Archive for the ‘English - general issues’ Category

Tried-and-true method of learning English

Saturday, January 25th, 2020
Students are engaged in an NiE activity while Cherubin (second from right) facilitates.

TWENTY years ago, Dr Gunadevi K Jeevi Subramaniam had the chance to attend a Newspaper-in-Education (NiE) workshop by The Star in Langkawi.

Since then, the Malaysian University English Test (MUET) coordinator of Politeknik Sultan Azlan Shah, Perak, has been using newspapers in the class. She finds the methodology most effective.

Having observed a recent NiE workshop for students at the polytechnic, Dr Gunadevi, 53, reiterates that NiE is indeed impactful.

“NiE benefits weak and proficient students alike. It adds interest to class lessons and keeps them on their toes, ” said Dr Gunadevi who is also the NiE programme director at the polytechnic.

“This is something new for the students and they like it. They are more involved and engaged because they do things like search, cut, paste, prepare presentations and answer questions from their friends.”

At the workshop conducted by Star-NiE freelance consultant trainer Anna Cherubin, students were taught how to skim and scan the newspaper for information.

Dr Gunadevi said that students got to brush up on important skills.

“NiE is very relevant to skills we need to teach the students.

“Furthermore, most of them don’t buy the newspaper and having the physical newspaper on hand will encourage them to read more, ” she said.

Happy with how engaged the students were, the polytechnic is subscribing to 100 copies of the NiE pullout per issue for their English lessons.

The bi-monthly, 16-page colourful pullout tackles themes set by the Education Ministry. The levels are broken down into three namely elementary, intermediate and advanced so that teachers will be able to adapt their lessons according to their students’ proficiency levels.

Also included in the pullout are two sections – BRATs and Earn Your Band 6.

Students will be able to read articles written by their peers participating in The Star’s BRATs Young Journalist Programme, while Earn Your Band 6 aims to improve the English proficiency of those taking the MUET.

English lecturer Ahmad Faiz Sapuan, 32, thought that the workshop was a good introduction of the newspaper to students as a learning material.

“Students don’t really read the English newspapers. Not all students have excellent language proficiency, but with the ready-made NiE activities, we can retain students’ interests using real issues.

“I think they would be more interested to learn new words now. Previously, they tended to stick to the same words when they wrote. This time around, I can see that they were introduced to many new words, ” he added.

After attending the workshop, second semester student Nur Farhanah Abuthalha, 19, is looking forward to more English lessons with the newspaper.

“The workshop was good because I learned a lot of new things from it. I can see that more can be done with the newspaper. Aside from just reading it, we can use it to learn English along with the NiE pullouts.

“It is different compared to learning with the textbook. In the newspaper, it is easier to learn new words as we can understand what context it is used in.”

She also said that NiE helps her relate studies to real life.

“I study economics and many stories related to the subject can be found in The Star newspaper. It helps in my studies as well as prepares me for my future career.”

Another student Danish Apandi Rustam Apandi, 18, said that the workshop was fun.

“It was something new for us. I found out that many students don’t actually know how to use the newspaper, so it’s good that they taught us how to. In my opinion, I think the newspaper is still very important and useful today, ” said the second semester student.

“The newspaper talks about real world problems, unlike the textbook. This way, we know more about the world and our country. It’s definitely more fun to read from the newspaper than the textbook. The newspaper has more content in it.”

This year, the education pullout by Star Media Group will see 20 publications.

Subscription is through schools only. The first issue of NiE rolled out last Wednesday and will be available every other Wednesday.

For more information, call The Star’s Customer Care Unit at 1-300-88-7827 from Monday to Friday (9am-5pm). Alternatively, teachers can contact the nearest sales representatives listed in the table.


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Moulding future English language experts

Sunday, December 29th, 2019

Celebrating the achievements of 42 non-option English teachers at a convocation ceremony.

THE Education Ministry’s English Language Teaching Centre (ELTC) has always taken the initiative to support all English language teachers on their journey towards becoming masters of the subject.

One such effort is the Add Option Intervention Programme (or Program Intervensi tambah Opsyen Bahasa Inggeris (Pito BI)).

