Speak as if you were educated.

Education is the right of parents, NOT the government’s. Home schooling is the answer. Private tutors are always available.If English is used to teach maths and science, we can say goodbye to international schools that is ripping off Malaysian of their hard earned money. A certain percentage of English teachers were requested to for the Cambridge Placement Test. The time duration for this CPT test is only 30 minutes. The teachers have to sit and answer Multiple choice Questions. How do you judge the English proficiency of the teachers based on the half an hour MCQ questions. Doesn’t this sound ridiculous.

Of course there wouldn’t be enough teachers of English. You killed the cultivation and growth of such species 42 years ago.There is supposed to be be greater autonomy to schools and the Board of governors. the revolution should start there. With the board of governors. They should say no to syllabus and teachers provided by the MOE. They should probably kick off the government’s admin and staff and convert the school to a private one charging fees. But it does not have to be one of those international school types that charge enormous amounts that only the rich can afford. Good English speakers who would potentially consider teaching in Government schools and who the government should be talking to would also be sought by call centres. I believe call centres pay better. go into call centres and you will see a bias for a certain sector of the population being predominantly represented. These people are not going to consider government jobs as they were previously discriminated for being just that. Non-Malay.

On one hand we have strident demands for regional language teaching, and on the other a booming market in ‘Learn English’ coaching classes. The bandwagon demanding regional language teaching and textbooks is gathering voice, the gravy train called English training has gathered momentum.

The voice of the people is often heard through the money they spend. Which means that the people want to learn English more than they want regional language tuition. If there was such a strong felt need for regional language training, people would have found the money for it, as they have, for English language training.

Of course the demand for the English language is based on the number of employment opportunities it opens up. If work in offices was conducted in regional languages, then there would be less incentives to invest in a ‘foreign’ language, surely. But employment at higher levels of pay demands the ability to communicate in English almost everywhere in India.

There is clearly a role for regional language teaching especially in younger years. Children do understand their mother tongue better than they can interpret a language they may not have heard in their homes or outside. Many do remain far more comfortable with their first language through their early years and are able to process information faster if it is delivered in that language. It is also likely to slow down their ability to process information in other languages when required, even if they have learnt other languages. It is also well researched and proven time and again that those who learn two to three languages have higher order learning skills than those who restrict themselves to one language.

There is also a limit to what regional languages can do for an ambitious and capable individual. The region. If one has the capablilty to perform a job outside a region, the lack of an inter-regional or international language will clearly restrict mobility. Not just that, the lack of multiple perspectives learnt from other regions via global languages will result in a very limited individual  – unable to step up to a higher plane. Upward mobility is clearly hampered by restricting language skills.

At the same time, we are faced by the ghostly faces of those students who committed suicide in higher education institutions as they could not keep up with English medium teaching. That was indeed a tragedy. It is easy to say that they should not have been there in the first place if they could not cope with the curriculum. But cannot be a valid argument when regional language options of similar quality are unavailable. Also, mere language cannot hold back capable engineers and doctors, or even philosophers. They have to be given a chance to break through their barriers, and the support to do so.

Therein lies the problem. We do not have external or internal pathways to traverse language barriers.

If any student signs up for a higher education degree in say, Germany, without any knowledge of the language, then what happens? How do they manage? Well, for starters, they need to have a working knowledge of the language. That is a given. But more importantly, once they are there, they have the option of investing in onsite and offsite language courses. That part of our infrastructure is seriously lacking. And needs work.

Of course there will be those who will say – but that is abroad. Why should we be made to feel inferior in our own country? Why should we have to retrain in languages that do not belong to our country (and pay for it) when we have perfectly well developed languages that have stood the test of time? Why should we pander to our colonial past? And so on.

Sure, you have the option of staying out. If there are enough of you that seek regional language higher education, I am sure you will be able to mobilise support to create a case – both economic and emotional foregional language institutions. But having made that choice, please do not complain that mobility in employment is limited. Do remember, employers do not owe you a living. They invest only in those who can stay and progress with them in the long run. This is the choice one makes when one seeks to remain in the well one started off with initially.

The other issue in reinforcing regionalism via language is of course political. As I write this Bangalore is awash with rumours that people from the north east are fleeing in droves as they feel threatened. That is shameful. What is more shameful is that such a rumour was not laughed at as ridiculous – as one would expect in a country that is comfortable with its multi-regionalism. In India-defined by language.

