Sunday, September 30, 2012

MUET is not meant to torture you : )

Many students still wonder about the importance of MUET. Its not meant to torture you. The preparation for MUET and doing well for it, will help ensure that you don't have to struggle with English when doing your Business degree, Finance degree, Law degree ect.

The preparation for MUET will help ensure that you have what it takes to join the working force; the ability to speak and write well in English.

Sunday September 30, 2012

Using the universal language


There is an urgent need for jobseekers to be armed with skills in English to work and communicate effectively.

EVEN after the master of ceremony had brought the question-and-answer session to a close, hands continued to wave frantically across the room.

With questions and statements ranging from intentional learning to early childhood education and from the level of English proficiency in rural schools to the failure of university graduates to perform in interviews, everyone wanted to weigh in on the topic at hand.

Entitled English Proficiency: Does the national education system support the needs of the workplace?, the forum, held in Penang on Monday, was part of the English for More Opportunities initiative by The Star.

Education Ministry deputy director-general Datuk Dr Khair Mohamad Yusof (Teacher Development Professionalism) started the ball rolling with a startling revelation — that two-thirds of students and two-thirds of teachers involved in a survey struggled with English proficiency.

“In formulating the Preliminary Report Malaysia Education Blueprint (2013 - 2025), we conducted a survey involving 13,000 students and 11,000 teachers in government schools.

“From that survey, there were two main findings.

“First, we benchmarked SPM English results with that of the Cambridge English Language 1119 standards and found that although students had good grades in SPM, two-thirds of them failed to meet the basics of English proficiency (a credit of C6) in the 1119 paper,” Dr Khair said to the 160-member strong crowd.

“In the second (finding), we found that teachers did not fare well as two-thirds of those surveyed failed to reach “proficient” levels of C2 and C1 in the Cambridge Placement Test,” he added.

“The ministry is not in a state of denial about the problems we face. The aim of the system is to provide students with the basic skills to communicate and although they know the language, the question now is whether they can communicate confidently and master the language to an extent that they can face the challenges of the globalised workplace,” Dr Khair said.

He added that the final Malaysia Education Blueprint, scheduled to be sent to the Cabinet in December, will put a focus on the country’s 70,000 English teachers.

That news was welcomed by the next speaker — the National Union of the Teaching Profession (NUTP), Penang branch chairman Ng Weng Tutt - who, however, cautioned that successful implementation was the key in getting the right results.

“What we are more concerned about is the implementation of our national education system.

“For example, the new Education Blueprint states an intention to introduce English Literature in primary schools.

“We support that proposal but we need to have enough trained English teachers who are well-versed in teaching literature,” Ng said.

He said currently, some schools were already taking non-English trained teachers to teach English in schools, which was not something that should be repeated with English Literature.

“Teaching English Literature is not as easy as it sounds.

“We do not want something that is implemented in a slipshod manner.

“We want it to be very well planned so we can fully reap the results of what the government intends to do,” Ng said, adding that courses to upskill and upgrade the nation’s 450,000 teachers were sorely needed to keep them up to date with the best practices.

Pulling the focus onto school leavers, Taylor’s University deputy vice-chancellor Pradeep Nair gave an analogy of an “unbalanced” bodybuilder when talking about undergraduate students.

“Just imagine a body builder with muscles in all the wrong places, or not in all the right places. They may be very good at one or two things, but are not perfect in some of the other areas.

“These are the people you wouldn’t want taking part in competitions,” Pradeep said, to knowing nods from the audience.

Lacking skills

He said to make matters worse; students were frequently ignorant that they lacked skills to succeed in the workplace.

“If there is a problem, it is that these young men and women who leave secondary school actually don’t know that there is a problem.

“This is because the system has conditioned them to rate their degree of success by one set of rulers while the university and workplace may have a different set of scales,” he said.

Quoting the 2012 World Bank Malaysian Economic Monitor report, Pradeep said 46% of Malaysian firms that participated in the survey cited poor English proficiency as a key restraint to hiring.

“A total of 37% cited poor communication skills as another restraint.

“The sad thing is good academic qualifications did not even feature in the top 10 reasons for hiring,” Pradeep said.

He said language was a great enabler for students to pick up discipline-specific knowledge, cognitive capabilities and soft skills which were all needed by graduates looking for successful careers.

He added that students first needed to realise how crucial language and communication in English were to the job market before they embarked on equipping themselves for the job world.

“Getting graduates to master engineering or accountancy may not be sufficient anymore and what is far more important is to first get them to a space where they know what they don’t know rather than remain in ignorance,” he said.

For Datin Noor Azimah Abdul Rahim, the Parent Action Group for Education (PAGE) Malaysia chairman, giving children a strong foothold in the subjects of Science and Mathematics was something she knew was beneficial.