This programme focuses on enhancing the English language proficiency among the non-option English language teachers in national primary schools.

It also aims at upskilling the non-option teachers with approaches and strategies in teaching English language in the primary school classrooms.

In 2019, ELTC has trained 101 non-option English language teachers from all over the nation.

Pito BI is a programme managed by the Language and Literacy Department headed by Dr T Vanitha Thanabalan. The department’s members are Nor Ashikin Alawi, Amarjit kaur, Nurliyana Ismail and Nor Izni Mohd Hassan.

To celebrate the commitment and achievement of participants from the Pito BI Cohort 2 2019, ELTC, with the collaboration of state education departments, organised a convocation ceremony. Held in Institut Aminuddin Baki on Nov 18, the ceremony was held for 42 non-option primary school English language teachers from Pahang, Johor, Perak, Selangor and Kuala Lumpur.

They completed three phases of the course namely two face-to-face interactions and one online. They were awarded Pito BI certificates.

It was officiated by Documentation and Publication Department head Kamariah Samsuddin, who represented ELTC director Farah Mardhy Aman

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Promoting English usage among students via High Level Empowerment Programme

Saturday, November 23rd, 2019

SANDAKAN: English teachers should implement ideas through the High Level Empowerment Program (HIP) to find the best way to promote and encourage the use of English among students both in and outside the classroom.

Sabah Education director Dr Mistirine Radin said students should also be proficient in the use of English as well as participate in English language activities in schools, to enable them (students) to access language learning.

She said this is because English is a master language for students to ensure that they are able to communicate in the language as well as to prepare them for future challenges.

In this regard, Mistirine said schools, especially educators, play an important role in ensuring that students can master and be proficient in the use of English.

Her keynote address at the opening of the “Sabah High Level Empowerment (HIP) Carnival, Best Practice Sharing” programme was read by English Language Officer to the State of Sabah, Muarifin Sufian Mochoeri at the SMK Merpati here on Wednesday.

Also present were Sandakan Education Officer Haji Sharif Mahada Haji Sharif Attar and Elopura Assemblyman Calvin Chong.


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Using English is not against govt policy

Tuesday, November 5th, 2019

THE pre-eminence and official position of the Malay language is deeply entrenched in our Constitution. Article 152(1) prescribes that the national language shall be the Malay language and shall be used for all official purposes.
Official purpose is defined in Article 152(6) as any purpose of the federal or state governments or a public authority.

The official position of the Malay language is further reiterated in the National Language Act 1963/67, the Education Act 1996 and the Private Higher Educational Institutions Act 1996.

The Education Act, for example, states succinctly in Section 17(1) that “the national language shall be the main medium of instruction in all educational institutions in the National Education System”.

The exceptions from compulsory use of Bahasa Malaysia are many and the discretion of the government is wide. Its use or non-use is a matter of political judgement and educational vision.

Constitutional exceptions: Despite Article 152, the country’s multilingual character is safeguarded by the law.

The Constitution permits linguistic diversity and places special emphasis on familiarity with and use of English in several sectors.

No person shall be prohibited or prevented from using (other than for official purposes), teaching or learning, any other language: Article 152(1)(a).

Federal and state governments have the right to preserve and sustain the use and study of the languages of any other community: Article 152(1)(b).

Article 152(2) provides that for a period of 10 years after Merdeka and thereafter until Parliament provides, English may be used in Parliament, state assemblies and for all other official purposes.

The National Language Act in Section 5 provides that with the permission of the presiding officer, English may be used in Parliament or any state assembly.

Article 152(3) and Sections 6-7 of the National Language Act provide that all post-September 1967 laws at the federal and state levels must be in two languages: Malay and English, the former being authoritative.

Article 152(4) and (5), when read with Section 8 of the National Language Act, provide that all court proceedings shall be in Malay. However, the presiding judge may permit the use of English.

Article 161(3) and (4) state that any restrictions on the use of English in judicial proceedings relating to Sabah and Sarawak cases cannot become law without the consent of the legislatures of these states.

Article 161(5) allows the use of native languages in Sabah and Sarawak for purposes of native courts, native codes and native customs.

