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.


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