7 February 2010
Posted by DAVID BC TAN under: Malaysian schools.
A letter to Malaysiakini by someone who addressed himself/herself as Angry Parent despairs over the way education is going in Malaysia. The point in the letter is the policy reversal relating to the teaching of Science and Math in English. Six years after its implementation, these two subjects will now be taught (again) in Bahasa Malaysia beginning in 2011. The language row has been intensely fought by proponents on both sides of the fence. But as this parent explains, advocates of “a near-monolingual educational system in Malaysia will eventually paint themselves and the entire country into a corner.”
Arguing for BM, the Government pointed to less than sterling performance among students in rural constituencies who struggle with English, even as other politicians, academicians, and nationalists, decry the use of English as a medium of instruction a betrayal of culture. (Here are 2 arguments for BM – here and here).Angry Parent writes that English as the language of choice in the global arena as well as in the fields of science and technology underscores its relevance and importance for Malaysian students, and more urgently, the country’s future too.
Although the English language lags behind with an estimated 1.3 billion speakers, it has the widest distribution covering 54 countries within the British Commonwealth across all six inhabited continents, in the US and is widely utilised within the European Union, particularly in the Scandinavian countries.
In fact, English is often the language of choice used in proceedings and documentation within the UN Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), based in Geneva. English is not only advancing in the world of science and technology, it is also gaining momentum in countries where English is not even a national language.
The progressive evolution of international trade, ICT and education has changed this world into a border-less one. Partisans who continue to advocate a near-monolingual educational system in Malaysia will eventually paint themselves and the entire country into a corner.
Is it any wonder that so many of our local university graduates are not employable or marketable because most of them are monolingual? Many of these so-called educationists themselves are not employable in the private sector, nor are they prominent leaders in the world of science and technology.
To be a developed country, one needs a world-class educational system. Not one that is determined by partisan politics.
Angry Parent gives more examples of the published use of English in the sciences, tech tools and devices (including e Readers that make English medium books even more accessible), the continuing brain drain of the country’s young and brightest, and highlights what Malaysian students stand to lose.
In addition, online courses and reference materials are blooming on the Internet. Most of them are in English. Leading technical institutions, such as, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have made a wide range of lectures by its teaching staff freely available over the Internet through its OpenCourseWare (OCW) programme.
The Public Library of Science (PLoS), a non-profit organisation of scientists and physicians committed to making the world’s scientific and medical literature a freely available public resource, is publishing papers covering biology, medicine, computational biology, genetics, pathogens and tropical diseases which are, likewise, freely available through its website.
Other leading institutions, such as the University of California at Berkeley (UCB) and Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) are joining hands with MIT in this effort. They have even set up channels on YouTube. College students around the world can now experience and access world-class lectures from MIT, UCB and CMU, minus the fees, from YouTube.
Angry Parent concludes:
Therefore, is it any wonder that our ‘brain drain’ is literally irreversible, the multimedia super- corridor remains nothing more than a real-estate project and our biotechnology park and ‘rubber city’ remain a far-fetched dream.
In taking one step forward, the country has taken two steps backward. And for all this, we have our short-term thinking politicians to thank for.
5 August 2009
Posted by DAVID BC TAN under: Malaysian schools.
I didn’t want to be knocking our education system or the good teachers who are trying to make a difference, but then I caught this article in the STAR.
When will we ever learn
by Jacqueline Pereira
They say a teacher’s job is never done, but our columnist tells why she is done with teaching.
I NEVER wanted to be a teacher. Looking back now, it was a short, five-year career stint that began with a deliberately badly done entrance exam and a sulky monosyllabic interview.
I categorically stated that I did not want to teach. Yet I was accepted.
In the beginning, it all went well. The teacher training process was unexpectedly engaging. From tennis to trekking, English Literature and lesson planning, every day was an absorbing learning experience.
The assignments, though many, were creative and thought-provoking. Even better, we were located in the middle of Kuala Lumpur. With the thriving distractions the city offered in the late 1980s, college life was a party that did not end for two-and-a-half years.
Nevertheless, that first semester, my mates and I worked really hard at our coursework. All outings were put on hold while, in our cramped hostel rooms, we concentrated on passing our exams.
That was until we sat for the first paper. We simply couldn’t believe our luck. It was easy, and in the following semesters we wised up.We would sneak back into our hostels at 7am after another disco-crawl, then shower, change and dash into the halls to sit for our exams. And we graduated at the top of our class.
