Half of English teachers have poor English skills, says don

The attitude of students towards the learning of English has also contributed to the problem, says academic Teo Kok Seong. (Bernama pic)

PETALING JAYA: An academic has urged the national teachers’ union to acknowledge that bad teaching is a primary reason for poor English proficiency among students.

“The teachers should have the heart to accept that some of them are not qualified and not proficient in the language,” said Teo Kok Seong of Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia in commenting on a call by the National Union of the Teaching Profession (NUTP) for a comprehensive study to determine the cause of poor English in schools.

NUTP president Aminuddin Awang, who asked the education ministry and experts to conduct the study, said it was unfair to continually blame teachers for the problem.

“There may be other factors such as the environment, a lack of motivation since students are not required to pass the subject in the Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia examination and so forth,” Aminuddin said.

He also questioned the need to require English teachers to sit for the Malaysian University English Test (MUET), as stated in an April 14 circular put out by the education ministry.

Speaking to FMT, Teo said NUTP could help remedy the situation if it were to stop blaming other factors and recognise that poor proficiency among teachers was among the main problems.

He said some students could speak better English than their English teachers. “It’s a fact and many parents know it.”

He claimed that “at least half” of English option teachers did not have a good command of English.

English option teachers are those trained to teach the language. Non-option English teachers are those trained to teach other subjects but assigned to teach the language to make up for a shortage.

Teo said many English option teachers were deemed qualified because they had passed their examinations. However, he added, this did not mean they were proficient in English.

“This is why those who have not taken English tests like MUET should take them to find out the level of their competence.”

Another test they could sit for, he said, would be the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages.

However, he acknowledged that the attitude of students towards the learning of English had also contributed to the problem.

“This is especially so for students who don’t speak English,” he said. “For us, the older generation, we studied everything in English. However, today, they study English only as a subject. So they don’t speak the language other than during English class.

“This is where the teachers are supposed to come in. But when the teachers themselves are not proficient in the first place, the students end up learning incorrect English.”

Arshad Abd Samad, who heads Universiti Putra Malaysia’s Centre for the Advancement of Language Competence, agreed that “it’s impossible” to take teachers out of the equation.

“However, this does not mean that teachers are solely to be blamed if the proficiency levels are not up to expectation,” he said.

“Teachers are part of a complex education ecosystem. To address the issue, we have to look at each and every part of the system.”

He said teachers would need a minimum level of language skills but it was more important to ensure that they had the pedagogical skills to teach the language.

“The curriculum, teacher training, teacher selection, school environment and other factors also play a role,” he added.