Archive for May 16th, 2011




Instead of burdening students and teachers with extra school time to learn English in the weekend when they should be given the space to refresh their minds for the coming school week, the nation’s educatioinists must seriously rethink the strategies and methodologies for educating the nation’s children.   

While it is imperative that the teaching of English be conducted by the best of teachers using the most effective tools, it is a fundamental principle of successful second language learning that learners must receive maximum exposure to the language. The “total immersion” principle of mother tongue acquisition where children pick up the language in a continuous stream of socio-cultural experiences in their home environment need to be recreated in the school language learning experience. There must be simulations of these experiences in the classroom where the students must hear and read good models of English.

While the English language skills of speaking, listening, reading and writing  can be taught in various tested ways in the English classroom, it is necessary to simulate exposure to or immersion in the language more naturally. The most effective way is to expose them to the socio-cultural aspects of the language through its literature.

The language curriculum must include at least one library period a week where the students explore the language in their reading of the various genres of literature including the classics of the outstanding epochs – Shakepearean, Victorian, Dickensian, Romanticism, modern. Abridged editions should be made available for easy comprehension at different levels. More current reading materials in reputable magazines like the Readers Digest will appeal to some.

Students should be given the freedom of choice in reading the novel, play, journal, letter, short story or feature article that appeals to them. Gone are the days of poring over the same prescribed text throughout the year when the same questions are repeated in examinations for teachers to spot and train their students to answer. Language learning has to be fun, relevant and communicative for learners to achieve a high level of proficiency.

For practical management of the classroom, the students can be grouped in fours or fives and student facilitators appointed to conduct the group discussions which the teachers will go around to monitor. At the end of the oral discussion on story line, characters, message, quotable quotes, words and expressions students will settle down to write a structured report to be completed as homework and handed in for assessment.  Through role play and participation, the students take ownership of their own learning experience and will feel a greater sense of involvement.      

To strengthen the national education system and produce citizens who can communicate with confidence in the languages relevant to the nation’s growth and development, the Minister of Education should seriously consider the teaching of History in English to provide further reinforcement in the students exposure to and immersion in the language. History requires much reading and reference work which will provide the natural environment to learn about the events and happenings of the past and its relevance to the present, both locally and globally. Outstanding leaders and national icons can be the subject of class discussion and project work.

Besides, recording the nation’s history in English for school text books and teaching it through the emotionally neutral medium of instruction of English will remove the perception of bias and imbalance in the history syllabus. If anything, the education system and curriculum inspired by the British was the source of the unity and integration the nation boasted in the post Merdeka era of the late 50s and 60s.

There was solidarity in learning the wisdom of Shakespeare’s enormous philosophies manifested through the characters in his tragedies and comedies, and in the peaceful gentleness of the Romantic poems of Wordsworth and Keats.  Unity and racial integration came naturally with the fair and balanced understanding of world and Malaysian history and the roles played by our ancestors in the History lessons experienced through the English language.

May 2011
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