Advocating the group’s push for the teaching of both subjects in English, Noor Azimah said that it was a myth that students could not cope with the new system.

“The teaching of Science and Mathematics in English was introduced in 2003 and we see that there has been an upturn in the graph (of the percentage of passes in Science and Mathematics among UPSR, PMR and SPM candidates) for the last seven years.

“These are good results and we ask, when have the results ever dropped? They haven’t and we are outperforming the times when we had these subjects taught in Malay,” she said.

She added that having English as a second language in Malaysia was a plus point for students who would benefit from acquiring scientific knowledge in its lingua franca of English.

“We should capitalise on our strengths, not suppress them.

“What we are hoping for is that the government will nurture schools that teach Science and Mathematics partly in English and let the schools that teach these subjects 100% in English to continue doing so,” she said.

Strong voices

In her welcoming speech, The Star’s deputy group chief editor (II) Leanne Goh said people who felt strongly about English usually had a lot to say and encouraged the audience by telling them to “Give them (the speakers) all you got!”

During the question and answer session, the crowd took her advice to heart with question after question raining down on the speakers.

From undergraduate students to seasoned teachers and industry leaders, all who put up their hands had specific points to raise about the importance of English and the role of the national education system in fostering it.

Umar Man, the chairman of the SM Seberang Prai Parent-Teacher Association, lamented about the gap of English proficiency among today’s students compared with those from the previous generations.

“We look at the ‘good old days’ and wonder where we have gone wrong.

“As parents, you have to worry when you see your children go through the whole school system but end up unemployed because they cannot get through the interview stage,” he said, questioning the declining standard of English among teachers.

This opinion was echoed by 72-year-old Lim Hock Huan who said that many university graduates had not been as successful in securing the right and relevant jobs for themselves.

Forum moderator Datuk Noor Rezan Bapoo Hashim, a former Education Ministry deputy director-general and Khazanah National Bhd’s current education advisor and consultant, came to the rescue of teachers by saying that the declining proficiency of English could not be put solely on their shoulders.

“I have been posed this question many times — why are the quality of teachers not as good as the quality of teachers before?

“I always tell people that they have to be fair to the teachers today.

“If you have passed through an English-medium school, the English that you speak is different than the English that is spoken by children today.

“And we cannot really blame the teachers because they are products of the system,” Noor Rezan said.

She said language was learnt and developed through usage and limited exposure to the language was not enough to make a person proficient.

“However, there is one reminder I want to make to all of us and myself — do not link the teaching of a language to race and religion.

“Think of the teaching of English as a matter of functionality and how useful that language is wherever we are,” she said.

Different perspectives

Two teachers also stood up to outline the challenges they faced in teaching English to their students.

A 40-year-old secondary school teacher said the standard of English in the classes she taught was of varying levels.

“I have one Form Four class where the English proficiency is ‘very good’, another that is of medium standard and a final one which I call the ‘Oh, my English!’ class.

“They mix up the basics like ‘is’ and ‘are’, ‘a’ and ‘an’ and ‘her’ and ‘she’. So, what I have done is to go back to basics with them with nursery rhymes, songs, poems, story-telling and drama.

“There is no point in giving them essays as they were not able to write them and it would just be a waste of time,” she said.

Another English language practitioner, Khor Sim Ee, said the subject of English Literature concentrated too much on local texts with the curriculum lacking a world view.

“When you only use Malaysian texts, it destroys the global perspective of the subject.

“Also, abridged texts are used which causes the language element to suffer as well,” said Khor, 56.

University undergraduates also had their say in the 50-minute question and answer session.

Mohd Zayani Zulkifli, 22, from Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) asked if the teaching of English could be brought forward to the kindergarten stage to take advantage of the incredible learning capacity of young children.

Farhana Abdul Fatah, 21, lamented about her experience as an intern in the tourism industry.

“My boss has said to me that in this (tourism) field, they don’t need very proficient English speakers so long as it is enough to get by.

“What happens when we’re proficient in the language but we are underutilised?” asked Farhana, who also hails from USM.

Pradeep replied that: “The statistics in all industries in Malaysia are pointing to the reverse.

“What is being said now is that your academic transcripts will get you through the door, but to get the job, employers want to see what your views on life are, and what you think about the future of the world.

“They want to see whether a person is reflexive and whether he can articulate his ideas. In this context, language becomes so important,” he added.

Businessman Tham Soon Seong suggested English be used in the teaching of History and Geography to teach students the basics and give them more versatility.

“People entering the workforce now are still unable to write a good letter or communicate with a customer in English.

“Globally, Malaysia’s top 20 trading partners are countries where the language used is English, and if you are not proficient in the language, you lose out,” he said.