The Deputy Prime Minister’s/ Minister of Education’s call for a review of the school English Language curriculum is long overdue. His concern that Malaysian students cannot master the English Language after 13 years of learning it in school has been constantly reiterated by the public and now needs to be taken up at the highest levels.
The English curriculum department of the Education Ministry must consider this as a tall order to be executed with the greatest urgency. However, they should not expect to undertake the exercise internally only among the Ministry officials. They must be inclusive in seeking the expertise of ELT experts and consultants as well as teachers and members of the public. The views of those experienced in ELT must input the review in the most productive and efficacious ways.
Outdated methodologies, teaching tools and books which have not produced results must be thrown out and replaced by those that work. English language teachers must be debriefed and given in-house training at the same time that they are executing their lessons in the classroom. There’s no dishonour in the teachers learning simultaneously with their students if in the end the desired proficiency in English is attained by both groups.
Immediate research can begin by looking at the curriculum and teaching methodologies in countries where the teaching of the second language has achieved outstanding results. Many of the European Union countries such as the Netherlands and Germany have successful ESL programmes and their citizens have an almost native-speaker command of English. In Asia, the Indians and Filipinos speak very good English. In France and China, tested language teaching and learning methodologies such as the use of language labs and listening tapes are used extensively with amazing results.
These provide the necessary drills and continuous exposure to the correct models of the language that is vital to successful language acquisition.
Not so long ago Malaysians were among those who had mastery of their colonial language viz English. Among my peers there was no embarrassment about wanting to excel in English. In fact, there was keen competition among us to see who were better in English and English Literature. Those of us who made the grade to participate in English essay competitions, oratorical contests and debates were the envy of our schoolmates. An A in these subjects was the passport to scholarships and school awards.
It cannot be stressed enough that besides the excellent English teachers that we baby boomers had, we also had the advantage of reinforcement through the other subjects that were taught in English. The library period encouraged exploration into literature and the finer aspects of vocabulary, expression and style through book reports and oral presentations. By constantly listening, reading and writing in English our reading comprehension, writing and speaking skills were effectively honed, and our thought processes optimally managed and manifested in our language use.
What the review team must bear in mind is the creation of a conducive English Language teaching and learning environment where the students can pick up the language in the most spontaneous ways. For this, it is important to simulate the mother-tongue acquisition environment where learners can be totally immersed in the sounds, vocabulary, structures and grammar of English.
The four basic language skills of listening, reading, speaking and writing must be packaged into a total experience for Malaysian students and their teachers. Only then can the country boast of having citizens who can use the international language with precision and accuracy.