Thus, with armfuls of ideas, renewed enthusiasm and misguided (as I would find out later) idealism, the first few terms in a real school were very satisfying.
The makeshift library at the back of the classroom actually attracted students to read. The speak-English-only day saw students hesitantly trying out new words with their limited vocabulary. And I had a growing collection of gifts – stickers and used erasers.
So, despite not wanting to be a teacher, I greatly enjoyed the process of imparting knowledge to receptive young minds, testing their capabilities and truly appreciating the progress these students made by the end of each school year.
The teaching stint also presented me with opportunities to be creative and to experiment with teaching methods and tools to enhance the students’ learning experience.
Yet, eventually, all good intentions faded.
For a start, 80% of my coursemates could hardly speak English, let alone complete their assignments without help.
(Read the rest here)
10 June 2009
If there’s one thing practically all of us are in agreement, it is this: something is terribly wrong with our education system but no one really knows how to fix it. So it no longer surprises anyone to hear that some institutions of higher learning are deliberately lowering standards to ensure their students pass crucial exams. Now isn’t this rather unbecoming – and curious – of academia, especially when an institution’s reputation could well be shredded by this kind of hanky-panky.
On the other hand, what is the public to make of the exam achievements of our primary and secondary school kids then? Following every public school exams we are feted to stories after stories of beaming students with strings of As. In March this year, Education Ministry director-general Datuk Alimuddin Mohd Dom announced that in SPM 6,277 students scored straight A’s in all subjects compared with 5,060 in 2007. From the total 1,676 scored A1s in all subjects compared with 892 in 2007. So are Malaysian school kids getting smarter? Not so it seems.
It is common knowledge that a lot of tertiary students including these same straight As students are underperforming in college. They are doing so poorly, lecturers have to lower the bar so that the numbers look better. College lecturers I know admit the practice is so rampant no one bats an eyelid.
While fingers are pointed at colleges and universities for these regrettable lapses, educators trace the rot to secondary schools.
“We know of students who got straight As for PMR coming into our centre and they literally can’t string together sentences properly,” says Tan Poay Lim, principal of Creative Horizons Language Centre.
“Numbers of distinctions now are so high but the performance is still so low. Put the two and two together and you know that our standards have dropped.”
With 20 years of teaching experience behind him, Creative Education Consultancy managing director Alagesan Arumugam has seen certain trends in the public school examinations.
“I have assessed some of my students and find it hard to comprehend that they are distinction students,” he says. “On my tests, they would get 55% but end up getting 1A in SPM. It does look like it’s relatively easy to score an A these days.” [More]
According to this report, low standards in schooling assessments are apparently the culprit.
So what’s the real problem here? Is it the language, the medium of instruction? Is it the lack of state-of-the-art facilities, computers and projectors? Crowded classrooms? The teaching methodology perhaps? Should we blame the curriculum? Or the ridiculously unimaginative textbooks our kids are fed with?
If you think this is a peculiarly Malaysian problem, do a bit of googling. You’ll see that in almost every civilized country, there is just as much concern about declining education standards. Among critics it is thought that less political interference and more diversity, choice and competition will do the trick. Leave it to market forces, so they say. Surely, it is argued, if parents were given a choice of schools they prefer to send their children to, good ones will grow while bad ones would fold.
But according to The Economist (25th April), recently published research by the Institute of Education showed that neither choice nor competition has improved education standards, at least in the UK.
Significantly, a lot of research already shows that the answer lies in the hands of teachers. Good teachers, that is (See here and here). However while no one doubts that good teaching matters, there is little consensus about what makes a teacher effective, or what constitutes a good teacher. Meanwhile in education circles, the argument whether a certified teacher makes a qualified one continues to rage. According to conventional wisdom the more knowledge a teacher possesses (or the more training a teacher undergoes), the better qualified this teacher is.
Which is why critics of homeschool love to question if parents have what it takes to educate their own children.
For sure more training and more qualification can only improve teacher quality, but do they always translate into better teaching? On this point the jury is out. As numerous reports such as the ones mentioned suggest, conventional schools aren’t exactly doing a good job either, even with all the emphasis on training and certification. Besides, why isn’t more done to turn out better teachers?
