KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 23 ― Putrajaya’s plan to import Indians to teach English in national schools appears to be meeting resistance from educators who doubt the government’s idea will help Malaysian students master the language.
Local English-language teachers and an education reform group polled by The Malaysian Insider voiced concern over what they saw as a short-term solution they said would unlikely benefit a multiracial class whose learning could be further hampered by coaches speaking in an unfamiliar accent.
“I think the question is, why do we need foreigners to teach Malaysians?”
asked Khairun Nisa who teaches the language subject in a public high school in Manjung, Perak.
The 27-year-old debunked as myth the government’s claimed shortage of teachers in the language regarded as the lingua franca worldwide.
She said the existing teaching manpower was sufficient to coach students if merely passing school and national-level examinations were all the Ministry of Education (MOE) wanted.
“What are we trying to achieve? To what level of proficiency [do] we want our students to grasp?” she asked further.
“Teachers can’t even transfer into my district. Doesn’t that show that English teachers are enough?” she claimed, explaining that red tape was more to blame than an actual teacher shortage in the language subject.
Khairun said that the government would do better to train more local teachers rather than resorting to importing English-language teachers.
She said Putrajaya had previously shipped in foreign teachers, including native English speakers from the United States and the United Kingdom.
In 2011, Malaysia started a negotiation with the US government to bring volunteer teachers under the Peace Corps programme, and 75 English Teaching Assistants (ETAs) have been assigned since this year.
The ETAs came under the Fulbright English Teacher Assistantship programme jointly administered by the Malaysian-American Commission on Educational Exchange (MACEE) and the Ministry of Education.
Khairun was baffled over the latest move to import non-native speakers to teach the language, a view echoed by Shawn Shim, who teaches in Austin Heights Schools, an international school located in Johor.
“It’s a bad idea from the government. They have a 1960s style,” Shim said, noting that India’s conservative education system focused on rote learning and memorisation.
“And their accent is hard to grasp,” he added.
Datin Noor Azimah Abdul Rahim who heads an education reform group, the Parent Action Group for Education (PAGE), agreed.
“I think if you want to import teachers it must be English teachers, not even Irish and Scottish,” she said.
“Along the way we’ll develop our own intonation. We do have our own way of speaking English, and we should be proud of it,” added Noor Azimah, a parent who has been pushing the education ministry to return English as teaching medium in Mathematics and Science subjects, a policy that was abolished this year.
The two teachers rapped the government for having such a knee-jerk reaction to education issues, saying bringing in Indian nationals as English-language teachers was the latest in a growing list of quick-fix measures implemented by the MOE.
But Shim departed from Khairun in saying there was a dearth of teachers fluent in the language, which is crucial to carry out the national education plan.
Instead, he pinned it on the lack of communication skills among local teachers.
“Although a lot of them are trained, they don’t exactly speak English to each other... And even if they want to make a difference, people will want to bring them down,” he said.
As example, he related that he had attended several district-level meetings among English-language schoolteachers that were instead conducted in Bahasa Malaysia, the national language.
But the two teachers noted that there were other external factors that have contributed to the decline of interest among local English language teachers.
“I like to do group work and presentations, sometimes mini treasure hunts. But the students complained when the class is all about ‘fun, fun, fun’.
“They’d say, ‘can’t we just sit and listen to you teach?’” she recounted.
According to Shim, a number of local teachers are unhappy with the amount of pay received by foreign teachers, and the rich spoils will play a major part in why Indian nationals will be keen to teach in Malaysia.
“On average, they earn around RM1,000 to RM1,500 per month in India, but they’ll receive between RM4,000 to RM8,000 here after conversion.
“Caucasian teachers, meanwhile, can get up to RM8,000 to RM10,000 after conversion. In private schools, [they] can get up to RM25,000,” he said.
He suggested that the government may likely prefer to hire the language teachers from India as they were cheaper than their American or British counterparts.
Khairun suggested that the government would be better off spending the extra cost incurred to hire and bring over foreign teachers on upgrading existing school facilities to provide a better classroom environment conducive for learning.
“Won’t you say a good learning environment helps student to learn better? We have the basics, but if we wanted funding to make the school more cheerful, we’d have to ask the PIBG,” she said, calling the Parent-Teacher Association by its initials in the national language.
Shim said if the government were serious about helping Malaysians truly master the language, it should reintroduce English as the medium of instruction for select subjects ― an idea that PAGE has been lobbying for over the past years.
“When we have our own effort to produce and develop teachers, we don’t have to import anymore,” PAGE’s Noor Azimah said.
“Currently, we’re trying to dumb down the curriculum to accommodate the various segments of society,” Shim said, and added, “We should actually raise the bar.”
Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak said last week Malaysia planned to hire teachers from India to teach Malaysian students English.
His deputy, Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, gave his assurance that the Education Ministry will thoroughly study the proposed recruitment to ensure it meets the country’s education needs, in response to the National Union of the Teaching Profession’s call for an in-depth analysis to be carried out before rolling out the scheme.
“We will consider whether the English language teachers from India had Cambridge or Oxford (university) education and whether they can teach (the subject) well,” Muhyiddin who is also education minister, was reported by state news agency Bernama as saying in Terengganu yesterday.
There are around 70,000 English teachers in Malaysia, and according to Ministry of Education deputy director-general Datuk Dr Khair Mohamad Yusof, two-thirds of them failed to reach a proficient English level.
To address this, the government had made it compulsory for the teachers to pass the Cambridge Placement Test by 2015, or risk being moved to other roles.
The New Straits Times had reported that those who fail will be required to attend intensive eight-week courses that combine face-to-face training and 30 hours of online instruction per week.
By Zurairi AR
“One of the proposals that I have forwarded to Indian Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh for consideration this morning was to accept a number of teachers from India who are skilled in the English Language to teach our students in Malaysia,”
Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak
"We will consider whether the English language teachers from India had Cambridge or Oxford (university) education and whether they can teach (the subject) well,"
Deputy Prime Minister Education Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin