A national carnival to promote English is seeing greater commitment and interest from students and other stakeholders.
THE stage was set, and actors played out a story about the relationship between a father and daughter.
Mr Ong, craving for more attention from his daughter, an ever-busy lawyer, calls her up frequently on her mobile phone.
Tired of her father’s incessant phone calls and annoying habits, the daughter has a quarrel with him on the eve of Chinese New Year.
But she soon realises that something is amiss when the Mr Ong asks for his wife Pauline who has long passed on. The old man has Alzheimer’s disease and the daughter is devastated.
This tearjerker was a production presented by the drama team at SMK Seksyen 3 Bandar Kinrara, Puchong, Selangor. It touched the hearts of all who had the chance to watch it when they presented the play for this year’s drama competition at the National English Unity Carnival. The carnival was held at HELP University’s campus in Shah Alam.
Organised by the Education Ministry’s Co-curriculum and Arts Division together with the Selangor Education Department, the carnival saw students representing their states in the English language national-level competitions.
Schoolgirl Ong Yii Kuen clinched the best actor award for her excellent portrayal of “Mr Ong”. “Honestly, I did not want to participate in drama this year. I had done my last role in 2014 and was really not keen. I told my teacher, but she said that she could not find anyone for the role,” said Yii Kuen.
“The character really suited me though. I only had to exaggerate some of my actions and Mr Ong then came to life!” she shared.
“The drama pushed me to understand how the elderly who are neglected by their sons or daughters, actually feel.
“The story tells us to pay attention to senior citizens. Do not ignore them and put them aside. Also, it is very important to respect your elders.”
“I’m really thankful for the teachers who have supported the drama team. Puan Suneeta is a really great coach. Without the guidance of our teachers, we would not have made it this far,” she added.
English teacher Suneeta Dewi Sewa Shah said that she was merely a facilitator in helping students unlock their talent.
“Drama is instrumental in unveiling the hidden potential in a person. I wouldn’t say that I am coaching them. They already have it in them. I helped them discover and awaken the talent within. Then, I helped to polish it.”
Suneeta compares the experience to baking cookies.
“I feel like I’m baking tray after tray of delicious cookies! Every year, I will make new dough, mould them and there goes another tray of cookies. And these students will go out there, add more verve and vigour to the world!”
The play by SMK Seksyen 3 Bandar Kinrara clinched the runner-up spot for the drama competition.
The first place went to the drama kings from Sekolah Sultan Alam Shah, Putrajaya, an all-boys school. Their drama was one about forgiveness and focuses on an abused boy who has amnesia.
Team manager Hazim Ariffien played Jason, the main character. He said that his team was determined to win from the very start.
“We trained almost every night for two months. We would stay up late to work on the finer details – the synchronisation, pronunciation, actions and facial expressions. I would like to thank our teacher Shaiful Putra Zakaria and the help from former students who’ve had experience in theatre.”
Hazim said the competition had brought the teammates closer. “Before this, we were just school mates. Now, we are like a family,” he beamed.
For poetry recitation, it was SMK Convent Teluk Intan, that was the state champion in the secondary school category for Perak.
Form Three student Lei Wing Yee described the competition as a roller coaster of emotions.
“There were happy and sad moments. There were also times when I was really angry at myself.
“During the state-level competition, we had to compose and deliver a poem, but we were seven seconds short. I really thought I was going to lose.
“After that, I worked really hard to compose really good poems. And the result was rewarding as I did much better at national level,” she said. Also in Form Three, Wing Yee’s partner in the competition Gaiyethiry Chandrasekharan said that poetry encouraged her to be more expressive.
“I am actually a very introverted person. Because of poetry, I learnt how to express all that I saw. This journey has taught me that there is more than what meets the eye.”
Their coach, English teacher Lucie Jayasingh said that the girls showed great understanding of each other and both could compose their own poems.
“They’ve learned to work so well together, that they were able to cover for each other if one of them made a mistake. So much so, the audience could not detect the mistakes. Only I was able to tell!” she said.
When the overall state winner was announced, there were cheers from the crowd. And the coveted award went to Penang.
Contributing to the overall win was secondary school public speak-ing champion Denise Chin May Xin, from SMJK Jit Sin. She was ecstatic when her name was called out.
“I was overjoyed. I really did not expect it!
