Archive for September, 2012






Published in The Sun 16 September 2012

THE Association of Voices of Peace, Conscience and Reason (PCORE) has embarked on a major project, the English in Harmony Camp (Kem Jalinan Bahasa Inggeris – JABI) in three schools in USJ 15, Subang Jaya.

The weekend camp brings together 30 Standard Five pupils – 10 from each of the Sekolah Kebangsaan, Sekolah Jenis Kebangsaan Cina and Sekolah Jenis Kebangsaan Tamil – to communicate in English and bond with one another in effective ways.

For three hours on five consecutive Saturdays, the mixed group of boys and girls will be totally immersed in the English language, interacting with their facilitators in pairs and groups in a harmonious and fun-filled environment.

Each 3 hour session, broken up into two 90-minute segments, is centred around a theme familiar to 11-year-olds, such as family life and routines; favourite foods, sports and games; activities in the school and classroom; duties and responsibilities in different settings and situations.

The students ask and answer questions using the grammatical structures, words and expressions which are flashed on the screen, whiteboard and cards. Pictures, images and the real items are displayed to enhance understanding.

After the classroom session, handouts are given out for individual students to consolidate their oral work in writing exercises. They are encouraged to share other language items that they may already know and learn to use them in new contexts.

The spirit of JABI is indeed a harmonious collaboration between and among the parties at the frontline of English Language teaching and learning. After more than six months of liaising with and convincing the authorities – the Ministry of Education and its English Language Unit, the State and District Education Departments and the 3 schools selected for the pilot programme, teachers and parents – permission was at last granted to run the programme.

This, after confirming that the source of funding was from the empathetic Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development which saw at once the dire need for parents and the family to synergise with the schools for their children’s education.

At the organisational level, PCORE is collaborating with the Malaysian Association of Modern Languages to provide expert ELT input.

Early feedback from the teachers in attendance at each session confirmed that more concerted work needs to be done to bring the English proficiency of their students to a level where they can communicate effectively in English.

The “ungenerous” one-hour English period allocated for the lower primary students in the SJK Cina is definitely not contributing to a school curriculum conducive to learning the language.

Where the home environment of the SK and SJK Tamil students do not provide any exposure to English, their learning problems are compounded. The cooperation of parents in supporting any efforts to improve the EL proficiency of their children is of the utmost importance.

Echoing the underlying tone of the Education Blueprint, what is even more pressing than the infrastructural changes proposed across the different areas of the education system is the transformation of the minds and attitudes of the custodians of education – curriculum designers, school heads, administrators and service providers and their direct beneficiaries – teachers, students and parents who will be impacted most by any changes in the systems and structures.

Much in the spirit of a referendum, the Education Blueprint is the outcome of a nation-wide exercise to address the people’s demand for change in the Malaysian education system. In answer to this, the reforms projected over the next 13 years promise a “rapid and sustainable transformation” of the education system to put Malaysian schools “in the top-third of countries in international assessments” at par with the best in the world.

The Ministry of Education must be lauded for their hard work in trying to incorporate solutions to many of the education issues which have consistently and persistently caused concern and provoked much public discussion and debate.

Chief among them are the language of instruction, curriculum content, methodology, the evaluation and the examination system. Of special consideration is language teaching and learning which form the basis of cognition, concept and knowledge acquisition and the learning of all the other school subjects. In this, it is agreed that teacher aptitude and attitude are key to unlocking the students’ language potential.

The sceptics and naysayers will say that nothing is really innovative or new in the Education Blueprint. Fault-finders will look for petty details they say will not work. Cynics will ask “What’s new? We’ve heard it all before!”

However, I would like to urge for a more collaborative and constructive response to education reform which in itself is a formidable task. Malaysians must not just be bystanders or commentators in the transformation process; they must fully participate in it at the level they are most comfortable with.

Contribute effectively, hands on if you can, at the level of the administration, the curriculum design, the teaching and the learning. The change must come from you yourself, and your way of looking at and doing things.






(Published edited in NST Letters to the Editor Monday 3 September)

The announced development of Universiti Malaya by the Vice Chancellor Professor Tan Sri Dr Ghauth Jasmon (NST Wednesday August 29) is impressive indeed and is set as he says to “prove to the world our worth as a leading research university”.

The academic and infrastructural projects to revive the life and soul of the nation’s oldest university are massive indeed but poised to generate the revenue to sustain its newly-acquired autonomy. Apart from developing its academic infrastructure with the expansion of the UM Specialist Centre under the Medical Faculty where the practice of medicine and advanced research can be effectively managed, schemes to attract and sustain quality local and foreign staff and students will boost the university’s international standing.

With better accommodation and improved transportation facilities, student life will be greatly enhanced to prepare them for the advanced learning on campus. The university’s teaching and research will be improved with more stringent academic requirements for staff advancement and specialisation. Input from internationally renowned academicians and researchers will no doubt provide the cross-fertilization and exchange of knowledge vital for the growth of a university.

However, it must be said that while the idea of a “private university within a public university” answers the government’s call for innovation and transformation, it is difficult to envisage what and where this will lead to. For  Universiti Malaya to have a private arm offering competition in the open market will require the highest management skills and academic expertise to juggle its commercial interests with its national obligations. No doubt, the precedent has been set by the UM Specialist Centre which has a private wing for patients who are prepared to pay the market price for specialist consultation and medical treatment. A pragmatic argument is that the University Hospital consultants can earn the pay and remunerations they rightly deserve, which will prevent them from leaving the university in search of greener pastures in the private sector. Let’s hope that for both these projects, commercial and business considerations will not supercede the university’s role as a centre accessible to the ordinary person in the street.