Exceptions under the NLA: The National Language Act (NLA) in Section 2 commands the use of Malay for all official purposes. However, it contains a number of significant exceptions.

Section 4 provides that “the Yang di-Pertuan Agong may permit the continued use of the English language for such official purposes as may be deemed fit”.

It is noteworthy that this provision has no time limit and is not confined to any particular sphere.

However, a gazette notification has outlined the areas where English may be used.

This notification can be added to and expanded at the government’s discretion.

Such a discretion is indeed exercised in relation to the International Islamic University Malaysia, Universiti Teknologi Mara, many public and private universities and colleges as well as the 69 fully residential schools.

In tertiary institutions, all twinning programmes and external courses use English. Many continuing education programmes in government departments also employ English.

National television and radio use the whole spectrum of languages spoken in the country.

The application of the NLA in Sabah and Sarawak is not automatic. The NLA applies in Sabah and Sarawak only if the state legislatures adopt it: NLA Section 1(2).

The federal and state governments have a very wide power “to use any translation of official documents or communications in any other language for such purposes as may be deemed necessary in the public interest”: Section 3, NLA.

Education Act 1996: The national language need not be the main medium of instruction in national type (vernacular) schools established under Section 28.

In addition, Section 17(1) authorises the Minister to exempt any other educational institution from using Malay as the main medium of instruction.

The power of the Minister is broad enough to extend to all types of primary and secondary schools. The permutations of law and policy are immense.

Section 143 exemption: The Minister of Education has discretion to exempt any educational institution or any class or classes of institutions from the Act except as to registration.

English as a compulsory subject: In all national primary and secondary schools, the English language is a compulsory subject of instruction.

No statutory guidelines are given as to how many hours per week English may be taught; therefore, the Minister’s discretion is very wide to enhance the teaching and learning of the language and the level of competence that must be attained and whether a pass or credit in English is a prerequisite to obtaining the necessary certificate or accreditation.

Private educational institutions: Under Sections 73(3) and 75, private higher educational institutions are provided much latitude and autonomy.

Section 75(1)(a) implies that Malay need not be the main medium of instruction, but in such a case it shall be a compulsory subject in the curriculum.

Mandarin and Tamil: In the broad spirit of Article 152, the Education Act 1996 in Section 2 provides that the Chinese or Tamil language shall be made available in national primary and national secondary schools if the parents of at least 15 pupils in the school make such a request.

Indigenous languages: Likewise, indigenous languages, Arabic, Japanese, German or French or any other foreign language may be made available if it is reasonable and practisable so to do.

Act 555: The Private Higher Educational Institutions Act 1996 permits private universities to flourish and gives them considerable autonomy in the matter of language of instructions, but with the requirement that the Malay language shall be taught as a subject and shall be a prerequisite to the award.

In sum, the Constitution and the laws require us to honour and promote the national language, but also to keep the windows of our mind open to the world by learning and using English and other foreign languages.

With the permission of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong or the Minister, the use of English and other languages in our schools and universities is neither illegal nor against national policy.

The following types of schools can be exempted from the national Malay language policy:

l Government schools that are national primary, national-type primary and national secondary

l Government-aided schools that are national primary, national-type primary and national secondary

l Private schools

The Minister’s discretion is very wide to enhance the teaching and learning of the English language and the level of competence that must be attained as a prerequisite to obtaining the necessary certificate or accreditation.

The law permits considerable flexibility and many permutations of the law and policy are possible.

Any changes are a matter of courage and imagination.

To paraphrase Jesse Jackson: Leaders of substance do not follow opinion polls; they mould opinion, not with guns or dollars or positions but with the power of their souls.

by Shad Saleem Faruwqi

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Banking on English proficiency

Tuesday, October 15th, 2019

Excited pupils playing a game of charades at the Finco Reads Activity Fair held in SK Taman Maluri in Kuala Lumpur.

IT was a Saturday morning but SK Taman Maluri, Kuala Lumpur, was bustling with activity.

“I was so excited that I woke up early today!” said Year Four pupil Adreen Awad during the Finco Reads Activity Fair.

“It was special because we got to work with our friends. I loved the charades’ station. We learned new words and how to use them, ” he added.

