PETALING JAYA: Should Malaysians be proud that only 37 per cent of teachers trained to teach English in the country have a high level of proficiency on par with their counterparts in the United Kingdom?
Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin seems to be elated by this level of competency among English-language teachers in the country.
One wonders what the proficiency level of the remaining 63 per cent of English-language teachers is.
On Feb 8, Muhyiddin was reported to have said in Johor that English language experts from the University of Cambridge had praised the level of teaching and learning of English in Malaysian schools.
Muhyiddin, who is also Education Minister, reportedly said that a study was conducted by the university on the proficiency of English language teachers in Malaysia and that the initial results were encouraging.
“I was told that 37 per cent of our English language teachers have a high proficiency, on par with that of their counterparts in the United Kingdom where English is the main language,” Muhyiddin said. He had met the English language experts during his recent visit to the United Kingdom.
Parent Action Group for Education (PAGE) chairperson Datin Noor Azimah Abdul Rahim said this is a sad reflection of the entry requirements set by the Education Ministry for English teachers.
“But maybe the entry level is even worse, as they are trained after being selected, which is why we have such a low competency level among English teachers in the country.
“The deliberate attempt by the ministry to take in a large number of Malay teachers has caused that level to drop even further.
“I wonder what English the other 63 per cent of the English teachers not on par with their United Kingdom counterparts are teaching our students. Are they teaching English in Malay?” she asked.
Noor Azimah said the ministry should extend the English Language Cambridge Placement Test to Science and Mathematics teachers to see how they fared.
“This will prove that we don’t need a majority of Science and Mathematics teachers to be fluent in English. We only need a sufficient number to teach these subjects in English,” she said.
In 2013, it was reported that two-thirds of English Language teachers in the country had been classified as “incapable” or “unfit” to teach the subject in schools.
It was also reported in 2013 that 70 per cent of the 60,000 English Language teachers who
sat for the English Language Cambridge Placement Test performed poorly.
Noor Azimah suggested the government consider bringing back English medium schools as a choice.
“That is something we desperately need. We should convert a portion of existing schools to English medium schools because we can’t wait forever for our teachers and our neighbours are overtaking us. We cannot afford to do things the same way,” she said.
Noor Azimah makes a compelling argument. A news report in 2013 quoted recruitment specialists as saying that the poor command of English among job seekers remained among the top complaints of employers.
It was also reported that JobStreet.com Malaysia country manager Chook Yuh Yng said it was crucial to improve the level of English proficiency as it was used as the official medium of communication in 91 per cent of the companies in the private sector.
When only 37 per cent of the very teachers trained to teach the English language are on par with their United Kingdom counterparts, one does not have to look far to find the root of the problem.
Muhyiddin was reported to have said that the ministry would upgrade the proficiency of English teachers by sending more of them for English courses.
He said 20,000 English teachers would be sent for courses this year compared with 5,000 last year.
But wouldn’t increasing the entry requirements and getting rid of the race factor in hiring teachers be a much faster and more cost-efficient method of dealing with the problem?
After all courses cost money and, as they say, it is money that can be put to better use.
~ The Ant Daily