Tuesday, July 31, 2012
IN my letter, “Easier to learn it at a young age” (NST, July 11), I wrote that learning a language is easier and better at a young age, when students are in primary school, rather than in university.
Also, it is more effective and economical if remedial programmes are done at primary and secondary school levels, and not at the tertiary level.
In the report “Undergrads to boost their English skills” (NST, June 18), it was stated that the Higher Education Ministry had come up with an English language programme for students entering university to meet the requirements of the working world. This is under a new system that classifies students according to their levels of competency.
The programme, known as “English for Specific Discipline”, will be conducted in three tiers: English for Employment, Intensive English (IE) and General English.
However, Higher Education Department Director-General Professor Datuk Dr Rujhan Mustafa said the system would not penalise those with a lower command of the language as the IE course was not part of the credit hours that determine their cumulative grade point average.
Based on that, I warned in my letter that many undergraduates in public universities would not give a hoot about that programme.
Checks carried out in community colleges to find out the number of students who had signed up for a two-month English language crash course confirmed my fears.
It was sad to note that the advice given by Rujhan to new university students with low English competency to enrol for crash courses in community colleges was not taken seriously. Some community colleges did not even get any response.
The Malaysian University English Test (MUET), an entrance requirement for public universities, will determine the classifications when this English learning and teaching system is implemented in September.
Those in bands 5 and 6 are considered competent and prepared for the working world, and are exempted from taking the course.
Students in bands 1 and 2 will attend the IE course to strengthen their basic command of the language. At the end of the course, the students’ competency is expected to jump to at least band 3.
Bands 3 and 4 achievers will take up General English to learn communication skills.
In another newspaper report, it was stated that proficiency in English was a prerequisite for enrolment at International Islamic University Malaysia. Many foreign students are taking two years to learn the language just to gain entry.
The IIUM Centre for Languages and Pre-University Academic Development dean Professor Nuraihan Mat Daud said: “Our debates and complaints over the use of English in the education system tend to be fiery and emotional, but take a step back and imagine what it’s like for a person with no English background to learn the language in under two years.”
This is the reality for foreign students who want to enrol at IIUM. They have up to two years to become competent in English before they can enrol for courses at the university. More importantly though, these students are proving that it can be done.
At the moment, students who sit for MUET, regardless of how well they perform, are considered “qualified” by all public universities and this may render MUET irrelevant.
While the initiative taken by the ministry is commendable, I believe it should only be a temporary measure. I would like to suggest a six-month intensive English language programme for students before they are sent to their respective faculties as an alternative to the English for Specific Discipline programme.
This programme can be conducted without extending the duration students would need to complete their first degrees. It just makes adjustments in the study programmes.
If planned properly, it may not require any additional budget. However, if the intensive programme is approved, there should be no problem in getting additional funds, logistical support or staff to run it.
Again, in this case, students in bands 5 and 6 passes are considered competent and exempted from attending the programme.
Students who go through the programme should be tested at the end of the course, and they must attain a minimum grade to be determined by the ministry and public universities before they are allowed to start their undergraduate courses.
To boost the learning and use of the language, regular English language workshops should be conducted two to four times a year throughout the students’ tenure in universities to check their progress.
Attendance in these workshops must be made compulsory.
Besides that, they must also be made to attend seminars, forums, conferences and dialogue sessions at least twice a year to make them use the language more often.
Workshop programmes should include public speaking, reading, play-acting, literature, writing (book reviews, summaries, précis and minutes), appreciation, creative writing, critical thinking and critical analysis.
Credits should be given to students for their attendance and this should contribute to their final cumulative grade point average (CGPA) grades. Students who fail to attend these workshops should be discredited and their final CGPA scores lowered.
When interviewing graduates for jobs, besides their poor oral skills, I find that many cannot even write a simple letter.
As this is the situation, letter and report writing should also be included in the course as well as re-teaching them the basics of the English language such as grammar, spelling and dictation, vocabulary and comprehension. This will boost their listening, reading, writing and understanding skills.
In the corporate world during the pre-Internet days, letters that were written by junior executives were checked by senior executives, assistant managers or managers before they were sent out.
Now, emails are used and, most often, they are not checked before they are sent out.
So, it is important that emails are written properly to protect companies’ interests as these may be used as documents and evidence against them in case they get involved in legal cases.
It is, therefore, important that company executives are trained in letter writing and preparing other written documents.
Since it is accepted that reading is a practice that will improve one’s command of the language, students must be made to read at least four books a year, and at the end of every quarter, they should be required to write a review of the books.
This is to inculcate the reading habit in them, and this activity should also be conducted with the other important ingredient in improving one’s English, writing, and to make sure that students understand what they read.
The test to be conducted at the end of the course should be objective and subjective.
In addition, a practical test that includes an interview to assess their oral skills, reading, understanding and public speaking, for example, should also be conducted. Those who fail these tests must be compelled to re-sit the course and the tests until they attain the grade required.
Some may think that the programme I am proposing, plus the follow-up activities to be carried out in universities, are hard to implement.
However, to achieve the desired results, such a programme is necessary and all obstacles — physical, emotional and financial — that may hamper its implementation must be removed.
With regards to employability, which is a point emphasised by the ministry, the English training programme that I am proposing meets most of the requirements of the private sector and the corporate world.
Students in Malaysia go through 13 years of education before they enter university and they are taught the English language as a subject.
However, because of the poor syllabus, poor method of teaching and lack of good English language teachers — the complaints that we hear all the time since the education policy switched to the current policy since the 1970s — the general standard of English among our students is considered poor.
Now, it is universities that have to handle the problem and shoulder the burden, which should not be the case had the Education Ministry ensured that a better English language syllabus, sufficient qualified teachers and proper emphasis on English language were given in primary and secondary schools, very much like the earlier days when students’ command of the English language was on a par with the best in the world.
The programme that I am proposing is a temporary measure as the onus is on the ministry to come up with an English language syllabus for students from Year One to Form Five.
It is also its responsibility to prepare the infrastructure and make ready support systems required such as language laboratories, teaching aid and supply of qualified and experienced teachers.
When these are done and the “products” are seen, universities may do away with the six-month English language programme.
It may take between five and 15 years to achieve that, and the time taken will depend on how committed the ministries, public universities and students are.
Since learning a language, especially a working language, is better conducted in primary schools than in universities, the Higher Education Ministry, higher learning institutions and the schools division of the Education Ministry should look for a long-term solution by working together, and for the Education Ministry to start the English programme from Year One.
Finally, regardless of the scenario now, we need to check our students’ sliding command of English sooner or later, and it is better if it is done sooner.
Read more: ENGLISH PROFICIENCY: Intensive course will help students – Letters to the Editor – New Straits Times http://www.nst.com.my/opinion/letters-to-the-editor/english-proficiency-intensive-course-will-help-students-1.116646#ixzz229i6tcFK