Language teaching of course is the remit of state governments, and bilingual textbooks in early learning have been seen as a way out of this conundrum. Students can learn at their own pace and chose to transition to the language of mobilty at the stage they want to, not before. It is also true that many classrooms in India are already de-facto bilingual classrooms with the teachers using regional languages to get their meaning across comprehensively.

The secret here is that there is no secret. We know regional language teaching is valuable. We know global languages are essential to reach higher pay grades. We know that this takes two things – intent and funds. We have the resources to design and deliver this. Why not invest, then?

Sitting in a discussion on student performance at a post graduate institute for professionals, the head turned around and said, “Their marks were so bad that I had to call their parents”

I froze.

Marks? Parents?

In a post graduate institute for professionals, this did not fit. The students had already worked full time before they joined this place, and many of then already had their next jobs in hand. Some of them were around 30 years old, all of them over 23 years of age.

Why ‘call the parents’? Are these people not adults? Responsible for their own lives? Taking charge of their own future? Should they not be running their own show?

I raised the same question at another session I was teaching on education policy. Why should parents get involved in the higher education process? I expected faster and more convincing responses – considering that group was active, intelligent and vocal. The best – though still not convincing enough reason was – my mother is paying for this course, so she is interested. Really, that was the only justification for parental concern – money? Not good enough.

There has to be a difference between parental concern and parental interference. And a stage when parents let go and allow students to bear the consequence of their actions. A student should be in higher education only if they want to be there and are convinced that they will benefit from the effort they put into the learning. The effort must be theirs. As must be the consequences of inaction. Higher education cannot be treated like a bitter pill that one swallows because one’s parents forced one to do so.

Even in the classes at college and university the students are often treated like children – when they are patently not children at all. The ‘professors’ often teach using behavioural tools as pedagogy reducing their own stature. Teaching to a textbook or to an examination is what tutors do, not professors. Professors inspire thought, inquiry, dialogue. Many of them turn around and blame the quality of students for this malaise. They may be right – but only partially. When students join university they are at the cusp of childhood and adulthood. It is the responsibility of the professors to grow them in maturity. The subject content is but a tool to teach thought and process.

Students too are immature, that is true. They have been treated like – pardon the expression – retards for a long time. Some are treated like resource persons at home, some are pampered, others are sheltered. At school, they are asked to walk the line. For those who are treated as grown ups, or at least respected for their resourcefulness at home, the difference in treatment is not easy to handle. Those sheltered at home and good at toeing the line at school suffer no such dissonance, but do they truly grow up?
Students have been schooled by their teachers in certain response patterns. It is easy to maintain discipline if these patterns are submissive. Thus the stick – whether verbal or otherwise has become part of the teacher’s toolkit. This is outdated and often dangerous. More, it is harmful to the mental health of the child who remains immature for their age.

Children have to grow up. The growing up process is one of change. Change is disruptive, and liberating. The school is meant to be a safe place to manage this journey of discovery into self mastery. That is the purpose of a school. A child deserves to go into a higher education institution only if they have a degree of self mastery. In practical terms that means simple things. Can they study without support? Can they arrange their own timetable? Can they manage small amounts of money without getting into trouble? Can they clean their own room? Can they wash and iron their own clothes? Can they live as self sufficient members of society and not be a burden? Do they have mechanisms to deal with their own emotions and not ride or dump on others? This is when they are ready to be trained to contribute to their community.

We see examples of immature ‘adults’ all around us – in politics, in parliament, at work, in society. Our students who go abroad to study and the professionals who were posted abroad will testify to the struggle to grow up emotionally very rapidly – the journey of years that had been missed. The rapid catching up with the rest of the world.

We seek excellence in our education system. A component of this comes from people being able to stand on their own two feet, who can depend on their own spine to get the job done.

A dialogue from the popular film Rocket Singh comes to mind:

“Scooter mein petrol hai, emotion pe control hai”

(There is fuel in my vehicle and I can control my emotions)

The journey to excellence starts from the self.

(For those who do not get the title: the well is from the ‘frog in the well’ sydrome; the beanstalk is the one that took Jack places that he could not access otherwise)

Singapore Education Minister Heng Swee Keat recently announced changes to the education system. But is there a need to change? Aren’t we doing fine?

