THE words “theme park” conjure images of roller-coasters, ferris-wheels and cotton candy; what you don't think about is learning English in a totally unique way in a fun-filled environment.
Scheduled to open this month, the RM100,000 English Theme Park (ETP) located at the Teachers Resource Centre in Kemaman, Terengganu, is what edutainment is all about.
StarEducation visited this one-of-a-kind park last weekend for a first hand look at what many lucky kids can look forward to and enjoy.
Although the centre does not have all the joyrides and thrills found in a regular theme park, ETP boasts other attractions – such as the Giant Mushroom, Vocabulary Shack, Graffiti Wall, and indoor facilities – that make learning fun.
Students can engage in a variety of fun activities that promote the use of the English language and help raise the standard of English in the community as a whole.
Funded by ExxonMobile, the English Theme Park is a collaboration between the Terengganu State Education Resource Centre (TSERC) and the Kemaman District Education Department. The idea of building the theme park sprung from an earlier project, in the late 1990s, to improve the quality of education in East Coast schools.
The ETP project, however, focuses specifically on English, in line with the Government's efforts to boost the use of English in schools.
“ETP is one of the innovative projects launched by TSERC as a means of applying educational technology in schools through resource centres in every state across the country,” says TSERC principal assistant director Nurhizan Abdul Manab.
“Our goal is to make teaching and learning English fun by using a different approach as there are multiple paths to learning. Through ETP we hope to de-mystify English as a 'killer subject' in schools,” she adds.
Indoor highlights of the English centre include a leisure reading corner, games corner, audio corner, PC island, and TV/video lounge area.
At ETP there's always something for everyone. Computer games are highly interactive and are linked to a network where students can have access to the Internet. Similarly, the audio corner comes equipped with easy-to-learn tapes, while the TV lounge is complete with a VCD player, VCR and cable TV.
Bright, vibrant colours give the place a cheery ambience conducive to fun learning. Similarly, eye-catching interior designs have been created by teachers who volunteered to take an active part in the project, giving ideas and feedback.
So far, the centre has had visiting students from 15 primary schools in Kemaman, who have had a go at what could possibly be a revolutionary way of teaching in the country.
One crowd favourite is the Big Book. Students are attracted to these oversized books that contain huge colourful pictures and fonts that make the text easy to read and understand.
“Many of the students who come here have never seen books like this because they are expensive and schools don't usually have them,” says English teacher Shymala Rajaratnam who chooses what books to buy for ETP, together with a panel of teachers in the district.
“We want students as well as teachers who come here not just to learn the language but to love it as well. We (teachers) have attached comprehensive questions and answers to the Big Books which kids enjoy doing,” says Shymala, adding that ETP creates a “no-pressure environment” so that students won't shy away from learning English .
The leisure reading corner not only has educational materials, it also has storybooks, including Harry Potter, Goosebumps, and other popular fictions that young children love.
“We scout for books that cater to the children’s taste and have different levels of English as our students' grasp of English ranges from those who know very little to a more advanced group,” says Shymala.
The park works on a particular theme that will be changed on a regular basis. Currently the focus is on animals; thus, most of the activities are centred on this subject matter.
The Giant Mushroom is a crowd-puller that follows the present animal theme. Students can go inside to experience a jungle-safari feel with its artfully decorated interior and convincing props. They can also identify the different types of animals as built-in speakers emanate different animal sounds.
Meanwhile, the Graffiti Wall is an excellent opportunity for kids to express their artistic talents, while playing a modified game of Win, Lose or Draw. It is also an excellent idea for all schools, to have to minimise vandalism.
ETP counsellors, comprising teachers themselves, not only help run the centre but offer visiting teachers alternative teaching techniques and learning resources to create a different environment for students in their respective schools.
Says Nurhizan: “ETP is a well-planned and well-strategised venture and not just a trial and error undertaking. We visited other English projects in Thailand and Singapore to get ideas and got expert views from the British Council to help come up with our own.”
She says that the present theme park is the completed first phase of the project. Discussions and proposals are underway to acquire more land in the area to facilitate the development of phase two which promises a bigger theme park with more attractions, including a mini theatre and a caricature shack.
“ETP is a very special place because everything here is in English. Students will not only improve their language and vocabulary skills but hopefully pick up excellent reading habits,” says English teacher Wan Roslan Wan Zak of SK Kerteh.
“I love coming here (ETP) because there are so many books to read and lots of games to play,” says 11-year-old Sameeha Sulaiman Sahib of SK Rantau Petronas.
ETP is one of three English language projects sponsored by ExxonMobil running concurrently in Terengganu. The other projects are the Terengganu English Information and Resource Centre and the Redang Educational Development for Higher Achievement.
“Each year, we contribute close to RM2mil to community service organisations and projects in locations where we have facilities to improve the quality of life of our neighbours and their communities,” says ExxonMobil public affairs manager Mokhtar Daud.
With a commitment to “Fuelling the Passion for Learning”, ExxonMobil has a long-standing tradition of giving back to the community.
“We receive numerous proposals for project developments around the country and we select those that have the biggest impact and can provide the most benefit to the community at large,” says Mokhtar.