The Finco Reads Activity Fair was sponsored and assisted by Finco, an acronym for Financial Industry Collective Outreach. Finco is a collaboration made up of over 130 financial institutions under seven financial industry associations in Malaysia with the support of Bank Negara Malaysia.

The fair comes under Finco’s flagship reading programme. Finco Reads is developed to make reading in English more engaging for primary school pupils.

The fair at SK Taman Maluri is the second of over 30 more to be carried out in the peninsula before the school term ends for the year.

With volunteers from Bank of America and Bangkok Bank assisting with different activity stations, pupils were thrilled to engage with new faces.

Year Four pupil Amira Qaireena Noorizal was happy that everyone was divided into groups named after comic superheroes.

“I was in the Aquaman group!” said Amira Qaireena.

“The programme taught English in a fun way. I learned new words. There was this game where we had to whisper a message to pass it on. It taught us how to listen carefully so that we do not pass on the wrong information, ” she said.

Classmate Muhammad Umar Rahim said that he improved his vocabulary and improved his command on English.

“It’s fun learning with friends. Definitely worth spending my Saturday morning at school!”

Bangsar and Pudu assistant district education officer Siti Hawa Ahmad, who launched the fair, commended the programme saying that it is in line with the Highly Immersive Programme.

“What’s being carried out excites the pupils. Pupils get to experience a learning environment that’s different from the class environment.

“They gain knowledge and real world experience. Also, what they are doing relates to their syllabus.

“This programme cultivates 21st century learning skills. More importantly, it is fun learning. Pupils are happy and they are keen to try out the activities. It is a good enrichment programme to improve the usage of the language, ” she added.

Also present at the event was Finco programme director Tham Ying Yee.

“What we’re trying to do is get outsiders involved in schools. The sense that we get is many corporations are keen to help but just don’t know how to.

“Finco serves as a bridge between these organisations and the schools.

“We also encourage community participation so that pupils can actually practise using English in a non-artificial manner. They not only learn English in class, but also by actually talking to a stranger in the language, ” she said.

SK Taman Maluri was given a grant of RM1,000 to carry out the programme, said the school discipline and English teacher Maureen Dellow.

“We were encouraged to use it on things that can be reused in the future and we decided to paint corridors with floor games.

“The games are designed for all levels of proficiency and they will also be beneficial to future pupils who enrol in this school, ” she said.

Headmaster Zunnurin Abdul Aziz stressed that English is an important language when venturing into higher education.

“If anyone can master a language other than his mother tongue, it is always a plus factor. A lot of reading and research materials are in English. So if they cannot master the language, then it will be a loss, ” he added.

Finco Reads was piloted in 28 schools in Sabah in 2017. It is now in 20 schools in Johor and 20 schools in the Klang Valley.

The programme will be rolled out in another five states beginning early next year.

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Better English for a Better Future

Tuesday, October 15th, 2019

When it comes to learning English, Cambridge English For Life (CEFL) has been a trusted brand all across Malaysia since 2001. They are well known for having the largest network of language centres (with nearly 70 centres nationwide) and delivering high quality and accredited English language courses. They have continually built on a legacy of excellence by employing innovative learning techniques designed to build confidence and to achieve success.

Better English, better future.

A class for everyone

CEFL offers courses for students as young as four years old through adults. Classes are flexible to accommodate advanced learners as well as students who need extra attention to master the language. Students first take a placement test to determine which course is best suited for them, because classes are based on proficiency, not age. This way, whether a student is ahead of his peers or struggling to keep up, CEFL can help him or her excel.

Serious Results, Serious Fun

CEFL maintains a reputation of academic excellence, producing many students who score 100% in the world-renowned Cambridge English exams. All classes are aligned with the Cambridge Assessment English qualifications and students are encouraged to sit for the exams at the end of their courses.

CEFL offers practical learning in a friendly environment.

Proven methods

Renowned for teaching methods that produce optimum results, CEFL offers practical learning in a friendly environment. Their unique approach encourages a continuous progression with a clear and easy-to-follow path to improve English language skills.