My take is that a classroom teacher and a homeschooling teacher are two different things. There’s a world of difference between teaching a class of 40 children according to a set syllabus, and educating your child at home. Obviously, the parent-child dynamics in the comfort of home are different. A parent as teacher is really a resource person and facilitator. This doesn’t mean teaching a child at home is less demanding; it just means it requires a somewhat different approach, employing different sets of skills.
This is already a long piece, so I’ll write about being a parent-teacher in my next post.
28 April 2009
Posted by DAVID BC TAN under: Public Schooling.
When I first read what a certain head of a private school said about homeschooling, my first reaction was disbelief. And quite disturbed too, that an article on homeschooling should end with such an ill-informed quote by a school head on schooling and education.
I think I can live with people who do not buy into homeschooling or who say that homeschool is not for everybody. But it is hard to accept that this educator believes schools in this country are the “only place where a child can experience a holistic and complete education.” Saying that schools are the best place for education is like saying a bus is best or the only vehicle for transporting a lot of people. The question educators have to ask themselves is, where is the bus taking all these people? What are schools supposed to produce?
In the first place it goes against common wisdom that education and schooling are two separate things. It was no less a personage than educator and philosopher Mortimer Adler (he also served on the Encyclopaedia Britannica’s Board of Directors) who once said that schooling is not education, that “no one has ever been or can be educated in school or college.” It all has to do with one’s philosophy of education, and this coming from a man who first dropped out of school at 14 before becoming the brilliant scholar known the world over, makes good sense.
Secondly, such a stoic defense of our schools goes against the clamour about the state of our education system – many parents are voting with their feet, like homeschoolers, deserting our public schools for alternatives and options elsewhere. Not a day passes without a media report about how our schools are failing. The amount of statistical evidence and research findings pointing to Malaysia’s deteriorating school performance and university ranking is too much to reference. In a talk delivered at the 12th Malaysian Education Summit 2008, Hanif Merican said:
“The undeniable truth is that we have allowed the education policies of successive governments since 1969 to divide our country racially, religiously, culturally, linguistically and economically in the name of nationalistic jingoism and communalism – and, ultimately, more for the protection of the party political elite than for their constituents….Meanwhile, as each year slips by, the end products of our education system move further and further from the ideals we espouse in our mission statements.”
Now if you read his whole address, you can see where he’s coming from. Let me say it’s not a pretty picture.
Thirdly, in spite of the grand vision of providing the one place where children can “learn holistically” and “gauge” their performance, the reality is tragically lost in translation, as they say. Almost every parent I have ever spoken to has despaired that our schools so highly esteemed by its educators have failed their children. Yes, they may say one or two things that are positive, but the test of the pudding is in the eating. I happen to agree with Willi Schohaus (Dark Places of Education) when he wrote that, “The most elementary, the most obvious condition which the school should achieve is that the children will want to go there.” Now isn’t that true? Just try asking any kid if they would go to school if given a choice.
Perhaps our educators need to hear what our own school students and graduates have to say about their personal schooling experience? Here’s what one ex-student has to say about what school meant to him:
- Get up and 6am. Take our breakfast (Usually misses it). Go to school.
- If it’s early, we catch up with friends. Talk about soccer matches yesterday. Crap. Chelsea lost 1-0 to MU yesterday night. MU lucky only lah. Yeah right you losers.
- The teacher comes, we rush into the class. Greet the teacher.
- Take out our books and turn to page 69 and listen to boring lectures.
- Eagerly wait for the first break.
- Happy Hour Starts. Talk crap.
- Boring lectures continues…
- Eagerly waits for the second break.
- Happy Hour Take Two. Talk crap again.
- Boring lectures resumes…
- Eagerly waits for the 12:35pm “Go Home” bell.
- The bell rings. We go home.
For the whole painful post, check out what this blog has to say, and don’t miss the frank and amusing comments posted (last I counted there were 59 of them). Reads like some tragic comedy.
What I fail to understand is this: every other day we hear reports of school gangs and violence, school bags that weigh a ton, graduates who cannot fit, dropouts, unimaginative teaching methods, overcrowded classrooms, and under-qualified teachers, the rampant tuition culture, etc. Yet you get news about a family that homeschools, and somehow it’s bad for the child. All too often whenever students fail, parents are blamed. It is amazing that schools know how to point at parents, yet educators bear not an iota of responsibility when they fail students by the thousands. And when parents decide to take charge to be responsible and home educate, these same educators are up in arms.
