Friday, November 21, 2008

Life is not a textbook!

Lately I’ve seen quite a few letters in the newspapers on the standard of education in Malaysia with some readers suggesting that the Education Ministry bring back English-medium schools and some steadfastly holding on to their belief that BM-medium national schools are the way forward.

Mostly the arguments are centered on how disadvantaged our graduates are in the job market after spending more than 12 of their growing years in BM-medium schools as they are unable to converse adequately in the English language, thus making them non-employable especially in big multinational corporations. Nevermind that some of these graduates have national exam scores of 10As and above. The fact is that many, if not most, of them can hardly muster up enough courage to string a sentence in English, let alone hold a conversation with the interviewer. Their command of English is certainly cringe-worthy. However, I do not think that this problem is prevalent only in the BM-medium national schools, as a matter of fact, I think students from Chinese schools face the same problem.

English is not a language that can be learned by the textbook and I think this is where part of the problem lies. Our education system tries to cram in as many subjects in an average school day as possible, which is about 6 hours. As most of the subjects were either taught in only BM or Chinese, that effectively leaves about 30 to 45 minutes each day for English lessons if they’re lucky. On top of that, many of the teachers in the national schools are not well-versed in English either.

In part our educational culture is also to blame. It is no secret that our education system is one that encourages memorizing of texts. I spent 12 years in the national schools and I can attest that we were encouraged to memorize the textbooks. I was lucky in the sense that I had access to a wide range of encyclopedias at home and was encouraged to read. I’ve heard from many people that these days, their children are taught to memorize whole essay samples in school so that they can reproduce them in exams, word for word. I was horrified to say the least and I am even more horrified that some parents seem to think this is perfectly acceptable. Shouldn’t creative writing be encouraged instead? This is but one example of our system. We hear all the time that we should “think out of the box” and yet we encourage our children to “think within the box” by curtailing their creativity. Has anyone ever thought how difficult it must be to “think out of the box” when you spent almost your entire growing years on “thinking within the box”? Do we just expect our children to suddenly start being creative? Unfortunately, after years of going through the grind, it is not surprising that the children forget what creativity means.

What good is it to churn out straight-A students year after year when these students are lacking in so many areas? It is hard to find someone to have an intellectually-stimulating conversation with because many of them do not have the general knowledge required to even start a conversation with! Life is not a textbook. I fear for the children who will eventually discover this fact when they finally leave school.


4MalMal said...

hi I stumbled upon your blog. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts on education, a topic which I held close to my heart. great food for thoughts.

Sharon said...

4MalMal, thank you for your comments!