Parents agree, as attested by Suraya Hanaifah, whose child is at CEFL Kota Damansara: “I chose CEFL because of their achievements and performance in making students excel in English communication skills. CEFL’s resources and teaching methods are very simple, straightforward and very easy to understand. They’re not complicated and this encourages my child to want to learn more.”

Visit  CEFL on Their Nationwide Open Day.

CEFL will once again be hosting their much-awaited annual Nationwide Open Day on Oct 19 and 20 in all centres throughout Malaysia. Prospective students and their parents are welcome on this festive day to experience CEFL and explore the many ways their local centre can help anyone and everyone improve their proficiency and fluency and gain confidence in English. The Open Day is a great opportunity for anyone considering enrolling in any of CEFL’s quality courses in 2020 and to come down to the centre for a friendly chat with the staff.

The theme this year is ‘Environmental English’. All students who sign up for 2020 courses are eligible to receive this complimentary programme. Additionally, students who enrol during the Open Days stand a chance to win attractive prizes in CEFL’s lucky draws. Other promotions include free placement tests, material fee waivers and much more.

For more information, visit to locate the CEFL centre near you.

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Incentives for retired English teachers

Monday, October 7th, 2019

Maszlee (seated, third from right) and Amin (seated, third from left) smiles for a group photo with retired English language teachers who volunteered for the Highly Immersive Programme (HIP) Mentor pilot project. — Bernama

STARTING next year, the Education Ministry will look at providing incentives, such as allowances, to retired English language teachers who take part in the ministry’s Highly Immersive Programme (HIP) in schools.

Known as HIP Mentor, the programme brings in retired English language teachers on a voluntary basis.

A HIP Mentor pilot project was conducted for three months from June to September, aimed at increasing the usage of English for activities outside the classroom.

It involved 28 retired teachers in 27 schools across eight states in the country.

Education Minister Dr Maszlee Malik said he will request the Government to provide these teachers with incentives.

“Although it’s done voluntarily, these teachers should be awarded accordingly.

“We will expand this programme to (more) schools across the country next year.

“The English Language Teaching Centre (ELTC) is still studying the outcome and how many schools to expand it to.

“An official report is being prepared but the unofficial report I received is very impressive and I am in awe of the contribution and energy of these retired teachers,” he told reporters after presenting certificates of appreciation to the retired teachers who volunteered for the pilot project.

The ELTC, which falls under the ministry, was tasked with implementing the HIP Mentor pilot project.

In the three months, Maszlee said the teachers managed to involve all students in their English activities.

“Students’ level of confidence in speaking and writing in English also improved.

“We hope more retired English language teachers will come forward to be mentors.

“The HIP Mentor programme epitomises the true passion of educators regardless of age.

“I am astonished that we have volunteers aged from 60 to 83,” he added.

Maszlee said the goal of the programme is for Malaysian students to be proficient and to communicate confidently in the English language.

“Transformation must take place in the classroom.

“Students must be exposed to various English language activities that will spur their interest and create love for the language.

“Encourage students to speak the language through fun activities and to use English during lessons.

“School heads are the catalyst in spearheading (the programme) at the school level by creating conducive environments for change to take place as well as encouraging teachers, and engaging parents and the community to contribute towards the successful implementation of the HIP Mentor programme,” he said.

Still teaching at 83

Sunday, October 6th, 2019
Dr Maszlee Malik (right) greeting the HIP mentors and school principals at the certificates of appreciation award ceremony. (NSTP/AIZUDDIN SAAD.)

WHILE we hear many teachers are leaving the profession, we cannot say the same for Datin Siti Hendon Abdullah Bajrai. At the age of 83, she is still enthusiastic about teaching and learning.

She volunteered to join the Highly Immersive Programme Mentor (HIP Mentor) – a programme by Ministry of Educationto that engage retired English language lecturers or teachers who are willing to assist primary or secondary schools with English language activities on a voluntary basis.

She has also recently graduated from Unitar International University obtaining her Master’s Degree in early childhood education.

Siti Hendon was one of the 28 HIP mentors awarded with certificates of appreciation by Education Minister Dr Maszlee Malik at the Perdana Leadership Foundation recently.