“Why is it that millions of children who are pushouts or dropouts amount to business as usual in the public schools, while one family educating a child at home becomes a major threat to universal public education and the survival of democracy?” so writes Stephen Arons in his critique of compulsory schooling entitled, Compelling Belief. Never a truer word was spoken!
I am not saying homeschool is foolproof, or that it is somehow superior in every way. Admittedly not every homeschool child does well (measured against conventional standards), but it has a lot going for it that makes success achievable. To say that educating one’s own child is somehow illegitimate (unless one’s child is unable to attend school!?) or even incompatible with education is surely living in denial pure and simple.
Let me close this long post with a quote by my favourite educator and 3-time New York City Teacher of the year John Gatto:
Schools were conceived to serve the economy and the social order rather than kids and families — that is why it is compulsory. As a consequence, the school can not help anybody grow up, because its prime directive is to retard maturity. It does that by teaching that everything is difficult, that other people run our lives, that our neighbors are untrustworthy even dangerous. School is the first impression children get of society. Because first impressions are often the decisive ones, school imprints kids with fear, suspicion of one another, and certain addictions for life. It ambushes natural intuition, faith, and love of adventure, wiping these out in favor of a gospel of rational procedure and rational management. [More]
So many of us parents lament the dearth of good schools, when what we really want for our children is a good education. The solution came after my wife and I decided to stop complaining and start taking control. That is why we chose to homeschool.
17 April 2009
Posted by DAVID BC TAN under: Public Schooling.
In the new issue of OFF THE EDGE (Apr 09 #52), Patrick Teoh tells of waking up at 5.57am to prepare his 8-year daughter for school. Driving along the MRR2, the doting father is asked by her sleepy daughter: “Why does school have to be like this?”
Oh-oh, the poor girl has got her dad started: “…it is because of our education system and that if we were living in another country with a mature and properly managed education system, it would be different…”
Patrick is railing again (like the rest of us dissatisfied taxpayers), and he knows that a short drive won’t be enough time to explain what ‘education’ is, or what a ‘mature and properly managed education system’ looks like. Much less to a little girl whose future is rather unfairly determined by the whims of politicians with questionable intelligence. This unhappy state of affairs isn’t about to be changed any time soon and Patrick rightly laments there is “nothing positive” to say about Malaysia’s education system.
Well, I know the feeling. In a sense, I’m glad we’re way beyond this troubling scenario now that our own boys are 19 and 17.
But, what goes on in the minds of parents faced with the heart-breaking prospect of leaving their school-going kids in the talons of Malaysia’s education system? I imagine any of the following 10 responses, or a combination of all, perhaps?
1. Schools in Malaysia are okay. After all aren’t we adults products of Malaysian education and we’re okay?
2. Schools in Malaysia become better with parents’ involvement. If I want change, my kids will have to be a part of it and I’ll help change it from inside. Like joining the PTA.
3. Education in Malaysia sucks, but some schools are better than others. I can pull strings, get my kids transferred to better schools.
4. Don’t register your kid with government schools. Luckily there are private schools (or Chinese-language schools, residential schools, international schools, etc).
5. Malaysian schools are bad but it’s all we have. So my child will have to bite the bullet and chalk up this nasty but necessary phase as part of life experiences and good for character building.
6. Anyway, it’s not all about schooling, but parenting. Statistics show that where home is secure and loving, and where parents are involved in their kids’ education and schools, their children grew up well-adjusted. So we’ll be okay.
7. Look, this is our lot. You don’t like this country, just leave. It’s our fate and we just have to live with it and make the most of it. Schooling isn’t the only thing in life what. God will take care of everything.
8. The future is overseas! If there is no future in Malaysian education, I’ll move to NZ or Australia for my children’s sake.
9. If we love our country, we must subject our children to national schools. For the sake of national unity – It’s the only way to be united as one people with one common language and aspiration.
10. Who says our schools are bad? We are not Zimbabwe. Anyway, the Government is rolling out reforms already, like teaching Science and Math in English.
My own response is simple. If the schoolbus is taking you places you’d rather not go, or if it keeps breaking down, get off.
10 November 2005
Posted by DAVID BC TAN under: Malaysian schools.
AB Sulaiman makes a no-holds barred commentary on the state of education in Malaysia following our local universities’ slide in international ranking. His frank and painful analysis leads him to admit that the unintended consequences of social engineering in the country is the 800-pound gorilla in the way of progress.