Tuesday, June 21, 2005

"Why the giant chased the children?"

The Sun today headlined a story which reflected "appalling state of English among educators". Further to my comments on the state of English literacy amongst the general Malaysian student population today, it seems like some of our "educators" are similarly afflicted.
A Year Four English workbook with errors on almost every page has been withdrawn... A concerned parent, who brought the matter up with theSun, said the workbook, Activity Target, appears on her son's book list under "recommended texts".

"The book is littered with mistakes, as well as comprehension exercises which do not make sense," said the mother.
Unfortunately, unlike the print version of the Sun, there are no examples given in the online version. You can however, view it through the "online print" version accessible here, though you'd probably need broadband to do so. Some of the examples of "rotten" English given are:

  • Where Pak Abu works?

  • Arumugam enrols for Bahasa Melayu class. If his class starts at 8.00 pm, at what time does it ends? [Well, besides the obvious grammar error, how is this question relevant in a comprehension exercise!?]

  • "Pain, pain" said the rock.

  • and of course, "Why the giant chased the children?"
What else do you think made the entire situation even more deplorable?
  • The writers (if they deserve the occupational description) are graduates in "Teaching English as a Second Language" (TESL) from Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM). And yes, the TESL program is a Bachelors degree program from UPM's faculty of Educational Studies. How in the world did these writers even graduate with a degree specialising in English when they can't even write decent Primary 4 English? I'd be very interested to review their both their degree transcripts as well as their examination scripts - they should make for interesting reading!

  • The workbook was placed in a "recommended" "optional" book list handed out to parents by the schools' bookshops. Should a school bookshop be recommending workbooks? The question then is whether the school administrators have "unofficially" touted the booklist? How many times have we heard of stories of supplemented income for the schools' principals and teachers?

  • The schools affected were both located in the Klang Valley - SK Bukit Damansara and SK Bangsar. These are urban schools which are typically, better quality schools compared to schools in the rest of the nation. As a parent noted:

    "Fortunately my son's English is good and he pointed out all the errors to me. What about those children whose English is not as good? They will think this rotten English is the right way to speak the language."
  • The Headmistress of SK Bukit Damansara, Datin Fatihah Abdul Kadir was typically quick to disclaim responsibility:

    "I cannot stop them [the school bookshop] from running a business or stop the parents from buying the books. How can I campaign against buying other people's products?"
    Which of course can be roughly translated as "not my fault, not my responsibility, please go away." If an educator cannot "campaign" for quality products for our young students, then there is a serious problem with our system!

There are some important questions we need to ask here. I'm not so much worried by the quality of the workbook itself per se. The key question to ask is what type of graduate students are some of our universities producing - how did these "degree holders" in English pass their English examinations, not just their degree examination, but also their SPM? Is our standards scraping the bottom of the barrel? Is this a case of "adjusting" the passing rate by lowering the standards so that the universities can claim to have higher "success" in churning out degree holders? Are we then surprised by the rate of umemployment amongst our recent graduates?

It looks like we have a major task ahead in reforming our education system. And it appears that the biggest problem we have today is our educators may not be of the necessary quality to deliver the educational excellence which we seek for our young. Irrespective of whatever reforms implemented - revising the syllabus, changing the examination methodology or adopting a different teaching and learning approach - they'll all be an absolute waste of time and effort. We may have some of the best raw materials in our young, but if the moulds are of terrible quality, then we can only expect the factory output to be significantly sub-standard.

Oh, and for your information, the publisher is Pustaka Sri Cahaya. I can't find any information about them on the web. I would have thought that any self-respecting "publisher" will at least have a basic web site.

5 comments:

meiteoh said...

Yes, the standard has dropped horribly over the years. I get papers that are just awful awful awful - and have of the time it is from kids who speak decent English!

You know what is the other thing I suspect? These people are just to lazy to double-check, even triple-check their work. They lack a sense of pride in their work (incidently also their product). And that is harder to change than bad grammar.

Anonymous said...

QUOTE:
{ The Headmistress of SK Bukit Damansara, Datin Fatihah Abdul Kadir was typically quick to disclaim responsibility:

"I cannot stop them [the school bookshop] from running a business or stop the parents from buying the books. How can I campaign against buying other people's products?"
}

I've never imagined that any person with the title of head of the school could have said anything like this. It's very frustrating for me to learn that even the authorities of that school are backing themselves out of the issue. Should they not defend their students and fight for a better quality? This is a rather disturbing situation, I'm worried...worried that things might get worse. This may only be the beginning, the worst is still to be expected!

Anonymous said...

1. Don't let fear conquer you.

2. The School leadership should take responsibility and initiative in recommending required texts; don’t tell me, if the school’s bookshop decides to sell Playboy magazine as recommended reading material they have no say.

3. The publisher should have editors to vet/double check the materials, before it is send to the press.

4. If the editors are not capable of carrying out their responsibilities (why?), eventually the company must bear the responsibility.

4a. It is premature to start blaming the writers of the book, perhaps it is the editor(s) who insists on their version of what is “correct grammar.”

5. When your company fails, collapse, kaput, do you blame the college/university where the employees went to school or you accept it’s your responsibility?

6. Let us remind each other to learn the language of personal responsibility instead of the language of blame.

7. Fear (i.e. of being blame) only perpetuates more irresponsible behavior. The best place to start is to build a culture that accepts personal responsibility instead of a culture of blame.


--Old Man

Anonymous said...

"How in the world did these writers even graduated from a degree specialising in English when they can't even write decent Primary 4 English?"

Actually replace the word "graduated" with "graduate" and replace the word "from" and put in "with". Ok.....ooops pots, kettles and scores of blackness here.

Tony P said...

Mistakes noted :)