New English syllabus brings some hope to a public school

Pupils of a Subang Jaya school at a roll call.

SUBANG JAYA: Having taught in public schools for more than 30 years now, English teacher Chan believes she can speak competently of the challenges she and her colleagues face.

She blames the public education programme for the failure of schools to produce citizens who can think well or express themselves clearly.

Chan, who has been teaching at her current school for 19 years, said her students would often find it difficult to express their thoughts effectively, even when it came to something as simple as describing a picture in a textbook.

For too long, she added, public schools had ignored speaking skills, scrambling to place some emphasis on them only when the time came for oral tests.

She said the focus, until recently, had always been on written examinations. “Our students are disciplined and can study, but they can’t speak fluently.”

Chan, 57, was speaking to FMT ahead of Teachers’ Day today.

She welcomed the recently introduced Common European Framework of Reference for Languages system, an international benchmark for English proficiency.

With this system, lessons on grammar and vocabulary make a return, and assessments are divided into speaking, listening, reading and writing.

“The new syllabus is great,” she said. “It covers everything and it’s a good start. But let’s see how it goes. The first batch of students who are taught in this system from Form One will sit for the PT3 exams this year.”

But Siva, the English department head at Chan’s school, still foresees problems for students. He said the new textbooks are too Eurocentric.

“We read of people who are blonde-haired or things like cottages, things which our students may not exactly relate to, worse so if they are from rural schools and have a poor grasp of English,” he said.

Siva, 50, proposed a localisation of the framework. But until then, he said, the syllabus on its own is acceptable enough despite its being “tedious” to teach.

Teachers often complain of having to prepare detailed lesson plans, and calls have been made to lift administrative burdens from them.

According to Chan and Siva, other forms of paperwork are seasonal, becoming bothersome only during the first half of the year or whenever teachers attend conferences or accompany their students out for competitions.

Life has been made easier with the new European framework, though. Government teachers now need only to drag and drop suggested skills and learning outcomes, for example, from an online library of sorts.

But digitisation, generally, has not led to much change, even in an urban place with good network connectivity like Subang Jaya. Chan and Siva complained of lagging computers and servers.

“Even with our online attendance checklist system, sometimes it can be a bit of a pain,” Siva said. “We click ‘submit’ but it doesn’t work. And if the WiFi doesn’t work, we have to use our own data instead.”

Suriati, another teacher at Chan’s school, said poor internet connectivity coupled with even worse classroom conditions had hindered Putrajaya’s efforts to get schools in line with the 21st century.

“Twenty years ago,” she said, “the government spent thousands of ringgit to purchase overhead projectors for our fourth floor classrooms. But those contracted to do the work absconded.

“So the wires were left dangling. Until today, the projectors are not functioning. You can see the hardware there but you can’t use it.”

She said there were not enough classrooms with internet facilities available for teaching tasks requiring such technology.

“Aside from that, students are not prepared. We can break our backs preparing lessons for them but some of them, having been spoon-fed their entire lives, are not here to learn.”

She alleged that the current generation of students are concerned only with what is coming out in their exams.

She called for a more rigorous system of grading in examinations.

“The cream of the cream deserve those As, but thanks to the bell curve or whatever graph you apply to the tabulation of results, those who don’t deserve the As get the As. And that’s not a good thing.

“In the end, they are being lied to. They’ll think they can achieve wonders given their grades and go on to take up courses like medicine and law. But they will find it hard because their foundation was weak.”

Suriati said this was why the number of unemployed university graduates had been increasing. “We are not moving away from this trend,” she added. “Students are more interested in memes rather than reading a book.”