By many accounts, Singapore has one of the best education systems in the world. Singapore students are top performers in international tests. Its curriculum-based textbooks have been adopted by 39 countries.

A common gripe, however, is that our students are only exam-smart and that our education system is very competitive and highly stressful. Such concerns suggest that there is always room for improvement.

Addressing these concerns at the Ministry of Education’s Work Plan Seminar, Heng unveiled plans for a “Student-Centric, Values-Driven Education” with four key attributes. At first glance, we may wonder whether these are achievable or a far-fetched vision. Is it possible to engage every student? Can every school be a good school? Will every teacher be a caring educator? Will every parent be a supportive partner?

These, in my view, are not statements of outcomes but statements of strategy. The idea is that actions guided by these principles would lead to a better education system through which our learners can receive a well-rounded education, with positive learning experiences. They also reiterate that the responsibility of educating a child rests not just with the school but also with the student, parents and the larger community, reminding us of the African saying, “It takes the whole village to raise a child”.

MEASURING ACHIEVEMENT, TO WHAT END?

In line with this vision, the minister announced the removal of the achievement-oriented school banding, saying that academic results alone cannot be a good yardstick of a good school. While this has been welcomed by some, there is also disappointment expressed that removing competition poses a danger to standards of education.

This makes one wonder about the purpose of the banding.

While the practice has its merits and has served the purpose of identifying schools that have achieved academically, be it in terms of progress or sustained achievement, and spurring innovative programmes to enhance learning, it fails to provide insights on how the school, educators, students and parents have brought out these achievements. So, yes, the banding measures achievement, but the question is, to what end?

Should we simply measure achievement for the sake of measuring, or should we measure achievement to learn and improve? In other words, is measurement going to be of achievement — or for achievement?

COLLABORATE, NOT COMPETE

Interestingly, many of the news articles on this issue have covered only the abolition of the banding but have not elaborated on the alternative that takes its place. This is to recognise key attributes that contribute to a good school, such as best practices in teaching and learning, character and citizenship education, student all-round development, staff development and well-being, and partnership (with parents).

Though banding of schools based on academic results and recognition of good schools based on best practices have the same goal — to improve quality of education — they operate differently.

The awards are suitable as administrative measures of the performance of schools, and therefore push schools to come up with various innovative programmes so as to be the best.

On the other hand, the measures of best practices allow schools to learn from one another and build the overall quality of education in Singapore, while recognising the effort that has gone into this.

So which would be a suitable approach for nurturing our students: Competition (banding) or collaboration (sharing of best practices)? The answer is obvious.

ASSESS STUDENT ENGAGEMENT

What else is needed to make these changes successful?

I hope that there are also changes in ways of assessment. If school assessments continue to be mainly exam-focused and academics-oriented, it is highly likely that this is what schools, educators, students and parents will continue to work on. It stands to logic that what will be delivered is what is going to be measured or counted.

To ensure that the various stakeholders do not go back to the old heavily exam-oriented practices, the way forward would be to assess student engagement as an additional measure.

This would require new tools or tests: We should consider alternative assessments and include more formative tests that support assessment for learning, in addition to the typical summative assessment of learning (such as the final-year exams).

However, as grades in standardised national exams (such as the PSLE, GCE “O” levels, “A” levels) or traditional end-of-year/ module exams have been conventionally used as the “currency of education” to gain admission to higher education or jobs, it is not easy to do away with such exams.

I can hear the murmurs that additional assessment would mean extra work and stress. But this additional assessment will help students learn.

REVIVING “TEACH LESS”

Another aspect not mentioned in the minister’s address was the impact of changes on curriculum.

Student-centric learning activities would require more time, as it involves active engagement and not just passive transmission of information and knowledge to the students.

So the question is, are teachers going to be expected to cover the same curriculum or content to the same extent?

If we expect our teachers to do so, carry on with other teaching-related administrative, co-curricular activities, counselling and mentoring duties and, on top of this, come up with ways to engage students, our teachers are going to be overwhelmed.

Therefore, we may also need to rejuvenate the concept of “Teach Less, Learn More”. With a re-scoped, student-centric curriculum, the focus would be on not content coverage but deeper, meaningful and valuable learning for life.

As an educator, I look forward to the changes, for there are numerous advantages to student-centric education. This is evident from the teaching and learning literature. Based on this, I am also confident that our students would enjoy it and am hopeful that they would adapt well.