The pilot programme was conducted at 27 selected schools in Kuala Lumpur, Selangor, Negeri Sembilan, Perak, Sarawak and Sabah from July until September.

“Teaching kids today is not the same as teaching the kids in the 80’s, which is why I want to keep learning and upskill my teaching methodology,” said Siti Hendon who was a mentor at Sekolah Kebangsaan Kampung Tunku, Petaling Jaya.

With decades of experience in teaching English, Siti Hendon believes that reading is key to learning.

Datin Siti Hendon Abdullah Bajrai

“During my sessions, I purposely chose to focus on kids who can’t read. I started by introducing them to nursery rhymes to help the pupils to recognise different rhythms, rhymes and sounds. After that, I started to familiarise them with alphabets then guided reading.

“When I was young, I didn’t have a good command of English as well but, I forced myself to read. With proper instruction and motivation, it is not impossible to attract pupils to learn and love English,” she added.

“It is quite hard to gauge the pupils’ progress in reading within two months’ time. However, I noticed that there is a change in their learning attitude. The kids seem to enjoy English classes more,” she said.

Having retired as a lecturer in her 50’s, mentor Teen Pek Chin, 72, said the reason she joined HIP Mentor programme is because she missed classroom interactions.

“When I first came to know about it, I decided to give it a try. I thought that this would be a refreshing experience. Through this programme, I would like to share my knowledge and experience to the pupils.

“Despite this being my first time teaching in primary school, I find the experience very enlightening. Teaching the kids is not like giving lectures to adults. They are very active and you have to know how to engage them with the lessons.

“I like doing fun activities with the kids. Although some of them struggle to write and read, they love singing along to the songs I played I the classroom. Along the way, I helped them with the pronunciation,” said Teen who volunteered at Sekolah Kebangsaan Perdana Jaya, Selangor.

During the event, Maszlee commended the mentors’ effort serving as volunteers and partnering with schools to create the English language rich environment in the pilot programme.

“The HIP mentors programme epitomises the true passion of educators regardless of age. I am absolutely astonished that our volunteers are of 60 to 83 years old. All of the mentors are exemplary educationists who have proven that age is only a figure.

“The success of the HIP Mentors programme requires the synergy of various stakeholders, working together harmoniously towards a unison goal. The goal is for our Malaysia students to be proficient in English and to communicate confidently using the language.

“Students must be exposed to various types of English language activities and use English during lessons. Immerse students in the language and encourage them to use English in different contexts and situations,” said Maszlee.

HIP was introduced by the Ministry of Education (MoE) in 2016 with the aim to create a highly immersive, language-rich environment that promotes the use of English in school. Through HIP, students are exposed to the English Language through a varietyof activities and have vast opportunities to use the language

By Murniati Abu Karim .


Improving standard of English

Friday, October 4th, 2019

English is the most widely spoken language in the world with 1.121 billion speakers, of which 743 million are non-native speakers. More than half of internet content and technical and scientific periodicals are in English. Unfortunately, much of the debate over English in Malaysia has been conducted in a binary manner: Malay versus non-Malay, rural versus urban and middle-class versus poor. But studies have shown that most Malaysians appreciate the importance of English.

The many reversals of policies suggest that the diversity of Malaysian schools makes it challenging to uniformly implement changes or reforms.

The Teaching of Science and Maths in English (PPSMI) was introduced in 2003, but Chinese schools were allowed to continue teaching the subjects in Chinese in 2005.

Then, a reversal was announced in 2009 after studies showed rural schools performing disproportionately worse in English-language subjects compared with urban schools owing to a lack of fluency among teachers and students alike.

In January 2016, the Dual-Language Programme was implemented, allowing schools that met certain requirements to teach mathematics and science in English. I believe the DLP is best suited for the diverse reality and capacity of Malaysian schools and is in line with the recognition for greater autonomy and decentralisation of the education system.

Now, Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad has said the government is studying the possible return of PPSMI. As Selangor’s state executive councillor for education from 2014 to 2018, I had very little influence over, or ability to help, the schools in our state, partly due to the political discrimination by the previous government but also because of the centralised reality of our education system.

