Teaching in English

It seems that the government may just end up reverting the teaching of science and mathematics back to the mother tongues, instead of the present system of teaching it in English. The logic and evidence behind this decision is also highly flawed. Personally, I do not think that it is a good idea.

Educational policy should never be dictated by the electorate. Parents do not know what is good for their kids, especially parents who are themselves, products of the non-English education system. It is undeniable that English is the lingua franca of the sciences and the children will have to face it at some point. If we choose to let them face it at university, it is no different from what we have today and we will end up producing graduates who are forced to study with a dictionary by their side, have a poor command of the language, and are unable to find jobs inside or outside the country.

Many people blame the fact that the content isn’t as important as the delivery. So, there is no point teaching it in English if the teachers themselves are unable to deliver the content in English. This is precisely our problem. The current crop of teachers today are the very byproducts of a system that reverted away from English, decades ago. If we decide to revert away from English again, we will just end up producing more of the same teachers who are unable to teach in English. Those who do not learn from history, are doomed to repeat it.

Statistics given by the government reveal that the kids themselves are not doing as well in primary school, as their seniors did when the subjects were taught in non-English. Obviously, if the kids have parents who are unable to comprehend English and are unable to help them in their school work, it is perfectly understandable that they will be at a disadvantage. So, the parents will not be able to brag about their child’s progress in school. So, what?

The correct response to this problem should be to fix the delivery of the curriculum instead of reverting back to the mess it was before. I can appreciate that it is going to be difficult to retrain the existing crop of teachers, whom are byproducts of the previous mess. Heck, even the trainers themselves are probably from the same mess. So, I would propose an alternative solution. One solution is to bring in existing people who are already capable of speaking English.

This may entail recruiting expatriates into the teaching fraternity. As there are many unemployed foreign spouses around, this may not be as difficult as it may seem at first. I am sure that almost everyone of them would be capable of teaching primary school mathematics and science, once they are given some teacher training. It would also solve the problem of them not being able to secure jobs within the country.

If there are not enough foreign spouses to go around, hire in other expatriates. Considering that we are not really paying the Phillipino maids more than a teacher, it may actually be a good idea. Many of these maids are actually graduates themselves, and have a good command of English. They may actually be willing to teach, which is far easier to being a maid, and pays just as well, if not better.

If this isn’t enough, hire actual expatriate teachers from any country. Open up the teaching profession to anyone from anywhere, as long as they are properly qualified to teach science and maths. Pay them better than the other teachers. In fact, any local teachers who are willing to retrain themselves to teach in English, should be paid equal to these expatriates. That should be sufficient encouragement to induce people to actually make the switch.

We will not need to do this forever. We will only need to rely on the expatriates for several years, until the current crop of students make it through university and are reinserted back into the system.

Anyway, I am biased. I personally think that regressing back to the old mess is a bad idea.

Published by

Shawn Tan

Chip Doctor, Chartered/Professional Engineer, Entrepreneur, Law Graduate.

4 thoughts on “Teaching in English”

  1. i have been thinking about this, they should totally harness the power of the students they send overseas to study, You know as a condition for getting this scholarship to study in US and UK, you must come back and do some teaching in the summer unless they have some other very important reason like gaining experience. Kinda like a give back to your community after all the money we spend kind of thing.

  2. You must be new. Our government is too busy setting the government scholars free to have time to ask them to do anything constructive. Kind of sad, really.

  3. The education system in Hong Kong has been through similar problems. When it was still under British colonial rule, the official language was English for all documentation, but English wasn’t well taught. Many of the better secondary schools taught in English, but many primary schools had a Chinese curriculum. So students would be taught in Cantonese for the first 6 years, and then be dropped into an English-taught curriculum. Even the brightest students would struggle, especially since the teachers themselves, especially in the more rural New Territories area, didn’t have brilliant english.

    Now that it’s reverted to Chinese rule, more schools have moved to teaching subjects in Chinese, although not all. I’m not sure whether science is taught in English or not, I suspect students are told what specialist terms are in both Cantonese and English. However, people and most importantly, parents, are aware of the importance of good english and so many children are sent to extra English classes or summer school. So it’s hard to say whether the latest switch will have a deleterious effect or not. Actually, I suspect it will even things out a bit – before, the brightest students, or the ones whose families could afford to send them to the best English-taught primary and secondary schools, would do well, and the other students struggled through blindly. It was also the case that some students would just give up on getting a good grade and understanding everything, and just aim not to fail too many subjects!

    Whether or not this system will produce students who can adjust to being taught in English at university, or maybe they will have to apply to the Chinese University of Hong Kong or similar institutions where lectures are taught in Chinese, remains to be seen!

    However, I feel the situation is rather different in Malaysia. I don’t know whether people there feel a need to have good English to get a good job, or to do well socially, but it’s definitely the case in Hong Kong and so many of the younger generation have some grasp of English. The problem with teaching the sciences in the mother tongues, apart from anything else, must surely lead to even greater racial segregation? In Hong Kong it’s English or cantonese, there isn’t the choice of Malay or Mandarin thrown in as well! Also, the switching backwards and forwards between different educational systems will lead to a whole generation of confused students – it is the children who bear the brunt ultimately. We’re starting to get this problem in the UK as the government keeps changing the exam system and curriculums, trying to please everyone and not benefitting anyone.

    But if Malaysia is to get teachers who can teach well in English, I fear it will be quite a costly venture. Although you suggest many ways of recruiting English speakers into teaching, the problem is getting people who can actually teach and impart their knowledge to others. As the children are not learning the subject in their mother tongue, it takes extra patience for someone to teach it to them and explain things to them. That’s assuming they want to learn and try to listen! As for persuading government-funded students to come back and teach, if they feel forced to do so, then they may not put their heart into the teaching. Many may teach willingly, but it will not be an easy task. To be trained as a good teacher takes much time and experience, more than a few summers in between university terms.

    Many of the English-teaching schools in Hong Kong recruit teachers from overseas by giving them a very generous stipend and the government make it easy for them to get visas and the correct paperwork. As my brother was brought up in the UK and trained as a teacher in Japan and England, when he started teaching in Hong Kong his salary was considerably higher than those of local teachers, and he also got a contribution towards buying a flat and settling down. However, this method can also lead to a lot of dissatisfaction and potentially resentment amongst ‘home-grown’ teachers and the teachers recruited from overseas must show that they are worth the expense.

    I agree that a good education system is vitally important, and the need for teachers who can teach in English is immense. However, if English speakers are just recruited in rashly to teach without being vetted for their actual ability to teach well, then this could be even worse for the Malaysian education system. Changes to the system lead to big upheavals and when we’re talking about upheavals to the education of the next generation, governments anywhere need to really think about all aspects of the changes before they go ahead. Until then, it’s better, although it may not seem so, to stick with the current system until a new plan has been made and examined from all angles.

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