Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Those were the days we speak perfect English....

Nadeswaran was in London reading law when I was then the correspondent of the Times of Malaysia (London) Ltd, which is the New Straits Times' branch in UK. We had been friends for a long time as he was also a former senior journalist with the New Straits Times. He is now an editor with the Sun and I adopted here an interesting article of his which had appeared in his weekly column `Citizen Nades'.
Teaching children to fail
R. Nadeswaran

BROWN envelopes that land on our table always get immediate attention.
While some are routine anonymous notes with more venom than facts from
disgruntled members of the public, a few contain unsubstantiated
allegations while others usually are from self-appointed do gooders who think they have the right cure for all our country's ills.
A few contain valuable information which helps us in our journalistic
efforts to uncover some wrongdoing or another. But when the contents of one such envelope were opened on Wednesday, it wasnot only

this writer who went berserk, but also several colleagues with whom they were shared.
The header on the note read: Jabatan Pelajaran Negeri Selangor: Program
Peningkatan Prestasi UPSR (Selangor Education Department: UPSR Performance

Enhancement Programme). It was a mathematics test preparatory paper for
Standard Six pupils who would be sitting for the exam next month.
Going through the 40 questions, there were no less than 33 grammatical
errors more than 75%! Poring through the 18 pages of questions printed
on 10 sheets of paper, one can only conclude that the questions were set in Bahasa Malaysia

and were translated by a less-than-competent cikgu who was not proficient in the language.
It also showed that whoever supervised this project never bothered to check them. Instead,

they were sent to the printers with an accompanying
which was signed: Saya yang menurut perintah.
These are not exactly bloopers which could be blamed on the printer's
devil. These were not created by some untrained person who makes a living
by making people laugh or a writer for David Letterman. These are what the authorities

believed were correct and accurate.
Some samples:
» Which of the following convertion is not true?
» What is the shape of the incline faces?
» What is estimate value in l of 60 glasses of water?
» How many oranges does Diana gets?
These are just mild. Here come the "better" ones:
» What is the difference value between the two number?
» The average of four number is 18. The fifth number is 28. What is the
of five number?
If you thought these were bad, here come the gems:
» Diagram 8 shows the Pravina's twelfth birthday. Her brother borns 3 years 6 months after

Pravina borned. What is the age of her brother at 7th
January 2014.
» Diagram 10 shows the mass of a packet of flour. The flour is fill in
three containers. First container fill in with 3.98 kg of flour. The rest
of the flour in second and third container. Which of the flowing mass is
for second and third container?
» Bar chart in diagram 16 shows the number of events won by Red Spout in
Annual Sport. Table 4 shows the mark of each places. Calculate the total
mark of Red Sport in Annual sport.
For years now, we have been
debating on the declining standards of the English language. This test
paper was set for pupils who have had six years of primary school
education. The medium of instruction for mathematics and science is supposed to have been

in English.
If the teacher or teachers who set these questions cannot write proper
English, how do you expect the pupils to write or speak the language?
This test paper shows that we are teaching our young minds to fail. It is also a reflection of the

lackadaisical attitude adopted by many who claim to be in the "teaching" profession.
Further, it displays the seriousness the authorities take in ensuring that our kids get a good

grounding in the language.
In a nutshell, these mistakes mirror what has happened to our education
system. As kids, we were taught to dot our "i"s and dash our "t"s. We were made to do

"corrections" to the homework if we got it wrong. Our teachers spoke to us – both in Bahasa Kebangsaan (at that time) and in English – without mistakes in pronunciation or delivery.
They were thorough. Teaching was a profession which was delivered with
utmost passion.
Today, some think of English as a language of our colonial masters and therefore shun it.

The system of education has been systematically dismantled
and even nursery rhymes like "Jack and Jill" have been dropped. They took away the

hallowed turfs in cricket pitches because "the game is only played by flannelled fools from

England". They have negative opinions about other people's history. When we were in primary

school, we already knew about
Alexander the Great, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, Mahatma Gandhi, Prophet Muhammad, Gautama

Buddha and Lao Tze because we were taught about not only the lives they lived, but also their

In the same breath, the same few who take anti-colonial stands and preach
about nationalism have no qualms about sending their children to the
headquarters of the colonialism where everything is taught in English.
Unable to communicate, they form cliques, become reclusive and then claim that "the English

students refuse to mix with us."
Why do you need the colonialists which you detested or were taught to
detest? A parody? No, it's much more than that.
We are at a crossroads and the debate on the medium of instruction in our
schools continues to rage on. Both sides of the divide have their own
reasons, some of which are justified. The debate is not going to end any
time soon. The crux of the matter is that you can't please all the people
all the time.
But what we can hope for is while the debate ensues, the people tasked with moulding the

minds and hearts of the younger generation do not abdicate
from their responsibilities by adopting slipshod methods. Yes, change will come about in 2014,

but in the interim period, can they make education fun by not making all these inexcusable

silly mistakes?
R. Nadeswaran went through the old school where students had to write
perfect sentences. A mistake or two would end up with an earful from the
teacher or in worse case scenarios, errant students would get two of the
best on the buttocks.

He is editor (special and investigative reporting) at theSun. He can be reached at:


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