“I’d like to thank my mother and my teacher. My mum is my number one supporter. I won this because of her!”
The Form Five student encouraged those who were interested in public speaking not to shy away from speaking out.
“Don’t be afraid that you’re not good enough. Just step out and be who you want to be, regardless of what people may think.”
Deputy Education Minister Chong Sin Woon who attended the closing ceremony, said that the carnival was in line with the government’s plan to transform the education system.
“It is to equip every child in this country with the skills required to meet the demands of the 21st century.
“The ability of students to master more than one language, especially English, will enable them to communicate effectively on an international level,” he said.
“It is also worth noting that a salient feature of this carnival is to strengthen unity amongst students from diverse backgrounds.
Participation of students from different races in the competitions and numerous activities implemented in this carnival, serves as a great platform for them to interact as well as to share ideas, experiences and aspirations that could boost national unity,” he added.
Education Ministry assistant director (Co-curricular and Arts Division) Muhammad Najib Ahmad said that the ministry aims to provide a safe and supported environment for students to practise the English language.
“We have invited private agencies to join in this carnival. By bringing them in, it opens up our minds as to how we can approach language learning. Students, teachers and parents will also have an idea of who to approach to seek aid in coaching and learning.”
Muhammad Najib said that English proficiency is vital for one to stay globally competitive.
“About 90% of the Internet is written in English. Without this language, students are at a disadvantage as they are unable to communicate and exchange ideas.”
“Judges commented that the quality of students’ presentation is better this year.
“The maturity of thought in how they present their ideas has improved. This could be due to the focus on higher order thinking skills in the curriculum. It could also be due to the increased participation of non-governmental agencies,” he added.
Corporate organisations – such as Star Media Group Berhad, HELP University, Astro Malaysia Holdings Bhd, Scholastic Malaysia, Legoland Malaysia and Kidzania Kuala Lumpur – were present at the English carnival with language-related products and activities.
HELP University customer marketing department education advisor Gregory Jude De Souza said that language development is something that should start when one is young.
“English is an international language, so you would want to be at a competitive level.
“It’s good that the agencies come up with so many English-related programmes. I find that they are very exciting because it is something where you can engage yourself. It makes English fun to learn. When you have fun in what you do, you do it well,” he said.
Scholastic Malaysia’s reading corner was stationed at the university’s library. Its national sales manager Samantha Lim said that their aim is to cultivate reading habits among children.
“We all know that English is very important in the world today. And reading is a very good way to add to one’s vocabulary.
“With the growth of e-commerce these days. One would be on the losing side if they cannot read in English.”
Kakiseni, a non-profit performing arts platform, collaborated with the ministry on the drama competition.
President of Kakiseni Low Ngai Yuen said their presence was merely to help raise English proficiency using drama as a tool.
“Drama is a fun, expressive tool. It allows young people to understand the language in a non-traditional way.
“It’s not a new methodology but we want to encourage people to continuously use it.
“These are really exciting tools that teachers and students can play with. It would lessen a children’s fear of using the English language.”
Kakiseni also held workshops throughout the carnival. One of them included a comedy workshop with Kuah Jenhan.
Low explained that the workshop uses stand-up comedy to break the barrier of expressing oneself in English.
The Star, too, held its Newspaper-in-Education (NiE) workshop for all school students. Participants experienced hands-on fun with newspaper-based activities for the classroom.
Form Four student Jonathan Aidan Royan from SMK St Francis, Malacca, who attended the NiE workshop said that one would learn many new words from doing the activities.
“The workshop is quite engaging. Students can benefit from reading the newspaper – there is something new every day, so it is unlikely that you will get bored. It would make classroom learning fun.”
The hands of Year Six pupil Arianna Saiful shot up almost every time NiE trainer Anna Cherubin posed a question.
The pupil, from SK Puteri, Negri Sembilan, said that the NiE workshop was really good and she enjoyed her session.
“We gained some general knowledge from the newspaper. We also did some group work and that strengthens our friendship with group members.”
“Instead of having just the competitions, there are booths and workshops where we can just have fun. The carnival promotes English because everybody loves prizes and it’s motivation for us to enter the competitions.”
Winners of the competitions get vouchers sponsored by Legoland Malaysia and books by Scholastic Malaysia.
Two scholarships from HELP University were also offered to winners of the public speaking competition.