and Standard British.

These are used on a global scale, and our students, depending on the countries we teach, may be comfortable with one of the two.

Being proficient in the language is one thing, but it has to be complemented by clear and easy-to-follow pronunciation which goes beyond identification of a specific ethnicity, area or country.

Of accents

It is only normal for us to have many types of accents depending on our experience and exposure. Some accents are considered more prestigious professionally such as Received Pronunciation (RP).

Though not many Britons have an RP accent, this is the accent prescribed and described for teaching purpose in many countries of the Commonwealth and Europe.

It is a status accent. Since this is the case, we ought to aim for a near-RP accent in our own teaching, if we are teaching in countries which prefer this British variety of pronunciation.

This is obviously more intelligible to our listeners and not associated with any particular region.

We need to be free from a heavy first language phonological influence for greater clarity. We also have to recognise the expanding worldwide influence of standard American English or mainstream United States (US) English.

If our teachers had received their TESL training in the US, there is no harm in using this international variety.

Our students have a lot to gain by acquiring the two most influential varieties. This will also be to their advantage if they seek to work abroad. Their job prospects become much better in a globalised environment.

Also, we teachers have to regularly reflect on teaching. Some pertinent questions that teachers need to consider are: Did the students show interest in the lesson? Was participation forthcoming? Did the students seem to understand? Were they able to respond accurately or satisfactorily to the questions posed to them? Did the teachers feel they could have done better?

Teachers can also record a full lesson on video. By doing so, we study and observe our own strengths and weaknesses.

Teachers must continue to read professional and leisure materials in print and online.

There are professional ELT communities with whom we can interact through email and social networking sites. We need to continuously practise our language skills too.

It will be good if we carry out some informal activities which can contribute to our overall proficiency. These include watching sitcoms, documentaries and international news broadcasts. Focus on the language used as it could be real or nearly authentic, not bookish or artificial.

At home, it would be appropriate to use English with family along with our native language.

English can be used in ways which are compatible with our religion, culture and beliefs.

As English language teachers, we need to have resources which we can turn to. They include websites on the Internet that give us a wealth of information on numerous aspects of the language and linguistics.

It also includes Standard American and Standard British English which are considered teaching models, the online Thesaurus and dictionaries with sample and authentic sentences.

There are enormous benefits of sharing experiences, reviewing each other’s notes and papers and organising workshops, among others.

Fresh graduates ought to sit in and observe senior teachers during lessons. Veteran teachers may not be tech-savvy.

Still, new teachers may benefit by consulting senior teachers about classroom methodology and content difficulties.

Peer feedback is valuable, but sensitivities may be involved here. If we can look at the bigger picture objectively, there is much to be gained about our classroom performance, students’ behaviour, delivery of lessons and pedagogy itself.

We may also develop professionally from the feedback provided by our students.

This is when they are asked to evaluate teachers on criteria such as their knowledge of the subject, if lessons were interesting and whether student participation was encouraged.

Most of us would have come into ELT with professional teaching qualifications. But we need to regularly update ourselves through in-service training courses. We can also attend other programmes organised by other parties including public and private universities.

Teachers should also attend academic gatherings to boost their confidence.

Let us not forget that teacher development is a worthwhile investment. It benefits the teacher directly and the learners indirectly.

Learners stand to gain from the expertise and professional development invested in their teachers.

As English language teachers, we ought to aspire to acquire overall linguistic competence. We really need to immerse ourselves in the language so that we may have native speaker language competence.

By doing so, we can set a benchmark for ourselves. Our efforts require lifelong interest and passion. We have to be good enough not only to teach here at home, but also abroad.

Teaching English has become a globally competitive enterprise. We cannot and should not lose out to our competitors.

Developing digital strategies in teaching

Teachers come up with solutions to build 21st century skills among students at a recent global gathering for educators.

FOR a teacher, conducting a technology-infused lesson is not as easy as teaching from the board and telling students to submit homework in the traditional form – the exercise book.