However, decentralisation shouldn’t be about turning control of schools from one set of politicians to another or letting schools drift on their own. Rather, it is about having a common set of goals and values, yet letting different schools move at their own pace, depending on their local conditions, and ensuring that the proper oversights are in place.

Recently, I have been tasked with overseeing education on the Federal Territories Minister’s Council. As part of that responsibility, I have started visiting a number of schools in our capital, starting with my constituency Setiawangsa.

The condition of the facilities in some schools, unfortunately, is very poor. Oftentimes, they have to wait for funds from the Education Ministry to make repairs or replacements.

There is no way for us to improve English and education without investing in proper infrastructure and technology.

The people, as taxpayers, have to be willing to pay for it. In 2018, Vietnam, for instance, spent 5.8pc (US$13.9 billion) of its gross domestic product on education, the highest percentage in Southeast Asia. In contrast, the amount spent by Malaysia on education has been on a downward trend since 2011, dropping annually from 5.8pc of GDP to 4.7pc by 2017.

Nevertheless, the “software” side of the English dilemma cannot be neglected.

We need to work on improving critical thinking, boosting the quality of teachers and easing their non-teaching workload. Education Minister Maszlee Malik’s work in this area has been admirable.

For instance, teachers now no longer have to write acquisitions in relation to the Textbook Loan Scheme (SPBT), and schools with internet access can now record pupil attendance online.

But changing mindsets is a little more difficult.

There have been far too many incidents in national schools of minority students being subjected to unnecessary racial and religious pressures.

We cannot expect minority parents to shift their children to national schools if their faith and culture are going to be denigrated, but we also cannot let identity politics and culture wars spread to our schools. The recent khat controversy is a case in point. As a matter of principle, I believe exposing students to part of our national heritage should not be an issue, but decades of distrust has polarised the debate to a great extent.

Similarly, there have been reports that students in schools implementing the DLP are not being tested because we are supposed to shift away from being exam-oriented.

However, “not exam-oriented” should not and does not mean no examinations at all. After all, the selling point of the DLP is to allow children who are capable of doing science and maths in English to do so. Culturally, parents and teachers have to stop viewing and treating these exams as markers of intelligence, but rather, as signposts of progress, or what the student needs to improve on.

It is always good to give parents, students and teachers more choice, but personally, I decided to send my son to a national school.

However, I also understand and respect the roles that the other streams play.

The decision, ultimately, is in the hands of the government, which must be mindful of the public’s opinions and those of stakeholders.

In the meantime, the focus should be on improving the existing frameworks. We must have clearly defined goals on where we want to go in improving English.

There can be no good educational outcomes without the efforts of the teachers, academics and administrators — often a thankless job.

We should and do expect a lot from them, but they likewise should be honoured and compensated accordingly. We have had decades of top-down, poorly-thought-out policies in relation to English and education as a whole being bulldozed through, and it has not served us well.

I return to the example of Vietnam. It went from emphasising Mandarin during its domination under China to French, Russian and then English after 1986.

As the US-China trade war rages, Vietnam is poised to become a key beneficiary. Foreign direct investment in Vietnam between January and May this year has seen a year-on-year increase of 69.1pc while corporations such as Samsung, Olympus, Nike, Ikea and Apple are increasing the portion of their items sourced from Vietnam or transferring their manufacturing operations there. This could not happen if Vietnam did not have a ready supply of good human capital.

We can draw a number of lessons from Vietnam’s experience. Despite its challenging circumstances, it maintained its fierce will for freedom as well as its culture and language.

It was also willing to reverse itself and try new approaches several times, but always kept its eye on the goal of strengthening itself and maintaining its independence. We must also realise that these things take time. Broadly, Vietnam’s shift to English began 33 years ago and is still ongoing.

Malaysians cannot expect overnight results without time, hard work, patience and sacrifice.

Of course, Malaysia is not Vietnam. We are not a seemingly homogenous country, and we do not, and hopefully never will, live under a one-party state. However, it would be wrong to assume that autocratic countries have an advantage over democracies like us, or that they will do better in the long run.

Indeed, worldwide, the achievements of democracies are more impressive, precisely because they are harder to bring about.

Improving the standard of English in Malaysia and education across the board is something that cannot be brought about without the will of the people.