To my mind, what is even more out of sync with the development of a university is UM’s bid to become a thriving commercial centre with a shopping mall, hotel, restaurants and business outlets. A fetching argument is that this will generate revenue and profits for the university to sustain its academic development. Presumably, the Universiti Malaya administration are inspired by international universities near centre centres, such as Assumption University in Bangkok, that have become commercial hubs which provide the general public, university students and staff with great opportunities for work, leisure and pleasure.

As a UM alumni who was both student and staff for many years, it pains me to think that the beautiful campus with its green lung and waterway will be breathing the smoke of heavy traffic and the hustle and bustle of shoppers and business people.

What university development should rightly focus on is the expansion of its academic programmes and research into commercially viable projects and vice versa. For instance, as part of the expansion of the Arts Faculty there should be a thriving Cultural Centre with facilities for the development of different museums, art and craft, drama, music and dance which will add much value to the R&D in the humanities. There is no doubt that these projects can be made economically viable if properly managed and promoted. Students and staff will grow intellectually in such an environment; much regional and international exchanges and collaboration can occur.  The public can partake of a slice of real culture so sadly lacking in much of the improvised attempts. A cultural centre will take Universiti Malaya to a different level of academic leadership and innovation instead of the staid and mundane  shopping mall project. If the argument is employment and jobs, there will be plenty of it at the cultural centre.

Malaysians, especially academicians, must stop thinking that life revolves around business and industry, and open their minds to a richer and more fulfilling development of their hearts and  minds.





LANGUAGE has always fascinated me, arising no doubt from the childhood imaginings of Grimm’s fairy tales and Enid Blyton’s Noddy adventures. From then grew an interest in English literature and the classics of Dickens, Hardy, Jane Austen, the Bronte sisters, D.H. Lawrence, Shakespeare and the romantic poets – inspired by the dedicated convent teachers.

Our teachers’ appreciation of English was superior as they articulated and enunciated lines of poetry and excerpts from the short stories and novels. For me and my classmates, the joy of being picked to read aloud in class and be praised by our role models urged us to speak and write better in English.

The hope of taking part in school events such as elocution contests, debates and school plays encouraged us to expand our linguistic repertoire and increase our word power. The growing ability to recognise and understand difficult words and expressions during lessons on dictionary use, stimulated our interest.

Practice in pronunciation drills, dictation, reading comprehension, writing essays and précis reinforced our acquisition and learning of the English language, in particular its words and meanings and how to use them in relevant and imaginative ways.

My first journalistic attempt was writing for the Form One class newsletter, the first article selected for “publication” was entitled My Pocket Money followed by My Ideal Room – subjective essay titles which gave me room to describe my own personal experiences and compare them with those of my classmates. To see my handwritten pieces pasted on the white mahjong sheets with illustrations was such a joy and much inspiration.

Some of us had the advantage of a conducive home environment where books, magazines and newspapers were readily available, where the family watched English shows on TV and at the movies, where our social interactions with friends and classmates were conducted mainly in English. Although our interactions with native speakers of English were few, we were immersed in the socio-cultural and communicative aspects of the language by being exposed to them regularly through reading and listening, speaking and writing – the four traditional language skills.

I’m therefore greatly heartened by the prime minister’s call to include English Literature in the school curriculum. Being a firm believer in the adage “Reading maketh a man”, and a long-time advocate of English language and literature, I truly hope that the Education Blueprint, which will be revealed shortly, will confirm the (re)introduction of literature as a component of the English curriculum.

To allay the fears of students, teachers and parents who think that English Literature comprises only the classics of Shakespeare, Dickens, Wordsworth and Lawrence, perhaps what needs to be clarified is that the field is much wider than just these well-known authors, poets and playwrights.

Perhaps “Literature in English” or “Readings in English” are better terms to use, as they can be extended to include all kinds of writings in English be they by British, American, African or Commonwealth authors and poets. There are many commendable works by writers and poets who are not British or American, including those from India and Malaysia.

Both classics and contemporary works can be included as well as modern genres like newspaper reports and feature articles. Both complete works or abridged editions can be used depending on the language proficiency of the students and the teachers who teach them.

What needs to be systematically done is to list and categorise the works in terms of their genres, themes, subject matter and levels of linguistic complexity.
Schools can be given a choice as to which novels, plays or collection of poems, short stories and articles they prefer. At the lowest levels, fairy tales, Ladybird and Enid Blyton books can be part of the collection.

I would like to suggest that rather than introduce Literature/ Readings in English as a stand-alone subject, it should be incorporated into the greater English language curriculum.

A practical approach would be to add two extra periods where teachers and students are exposed to a variety of narratives, writing styles and genres using a wide range of vocabulary.

Classroom methodology can include reading aloud, pronunciation drills, dictation, drama and role play, writing summaries/book reports, identifying quotations and interesting idioms and turns of phrase and at a higher productive level – writing the lyrics of a song, a poem or short story.

Films and recordings can be presented to motivate both the teachers and students and sustain their interest. Assessment of learning can be in the form of individual or group projects and answering subjective questions in the relevant section of the English Language examination paper.

Without being utterly boring and harping on the good old days when people of my generation learned and loved the English language through literature, I would like to assert that any extra reading especially of good writings, will only enhance one’s capacity to use the language well and to communicate effectively whether passively (in reading and listening) or actively (in writing and speaking).

We have to make a firm commitment to creating a conducive environment for English language education. Now is a good time!


September 2012