Math and Science teaching in Malaysia (cont'd)

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Sun Apr 10 17:41:55 UTC 2005

The Star Online > Education

Sunday April 10, 2005

Onus on teachers


THE time has come to produce results, not excuses. Disappointed with the
results of an Education Ministry study which revealed that secondary
school students were having a tough time coping with the learning of
Mathematics and Science in English, education director-general Datuk Dr
Ahamad Sipon says more is needed to give this three-year-old policy the
shot in the arm it needs. We must never be satisfied with the way we do
things. There always has to be improvement, he told reporters after
chairing a special meeting with senior ministry officials on the
effectiveness of teaching Mathematics and Science in English, last month.

Singling out teachers as being the main impetus for change, he added, We
need more commitment from teachers now. A senior ministry personnel who
helped train teachers to teach the subjects in English says a sense of
complacency has set in since the hype of introducing this policy in 2003.
Back then everyone was excited as it was something new. They were
enthusiastic and motivated. Things are different now, she says, adding
that teachers need to buck-up in order for students to improve.

Curriculum Development Centre (CDC) deputy director Zoyah Nordin admits
that levels of proficiency in English vary among teachers and calls for
patience as both students and teachers adapt themselves to the changes.
They are trying their best to pick up the language. You cannot expect them
to make the switch overnight. Give them time, she told StarEducation when
met after a signing ceremony to commemorate a partnership between the
ministry, British Council and HSBC to implement a series of workshops to
train master trainers in teaching Mathematics and Science in English.

Zoyah says the special training to be done in collaboration with the
College of St Mark and St John in the United Kingdom is among the efforts
being made by the private sector to help make this policy a success.
Everyone wants to help, she says.

The fuss

Concern over this issue was dragged into the spotlight when Dr Ahamad
revealed that while primary pupils showed encouraging progress at learning
in English, secondary students especially those from rural schools were
producing just average test scores. Why the fuss? Consider the investment.
Under Budget 2003, a whopping RM5bil was allocated for the implementation
of the teaching of Mathematics and Science in English with RM978.7mil for
the first two years alone (2003 and 2004).

                 We have gone too far in implementing the policy to
backtrack now, the source says.  When the matter was raised at the Second
Malay Education Congress recently, Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib
Tun Razak said that a study was being carried out to determine if there
was a transitional problem or something more deep-rooted and permanent
that needed to be addressed.  Whatever it is, the policys implementation
is taking a beating and being turned into a political issue.

                 Gua Musang MP Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah has said that the
use of English to teach the subjects in English has affected the
performance of Malay students in rural areas, adding that both teachers
and students were not proficient in the language, lacked enthusiasm and
were uninspired to teach and learn the subjects. The problems are deep
rooted but can be addressed if teachers start playing a more proactive
role. Teachers are not going to improve their command of the language if
they just rely on the ministrys training programmes. They must make the
effort to learn on their own. Use the language to learn it, adds the

She says that out of 10 teachers she spoke to recently, only two were
making the effort to improve their proficiency on their own. Most of them
are just getting by. Are they teaching or are they just mouthing words
based on the material given to them? she questions. CDC director Mahzan
Bakar, who was also at the press conference with Dr Ahamad, says that
various training and support programmes for teachers have already been
introduced including a buddy system where teachers with a good grasp of
the language are paired with those who are weak.

The buddy system is a very powerful tool for teachers but how many are
actually tapping fully into it? says the source who is also involved in
drawing up material and lesson plans for the teachers. She adds that there
are abundant resources for teachers to improve but they are just not being
used effectively.

Transition period

Measures such as the ministrys District English Language Coordinator's
(DELC) initiative and bringing in native English speakers from the UK need
time to bear fruit, Zoyah says. Also, proficiency is subjective and must
be taken in context. A school in Petaling Jaya will find it easier to cope
with the change compared to a rural school in East Malaysia, says the
source. Dr Ahamad says the ministry is aware of the problems and is
drawing up an action plan to address the challenges.

Among the measures he highlighted were the restructuring of state and
district education departments to support the teaching of the subjects in
English, developing a blueprint for Form Three teachers to network and
plan lessons together to ensure better delivery of instructional materials
and for school heads to play a leading role in instilling a culture that
promotes the use of English in schools. As teachers, it is very important
to know that your principal is proficient in English. School heads must
lead by example, the source says. However, while this is being done,
institutions such as the English Language Teaching Centre (ELTC) with its
wealth of resources seems to have been sidelined.

The centre was set up in 2002 to improve the quality of English language
teaching and learning in the country, and entrusted with the specific task
of conducting courses in English for the Teaching of Mathematics and
Science (ETeMS). The ministrys Teacher Training Division has taken over
the training of teachers for Mathematics and Science, so I do not know
what the role of ELTC is now, the source says of the centre which trained
2,000 key trainers who had, in turn, impacted over 50,000 Science and
Mathematics teachers since its inception. However, Zoyah notes that the
important thing is that the children are enjoying themselves learning the
subjects in English.

Let us wait until 2008 when the first batch of students to learn
Mathematics and Science in English enter Year Six. Then, we will be able
to evaluate the success of the programme. Until then, we are still in a
transition period, she says. The ministry source says this years batch of
Penilaian Menengah Rendah (PMR) results will be a good indicator of the
success of the initiative as students will have to answer their
Mathematics and Science papers in English for the first time.

                              1995-2005 Star Publications (Malaysia) Bhd

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