It means familiarising oneself with technology tools, turning textbook content into interactive lessons online and making a requirement for students to complete their homework electronically.

A moment of pride: Nur Riza (fifth from left) and her team with Salcito (third from left) at the awards ceremony.

Sometimes, it also means carrying a laptop and an LCD projector to class, setting up the devices and ensuring that the Internet connection works.

One needs to prepare a backup plan, too, such as downloading videos or preparing handouts, in case a technical glitch occurs.

1 Deep in discussion: Hemawathi (third from left) teaming up with other E2 participants to work out a classroom hack.2 A meeting of minds: Mohd Norhafeez sharing his technology-integrated lessons with a participant at the E2.3 Grantham: It is Microsoft’s vision to ensure seamless continuity for education and for the labour market.
Deep in discussion: Hemawathi (third from left) teaming up with other E2 participants to work out a classroom hack.

These are some of the extra efforts innovative teachers like Nur Riza Alias, Hemawathi Gopinathan, Mohd Norhafeez Jusoh and Azizul Othman have taken upon themselves.

Their reward is in seeing students excited, engaged and encouraged.

Their undertakings have proven to be worthwhile. They have not only been recognised as Microsoft Innovative Educator (MIE) experts, but have also won a spot at the 2016 Microsoft Global Educator Exchange (E2) held in Budapest, Hungary, recently.

The three-day event saw the Malaysian teachers banding together with 300 of their counterparts from around the world to exchange ideas, collaborate and find good solutions to use in the classroom.

In addition, their keen desire to qualify as a Microsoft Certified Educator (MCE) was fulfilled when they sat for exams to gain certification in Budapest and passed.

According to Microsoft, the MCE certification validates that educators have the technology literacy competencies to provide a rich, custom learning experience for students.

“Passing the MCE exam is very important to us. It gives us the assurance that we have the skill set to integrate technology in the classroom and to assist students and other teachers in developing 21st century skills,” said Hemawathi, an English and Moral Studies teacher at SMK Yam Tuan Radin, Negri Sembilan.

Clear winners

The awards were the culmination of their group efforts in designing classroom “hacks” using Office Mix, a free extension to PowerPoint with interactive features like audio and video narration.

In their respective teams, the teachers worked to identify a common problem they all shared in the classroom, and proposed a “hack” or innovative solution that matched their assigned “hacker personas”.

Their teams were among 15 top three winners selected across five “hacker persona” categories.

A meeting of minds: Mohd Norhafeez sharing his technology-integrated lessons with a participant at the E2.
A meeting of minds: Mohd Norhafeez sharing his technology- integrated lessons with a participant at the E2.

“It was a big night for us. We were in three different teams but to our surprise, all three teams won the challenge. It was amazing and we just couldn’t believe it.

“The competition was tough as there were a total of 50 groups. My team worked really hard for the project and up to the point of submission, we were still having discussions,” said Nur Riza.

An English teacher at SMK Tanjung Datuk, Johor, she was recently transferred to SMK Subang Bestari, Selangor.

Her team focused on getting students to be attentive during the first five minutes of a lesson, deemed the most crucial part.

Their project submission earned them the third place in the Gamify Category. It focused on “gamifying’ the initial five minutes. Gamify in this context means challenging students to complete a task and incorporating game elements like competition and reward, to get them interested.

“Our Office Mix shows how teachers can collect students’ points, convert scores into data and check progress via Excel,” she said, adding that students could view the scoreboard and be fuelled by the desire to reach the top tier.

Mohd Norhafeez worked with his team to come up with personalised learning which had to meet the needs of all students.

The first runner-up in the Personalise Category, his team addressed the lack of global citizenship among students.

As a solution, they designed an activity for students from five countries to collaborate on a task, which required them to use Minecraft, a video game, to build structures that depict the attractions in their respective countries.

“The activity develops creativity in students, and encourages peer teaching, communication, and sharing of global ideas,” said Mohd Norhafeez, a Biology teacher at MRSM Tun Mustapha in Tawau, Sabah.

