With Malaysia in full gear to achieve a knowledge-based economy by 2020, teachers have a vital role to play in the development of human capital. Are they up to it?
WHEN I interview candidates from professional fields like accountancy, human resource and business for teaching positions at my school, I am always impressed by their confidence, command of the English language and knowledge of their area.
“But when I interview Malaysian government teachers, I get concerned about the standards of education here,” said Ian James Kerr, principal of an international school in Penang. “Many generally lack confidence, are weak in English and are not able to talk about their job.”
Kendall- Seatter (second from right) making a point during a roundtable discussion. With her are (from left to right) Prof Ibrahim, Education Ministry’s English Language Teaching Centre deputy director Dr Choong Kam Foong, who served as moderator, and Kerr.
Apart from a smattering of muffled gasps and hushed whispers, the shocked silence that fell in the hall was deafening.
Kerr continued: “Many are keen on rote learning and cannot relax with children. Some expatriate children who can sense this will find their other weaknesses and capitalise on them.”
He was a speaker at the International Seminar on Teacher Education, organised by the Education Ministry’s Teacher Education Division (TED) in Kuala Lumpur recently.
Although Kerr went on to say that he knows many excellent teachers in Malaysia, the brutal honesty in his earlier statement cut to the core of the seminar, aimed at seeking new ideas and approaches for the development of the country’s teachers.
However, his views are far from new. For years, parents have lamented the declining teaching standards in Malaysia while employers have often complained about the low English proficiency among new graduates.
As acknowledged by Education Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Tun Hussein in his keynote speech, teachers are the backbone of the nation’s move to develop human capital for a knowledge-based economy.
“Frankly, there can be no knowledge-based economy without good, if not excellent, teachers to bring our young people up to the level needed globally. Teachers are indeed the catalyst needed to raise Malaysia’s economic capabilities, and they must make the furthest quantum leap compared to other sectors,” he noted.
However, as the seminar – entitled Teacher Education: Then, Now and For the Future –progressed, it was clear that the 450 local and international educationists present had diverse views on the concept of “world-class teachers”.
Bringing back the glory
Unlike most seminars on the teaching profession, the issues of remuneration and welfare did not dominate the proceedings.
The ministry, said a participant who declined to be named, has demonstrated that it is serious in improving teachers’ lot.
“They are looking into our housing and cost of living allowances, and those in remote areas are given better incentives and hardship allowances. Now I hope he (Hishammuddin) will deliver on his promise to revive respect for the profession.”
As Hishammuddin pointed out: “If our teachers’ morale is low, we cannot expect wonders out of them. We have to revive the glory of the profession and increase the self-esteem of teachers… the whole profession needs a moral uplift to prepare for the challenges of the global world.”
The ministry, he added, has identified key problems areas: how to nurture quality teachers within the system, manage teacher supply, overcome mediocrity in the profession and provide continuous opportunities for improvement.
Five measures have been taken to address some of the concerns: introducing promotion schemes for teachers, attending to their welfare, improving their social standing, enhancing the quality of teacher education and upgrading teachers’ training colleges to institutes of teacher education.
More importantly, he noted, teachers need to “learn, relearn and unlearn all the time.”
Speaker Prof Datuk Dr Ibrahim Ahmad Bajunid, director of the Unesco-Regional Centre for Educational Planning (RCEP), concurred.
“How can we foster intellectual capabilities in students if we don’t foster it in our teachers? Teachers need to have an intellectual character; as long as the teacher is not an intellectual, then we are on losing ground,” he said in a roundtable discussion entitled Producing World-Class Teachers and Capacity Building in Malaysia.
The panel of speakers in the roundtable discussion – which included Kerr, representing the Malaysia International Chamber of Commerce and Industry (MICCI) and Canterbury Christ Church University (CCCU) Primary Education Department head Sue Kendall-Seatter – raised various salient issues related to the definition of a world-class teacher.
As Kerr noted, it is difficult to define what world class means given the constant shift in the roles of teachers and teaching standards, brought about by the rapid changes in information and communications technology (ICT).
“Teachers need to be equipped with IT knowledge to empower them to manage information,” he said.
Raising the bar
Participants, however, continued to argue over what the concept constitute, with one ministry official even questioning whether world-class teachers can be effective teachers.
Responding to this, Prof Ibrahim said teachers’ roles are complex, and they often have to play multiple roles in school, from knowledge imparter to facilitator, counsellor and even nurse.
Thus, teachers need to be prepared for the unpredictable and reminded that teaching is an art and not a science to keep them in touch with the classroom situation and their students.
“If they can do this, the teachers can be effective. I believe ‘effective teachers’ is just another phrase for world-class teachers,” he added.
Participants identified pre-service teacher education as vital to boosting teaching standards, and resolved that teacher education has to be redefined and redesigned, with a multi-pronged approach adopted.
Ensuring that the quality of teacher education is maintained is a challenge, and the TED has, in fact, already taken the initiative to formulate the Malaysian Teaching Standards (MTS).
According to Education deputy director-general Datuk Alimuddin Mohd Dom, the MTS is a comprehensive guide for quality teacher education, and will ensure that all new teachers have the subject knowledge and pedagogical expertise they need to prepare them for the wider demands of being teachers.
“Quality teachers believe in the best for every student, and do what is necessary to make sure that every child learns,” he said.
Subject knowledge and pedagogical skills aside, SMK Engku Hussein Selangor principal Latifah Mohd Isa believes that, most importantly, a quality teacher is approachable.
“Teachers must know and be close to their students, then only will they be able to teach effectively.
“For example, if you have a popularity contest, a quality teacher will have to come out tops,” she said.
On the other hand, a teacher trainer who declined to be named felt that quality ultimately depends on individual teachers who must set their own standards and strive to meet them.
TED director Wan Mustama Wan Abdul Hayat said it will be unfair to gauge teaching standards based solely on students’ academic achievement, adding that the ministry plans to change the way teachers are assessed.
“We need to include other aspects such as students’ development and change of values.
“Quality teaching has always been the focus of teacher training but the MTS will be a good reminder for us to maintain standards in teaching.”
Perhaps Prof Ibrahim captured it best when he said that teacher training is complex but easy.
“It’s about content and method. Maybe we need to follow the example of Singapore, which has redirected the focus of teacher education from curriculum to pedagogy,” he observed.
“What is important is we need to continuously conduct education research if we are to maintain the standards of teacher development in the country.”
by Hariati Azizan and Sarah Chew.
Read more @ http://thestar.com.my/education/story.asp?file=/2007/6/10/education/17949450&sec=education