Let us also not forget that education is not just about seizing gross materialistic gains.

Malaysia’s education must not lose its human face and humanistic purposes of bringing up men and women who bring goodness to their families, communities and countries.

By: Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad

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Teaching English goes future forward

Monday, September 16th, 2019

Dr Airil Haimi (lefft, seated on the desk) with the VR goggles on his head together with several of his team members who have been trying to bring innovative practices into English teaching, using modern media platforms.

MUCH has been said about the Fourth Industrial Revolution or 4IR but much more needs to be done on the ground, especially in the field of education in the Malaysian setting.

Many are still unable to see that the very nature of the teaching and learning process is changing, what more with the arrival of Generation Alpha – the next generation of students born entirely within the 21st century.

To complicate things further as we cross into the era of 4IR, the field of education has also moved into the Education 5.0 stage. As the world prepares to usher in year 2020, our national education system must address the challenges of globalisation and deal with changes in computer and telecommunications technologies sparked by 4IR ‘disruptions’.

At the Academy of Language Studies of the Universiti Teknologi Mara (UiTM) Perak branch in Bandar Seri Iskandar, its head of Centre of Studies decided to become an adopter of a not-so-new technology, hoping to take the teaching and learning of English into the 21st century.

“The name of our project is ‘English Language Simulations Augmented with 360° spherical videos’. We codenamed it ELSA 360°-Videos, because it’s cuter,” said Dr Airil Haimi Mohd Adnan, the learning technologist and project manager.

Together with his young team of English lecturers – Muhamad Khairul, Muhammad Anwar, Nurul Nadiah and Ahmad Ariffuddin – they have been hard at work trying to bring innovative practices into English teaching, using modern media platforms.

“The problem is that you need money to be an early adopter of learning technologies, and you need to constantly reskill and upskill yourself because what is high-end today might be old-tech next month or next year,” said Airil Haimi.

The primary challenge that he faces is the limited time to teach critical language skills to degree level students, who also need to contend with their specialist core subjects.

“So, when 360° video cameras became more mainstream and not too expensive, I saved for a few months to buy one online and to start the ELSA 360°-Videos project,” he added.

Nevertheless, applying 360° or spherical video technology to the teaching of English for Professional and Workplace Interactions was not as straightforward as he thought. It took him six months of learning about 360° video technology and the methods of using this effectively in lesson delivery.

“You don’t want to do something just for the sake of doing it, right? But I’m happy to report that many educators have shared positive results on using 360° videos to teach.

“Here on campus, our undergraduates love being immersed and having the feeling of ‘being in’ actual meeting rooms and ‘joining in’ simulated workplace discussions,” he said.

360° or spherical video technology has the distinctive advantage of immersing learners and helping them to feel as if they are actually part of whatever is happening on screen. With three DOFs or Degrees of Freedom, learners can look around the meeting room or office space and see everything that is happening around them.

For degree level students who have limited contact hours to learn English for Professional and Workplace Interactions, this technology bridges the gap between what they could only imagine, and what they can actually see and feel.

With three DOFs, seeing how office mates talk to each other, respond, reciprocate and share ideas while focusing also on their facial and bodily gestures really make a difference in the learning of difficult English skills.

Nur Alia, appreciates the fact that 360° videos technology can help her friends who are not proficient in English to revise and learn on their own.

“My friends who cannot grasp the points in class, can learn while lounging on their beds and raise their English levels on their own,” she said.

For Nurul Liyana, another early user of ELSA 360°-Videos: “I love that I can learn wherever and whenever because the lecturer posted all the 360° videos on YouTube. “So, when we go to class, we just practice a bit then we can do the tests.”

In the next stage of the ELSA 360°-Videos project, Airil and his team are trying to get students to invest in cheap Virtual Reality or VR goggles using their smartphones to power the VR screens.

He is also planning to set up a content development lab focusing on future learning technologies aptly called “Future Learning Initiatives” Lab or FLI Lab.

“When it comes to technology, the problem is always money. True, great teaching ideas don’t need money but to make those ideas real, then dreamers like us have to start saving money to gain access to future learning technologies.

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