English Language Teachers in Malaysian Schools

We wish to welcome the recently announced government initiative to bring in 300 American Voluntary teachers to teach in rural schools in the country. This program which is similar to the American  Peace Corp volunteer programme in the sixties was announced recently by the Deputy Prime Minister. It was also indicated that, in spite of being vountary in nature, this program will still cost the government RM 1.4 mil. to cover the cost of transportation and allowance for these teachers who newly graduated from universities in their country.

The importance of  the need to improve  command of English language among our students cannot be overemphasized. Tun Mahathir, the foremost proponent of teaching of English  in schools, has elaborated many times on its importance to Malaysia in order to be competitive in this globalised era.

However, in view of the cost implication of the entire program, the government should look into the sourcing of English language teachers carefully, including from our own country.

It is easy to understand why  young Malaysian teachers of the language are mostly not up to the mark,  given the language environment in which  they were brought up.  But the government should not forget that there is an older generation of Malaysians who are still around and healthy, despite their age, who may be interested to take up the challenge to teach English in schools. These individuals are  now  in the 55 to 65 years age group and have retired  from service. Many of them were brought up in English Medium schools and worked  with the government or the private sector where English was the language of communication,  an environment which more than qualify them for the teaching  job.

It may be argued that these individuals may not be suitable for the job since they were not trained to teach. We  believe this is not a big issue since they can be given a short training course in teaching. Moreover, because of their age and life experience, they  should be more familiar in children psychology which is an important ingredient in teaching school children.

In these older individuals, they remember how they  struggled to master the language and how they overcame  initial shyness or timidness to speak in the language. Once they overcame such fear, they began to speak the language as if it is their own. Even now, long after retirement they find it easier to express themselves in English than in their own mother tongue. That is why  you always notice that meetings,  discussions  or TV interviews often revert back to English after initial salutations  in Bahasa Malaysia by the speakers.

The above traits are not  present  in most Malaysian students nowadays, except those brought up in international schools or in  English speaking families. A normal Malaysian student may listen and understand English, but one easily notice shyness and lack of confidence  once  opening their mouth to speak in the language.

If given the right opportunities, these older individuals should be able to create a more conducive  environment in the teaching of English in a classroom. After all, to command a language, one does not only have to understand it and it’s grammer, but more so,  one has to to speak it confidently as a means of communication in any environment he is in.

The above proposal may  even  be  better than one being implemented by the Ministry of Education involving language teaching experts from the UK.  We understand from news reports that these experts do not teach in classrooms, but rather assigned tasks to better prepare Malaysian teachers in teaching the language.

It is doubtful whether these express courses for the  Malaysian teachers could successfully upgrade their abilities to the expected standard.  Firstly, English being a forein language takes a long time to master.  Secondly,   inability to master the language will make it difficult for the teacher  to lead the class to speak the language and create a conducive atmosphere.

Any English medium student should be able to remember how difficult it was to catch up in his  English lessons. As for me, I joined  a top English medium school in form one and it took me more than four  years to be fairly proficient in the language. Being slightly above average in mental capacity, it still took me that long.  So one  may wonder how an average student in a Malay medium environment could perform under supervision of Malaysian teacher half baked in English language.

DAH Ikhwan

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