Grantham: It’s Microsoft’s vision to ensure a seamless continuity for education and for the labour market.
Grantham: It is Microsoft’s vision to ensure seamless continuity for education and for the labour market.

“It also compels students to engage technology tools and develop digital awareness – all in a safe online environment,” he added, explaining that students could use OneNote to carry out online planning and collaboration, and Skype for communication, apart from going on Minecraft to work on the actual task.

In the Strategise Category, Hemawathi and her team took the second spot. The team identified the lack of student engagement in the classroom as a universal problem.

Their solution? Getting them to share what they want to learn on OneNote and then making decisions based on student feedback.

For the uninitiated, OneNote is a note-taking app designed by Microsoft that allows users to create digital notebooks where they jot down ideas, share information and collaborate with others.

The OneNote Class Notebook makes it easier for teachers to create interactive lessons, organise their lesson plans and course content, keep track of student work, and collaborate with students and colleagues.

The recently-released OneNote Class Notebook Add-in was designed to support teachers.

“There was much emphasis on the use of OneNote in the classroom. Most teachers we met at the E2 are using it to share information and monitor their students’ work and discussions,” said Azizul, a Biology teacher at MRSM Johor Baru, Johor.

He added that he had at the educator exchange, learnt more functions of OneNote to incorporate in his classroom.

At the E2, Skype was another application recommended as a useful educational tool to expand collaboration and interaction.

Through Skype, teachers can organise virtual field trips by setting up “tours” to places like museums or classrooms in another part of the world.

Microsoft Central and Eastern Europe president Don Grantham, in his opening speech, affirmed the potential of Skype to transform education.

“It engages and unites educators and students around the world; it enables students to learn from each other, sparks imagination, encourages global citizenship, and prepares everyone for a truly connected world,” he said.

Teacher trailblazers: (From left) Hemawathi, Azizul, Mohd Norhafeez and Nur Riza were the four MIE experts who represented the country at the E2.
Teacher trailblazers: (From left) Hemawathi, Azizul, Mohd Norhafeez and Nur Riza were the four MIE experts who represented the country at the E2.

Such innovative global classroom collaboration was an eye-opening experience for Nur Riza.

“It gave me the idea of extending collaboration beyond the classroom and even globally. Before this, student collaboration in my class had always been among classmates,” she said.

Focus on the five Cs

Communication, collaboration, creativity, critical thinking and computational thinking – these were the five Cs promoted as essential life skills for 21st century learners at the E2.

Microsoft Worldwide Education vice president Anthony Salcito said that they are the “foundation or arsenal that every student needs to succeed in life and the workforce”.

“The core elements of education are shifting to one that is focused on skills. Employers are valuing the needs for entrepreneurship, creation, collaboration and computational thinking,” he said.

Salcito highlighted the need for teachers to expand their innovations and provide immersive activities. This was to enable them to develop skills which would help students to not only progress across their core disciplines and subjects, but become more employable later in life.

Addressing the E2 participants, Grantham also underscored the importance of ensuring students have the digital skills to become tomorrow’s innovators and leaders.

“It is Microsoft’s vision to ensure seamless continuity for education and for the labour market,” he said.

Grantham said that the European Commission had stated that by 2020, almost all jobs (90%) would require some level of digital skills; and there could be as many as 825,000 unfilled vacancies for IT professionals around the world.

“It is a huge challenge but also a fantastic opportunity. If we can assist students in building digital skills, we can help them to find their place in the workplace and reverse youth unemployment,” he said.

As part of its mission to empower 1.4 billion students around the world to achieve more, Microsoft has been working together with teachers and students to create and share technologies in new ways.

Worldwide, it has over 1.5 million teachers and school leaders in its Educator Community, thousands of MIE experts and hundreds of Microsoft Showcase Schools. They lead the way in creating a school learning environment empowered by technology.

From listening to the keynote speeches to collaborating with their teams to design classroom hacks, the Malaysian teachers came away buzzing with inspiration to use technology to maximise impact on learning.

As MIEs, it is also their job now to inspire their peers to take on innovations and explore new ideas of teaching and learning in and out of the classroom.