As a parent, I look forward to connecting with my kids’ schools and hope this is not limited to information sharing but purposeful interaction. Perhaps, as a first step, schools can consider creating opportunities for parents to experience the student-centric education. Our experience of school was so different that we may need to go back to school today.

* Dr Nachamma Sockalingam holds a PhD in Educational Psychology and is a lecturer at SIM University’s Teaching and Learning Centre.

The just released Education Blueprint was touted to be very comprehensive as it took into account the views and desires of Malaysians who were given opportunities to provide input during dialogues held in major towns across the country.

However, if the responses and loud cheers from large section of the crowd during the dialogues are any indication of popular support and demands by the people, then two such requests are missing in the blueprint i.e. calls for Science and Mathematics be taught in English and, for a non-politician education minister.

In my humble opinion, the blueprint ought to address the desire of many ordinary folks who would like their children to learn Science and Mathematics in its lingua franca i.e. English while fully supporting maintaining the MBMMBI (Upholding the Malay Language and Strengthening the English Language) policy for those who want it.

Interestingly, the rich who can afford to attend international schools as well as Mara sponsored students are enjoying this privilege that is gradually being denied to those attending national schools.

It is an accepted fact that the English language proficiency among our students and workforce is low.

The government has rightly, in this blueprint, seek to tackle this issue by improving the teaching methods, getting better qualified teachers and allocating more teaching hours to it.

These are good starting places to work from but let us be also frank and accept that learning any language in isolation is tough.

Learning English will be very much easier and will be picked up faster when used frequently and applied appropriately.

Realistically, studying both Science and Mathematics in English will provide our pupils, especially from rural areas with a great platform to help elevate their standard of English.

I am also of the opinion that the plan to introduce English literature is premature and contradict the reasons why PPSMI was left out.

The authorities have constantly highlighted that some of our pupil struggled with PPSMI and that we do not have enough capable English teachers for PPSMI, what more English literature which is a much more difficult subject by itself.

In fact, days before the launch, the deputy prime minister said “We have done studies repeatedly and we have found that there is a lack of English teachers” and that “when students did not understand, the teachers reverted to using Bahasa Malaysia to teach the subjects”. (NST 9-Sep-2012 – Improving quality in all areas of education)

Walk before attempting to run. Our immediate and urgent target is students and a mass workforce with a higher proficiency in English, not flooding the country with Shakespeareans!

We should only consider introducing English literature in future when the standard of English amongst our students is good enough, thus reducing the likelihood of failing, which could lead to abandoning yet another overly ambitious policy.

The other loud call was for a professional and highly experienced academician to be the education minister and this popular request received among the loudest applause in the dialogues.

It is obvious that the rakyat does not want any more politicians in that post. Many (including our former DPM, Musa Hitam) are alarmed and have had enough of seeing our education standard deteriorate continuously over the years with no end in sight, not to mention numerous “politically inclined” policy decisions made.

The people have spoken and the message was indeed conveyed up. An attendee of two roundtable discussions on education revealed in his blog that “there was an almost unanimous agreement that English should be made the medium of instruction for at least Mathematics and Science”.

How and why then, were these two well-supported requests left out of the blueprint?

Whoever made this decision had betrayed the people!

As parents and primary stakeholders, we demand that the final blueprint include these two issues to truly reflect and honor the desires of the people.

Improving and empowering teachers and school leadership will be given top priority under the Malaysian Education Blueprint 2012-2025, said Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin.

The deputy prime minister said since 60 per cent of teachers were expected to remain in the education system for another 20 years, efforts to improve their skills and capabilities were of the utmost importance.

The manners of a man are supposed to make him, and her, of course. Without manners we cannot lay claim to being civilised. We acquire these manners through our education and demonstrate it through our communciation – speech and behaviour.

Looking around one may not think so. Many highly educated people have demonstrated otherwise, being rude and uncouth both in public and in private. Education seems to be no guarantee for logical thought or rational conversation. Nor does education seem to have created a set of people who can actually research and retain facts, and then base their opinions on a solid foundation. This, is either a personal failure or one of the system. Without pointing fingers here, for that would be fruitless – a greater failure comes to mind – the failure to self govern.

