Don’t forget the rural kids

SJK (T) Simpang Lima pupils in the DLP class are all ears during a science lesson.

THE DLP ensures that children have access to the best learning experience, notes Universiti Malaya (UM) Faculty of Languages and Linguistics Assoc Prof Dr Jariah Mohd Jan, but it’s crucial that teachers - especially those in rural schools, are well-trained.

Advising teachers not to be discouraged if their students are more proficient than them in English, the deputy dean of undergraduate studies says there’s always room for improvement.

“There will be some students who think they’re smarter than you - especially those who are from top urban schools. It’s alright. Admit that you have limitations but show them that you’re trying your best to share your knowledge with them. Prove that you’ll go the extra mile for them.”

Teachers who aren’t up to par, however, must go for training. Schools are responsible for making sure that their teachers get the assistance they need to become educators who are abreast with the latest methodologies, and teaching aids.

Unlike those in rural areas, urban students are exposed to the language so it’s not much of a challenge, she points out.

“Rural students can excel with the DLP, but they need more encouragement and the opportunity to participate in the programme.

“In rural DLP schools, we need teachers who are better trained in dealing with students who may not be as proficient as their urban counterparts. Even if they have access to the Internet, they may need to learn how to use it.”

There have been cases, she shares, where rural teachers who speak good English find their command of the language deteriorating because they are using it less, and at a more basic level.

Highlighting how urban students benefit from exposure to workshops, talks, and interactions with industry people, she says these also help motivate them to speak English.

Exposure to the language is key to improving, she feels. The DLP gives students more opportunities to speak, she says, explaining why students in such classes are doing better in the language.

The DLP, she insists, doesn’t suppress or threaten other languages. It complements other language initiatives.

SMK (P) Sri Aman principal Misliah Kulop agrees.

Despite English being the main language of communication at her school, she stresses that school’s Bahasa Malaysia (BM) performance in the SPM is much higher than the ministry’s national target.

“Our students are more comfortable speaking in English but they are proficient in BM. All our formal events are in BM. It’s a compulsory pass in the SPM. We’ll never neglect it.

“But our vision is to be a high performance school of international standards. We want to mould leaders who can interact with the world confidently. We need English for that.”

Parent S. Easy, 48, says learning a language, and learning Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) subjects, which is based on theories, are two different things.

His Year Four daughter’s command of Tamil since she started learning mathematics and science in English at the beginning of the school year, has not been affected.

Parents, he opines, play an important role in the education and preservation of a child’s mother tongue.

Father-of-three R. Paramesvaran shares his sentiments.

“Tamil is still spoken at home and besides English, science and mathematics, all other subjects are still taught in the mother tongue at primary level.”

The contractor’s youngest son (in Year Four) will begin studying STEM subjects in English next year but his boys have always been scouring the internet for their school projects from before.

“They use English often when doing research. Learning STEM subjects in English opens more doors for children to further their studies globally.”

SJK (T) Simpang Lima, Klang senior assistant (administration) N. Prahadambal also doesn’t believe that learning the subjects in English can threaten the authenticity of one’s mother tongue.

There are 300 minutes allocated each week for Tamil language lessons alone while the sciences and mathematics are only allocated 120 minutes, she points out, adding that this doesn’t include the time for other subjects that are still taught in Tamil.

Initially when the DLP was introduced, offers Dr Jariah, there was resistance because people weren’t sure if it would work and whether there was enough resources. Now that they see schools improving, many are for it.

“So good policies that show results, must continue. But we must study the impact of the DLP in rural and urban areas. Now, it seems to be urban-centric. We must make sure that rural schools aren’t left behind.”

Explaining the higher demand in urban, as compared to rural schools, UM Language and Literacy Education department head Assoc Prof Dr Juliana Othman says many urbanites consider English as their second language but in the rural areas, it’s like a foreign language.

“That’s how challenging it is for rural students. Who’ll help them with their homework? And even if they can speak English, they don’t have many opportunities to use it outside their classrooms. There’s no substantial need to do so.”

Citing an example, Dr Juliana, who has published a paper on the challenges of using English to teach science, says some rural students are not motivated to learn English.

“It’s because they don’t see a tangible need to know the language. These students want to see how mastering the language will make their lives better today - not five or six years down the road. So, talking about how they’ll achieve career success later on, isn’t going to motivate them.”

Dr Jariah believes that inculcating the reading habit lays the foundation for good English. She recalls how the Education Ministry’s Nilam (Nadi Ilmu Amalan Membaca) programme was successful in encouraging youngsters to read.

Launched in 1999, pupils and students were required to jot down details of the books they read – the author, number of pages, publisher and synopsis or a mind map – into a record book.

“The rural kids actually read more books than those in urban schools. Some were reading by the hundreds and were very conversant in the language.

“So, lets not deny them the opportunity to benefit from the DLP. Give them dedicated teachers who can make the programme a success.”

Still, it all boils down to the students themselves. They must be motivated enough to want to improve, Dr Juliana stresses.

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