“Teachers should not be afraid of using technology. It is an enabler, not an obstacle. We need to equip students with digital skills and prepare them for the future,” said Mohd Norhafeez.

Nur Riza added, “Skype and many other tools are the technologies of today, not tomorrow. Stay current. The world of education is transforming, whether you like it or not. Your students stand to lose if you don’t keep up.”

“The teachers at the E2 are tech-savvy, regardless of their age, which goes to show that technology is not just for new or young teachers but for everyone to use,” she emphasised.

Tamas Deutsch, the commissioner of the Hungarian Digital Success Programme, said, “A nation’s strength lies in the abundance of people equipped with digital skills.

“The traditional ways of employment are also changing. It’s wise for everyone to prepare their own digital strategy.”

All subjects contain thinking skills

THE HOTS (Higher Order Thinking Skills) questions are making inroads into our public examinations. Be it SPM (Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia), PT3 (Pentaksiran Tingkatan Tiga) or UPSR (Ujian Pencapaian Sekolah Rendah), the plan is to gradually increase the percentage or number of HOTS questions in every relevant examination paper.

HOTS enables students to apply what they have learnt in new and different settings. It enhances their analysing, rationalising, reasoning, communicating and decision-making abilities which are all useful living skills.

The Education Ministry and all schools should rightly encourage HOTS, and students, especially those in secondary schools, must bravely take up the challenge to master it. Nevertheless, here are a few areas of concern that I hope the Education Ministry and/or Pemandu (Performance Management Delivery Unit) should address.

Firstly, HOTS entails and prerequires a thorough understanding and knowledge of the relevant subject matter. If a particular subject topic is not taught in your years of schooling up to the time you take an examination, no amount of training in thinking skills will be able to help you answer a question on that topic.

In this context, it is interesting to note that the lack of HOTS among our students has long been touted as a main cause of our students’ lackadaisical Pisa (Programme of International Students Achievements) performance. Is this a fair conclusion? I would not object to students being given “special” training in higher order thinking skills.

But, I would also think that properly conducted Science and Mathematics lessons would have many elements of HOTS already incorporated in them.

Do we still emphasise in our Science and Mathematics classes skills, such as observation, systematic data collection, tabulation and graphical presentation, interpretation, comparison, inferences, analysis, projection, induction, deduction and synthesis, among others?

A Science and Mathematics question of substance and quality, at any level, demands one or a combination of the above-mentioned skills.

So you can say, the higher order thinking skills are already in our classrooms, they just have not been fully exploited.

To bring them out requires much perseverance and sacrifice from both students and teachers.

Secondly, HOTS encapsulates critical and creative thinking. It results in creativity and innovativeness, bringing forth “creations” and innovations.

The mind has to be free and relaxed, and the environment has to be conducive to facilitate such adventures. So, is an examination setting in an enclosed hall or classroom and with limited time constraints the right avenue to exercise and test HOTS?

Real scientific discoveries, and artistic and creative works and master pieces are not done as “scheduled”.

And, when they are accomplished, they are usually welcomed with shouts of “Eureka!”, and much jubilations and celebrations.

There has to be liberty of the spirit. If answering HOTS questions are challenging, setting and designing the questions will certainly be a daunting task.

Turning the table around, can we expect teachers who are assigned to set HOTS questions to be able to write a required number of questions within the time and space constraints as encountered by students in examination?

We have heard how some CIT (Communication Information Technology) firms give much flexibility in both working hours and working environment to their professional staff just so that they can explore their creativity and innovativeness to the fullest.

Many of their final products are proofs of how the human minds work best. HOTS thrive in non-threatening environment.

Thirdly, HOTS transcend curricula that is across all syllabi and not confined to any particular subject.

We do not need specific HOTS questions in every examination subject paper.

We can have a stand-alone HOTS paper that transcends all subjects and this paper can take a longer duration than other subject papers.

Liong Kam Chong Seremban, 28 DECEMBER 2015 @ 11:01AM