There is no greater shame than the need to be policed. As a democracy, the freedoms we have are collective. We retain the freedom only if we do not damage anybody in the group – else we give the police the chance to come and tell us what to do. It is as we learnt at school – if the mischief is mild, and nobody gets hurt, we can carry on and self regulate. If the mischief hurts anybody, the teacher must intervene.

These are the norms and values we learnt at school, and these are what we carry on with in life. But it is sad that our school taught us to fear and avoid the teacher’s intervention but there was little thought given to eliminating the need for such intervention. The upper hand was always retained by some one else in charge – we were never wholly in charge of ourselves. We neither sought to behave in a mature fashion as a group, nor was maturity expected of us since we were policed.

This meant that some of us did not know how to exercise boundaries unless policed. And since they broke decent bounds often enough, they gave reason for the police (read teacher/principal/headteacher) to interevene and punish the group. With self regulation and self discipline, especially as one grows older, the need for an over arching authority with the tools for punishment should cease to exist. This is the meaning of growing up, this is the purpose of education.

We see the consequences of this in public life today where a dash of censorship has been exercised by those who have the power to do so. It is no doubt true that free speech is essential in a democracy, and it is the task of journalists – both professional and citizen journalists to call out those in power. The task of calling out what one thinks is wrong is neither easy, nor pleasant. It is not possible to mince words in attacking what is wrong. But that is not hate, nor is it abuse.

Then, there are those, who foolishly attack thinking they are defending their own cause. But often, either with deliberation or due to emotion they slip into abuse, unfounded accusation and libel. This is stupid not only because it is wrong but also because it gives cause to the policing authorities to sweep in and round up who-ever they please. Whether the police understand the issue becomes immaterial. Their action has been given cause by those who mis-used their freedom. And the defense of those who justly spoke up is also immaterial  – they are swept away along with the foolish abusers.

It is tragic to see how we undermine our own freedoms.

Speak with conviction, speak for the truth, speak without fear. But do not give them a chance who would seek to silence you.

Speak well, speak wisely, but not just loudly. For noise is of no value to the wise, and does not each the foolish.

Speak to be heard, not to hurt. The hurt react with anger, not with understanding.

Speak with many voices, speak as one. But let the cause not become a cult.

Speak to build, speak to foster the change you seek. Speak to retain your freedom to speak. Let your speech not become the cause of its own destruction.

Speak Smart.
Speak as if you were educated.

(This may not be a traditional post on education – it does not speak of pedagogy, nor change, nor innovation in classrooms, nor of international developments in theory or practice. But it does speak of what education must deliver – the ability to speak, be heard and bring the change one wants – with dignity and intelligence)

These include providing opportunities for them to undergo continuous skills training and competitive career-development path, Muhyiddin (picture)added.

“We want to see in the not too distant future teaching quality will be different,” he said in the “Soal Jawab” programme on TV3 moderated by Media Prima executive director (news and editorial operations) Datuk Ahmad A. Talib last night.

Muhyiddin, who is also education minister, said starting this year, the selection criteria for trainee teachers was upgraded where only 30 per cent of outstanding graduates were offered teaching courses.

He said teachers would be equipped with higher-order thinking skills to enable them produce students with a higher level of thinking.

The ministry is contemplating providing an exit plan for teachers who are not fit to teach, he said, adding that “we have not decided to do it yet. If they are not fit to teach where should we put them. That will be determined later.”

Meanwhile, he said the district education office (PPD) would be restructured in tandem with the sixth shift outlined in the new education blueprint preliminary report where more experts would be deployed to strengthen schools and education quality.

He said the PPD revamp, which would be carried out in phases, started this year and was expected to be completed by 2014.

On the new education blueprint preliminary report, he said it was formulated after going through reports made by UNESCO, the World Bank, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Trends In International Mathematics and Sciences Study and Programme for International Student Assessment, and research by local scholars.

Muhyiddin said more than 12,000 people attended a roadshow on the proposed education revamp where over 7,000 proposals and 156 memorandums were received, and nearly 90 per cent of them were taken into account in producing the report.

“So, if there are those who say that theirs (suggestions or proposals) had not been taken into account, it is not true,” he added.

Muhyiddin said a series of open houses would be held from October 6 to showcase the new education blueprint preliminary report for public scrutiny where stakeholders could give their views, and seek clarification and feedback.

The final report is expected to be completed by December before it is submitted to the Cabinet for approval prior to its implementation next year, he added

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