English proficiency move needs time

  • Nation
  • Saturday, 04 May 2019

PETALING JAYA: The Education Ministry’s efforts to improve the nation’s English have left teachers and parents feeling anxious.

While welcoming an announ­ce­ment to beef up English language proficiency among students recently, many are worried over the short time frame stipulated for its implementation.

In less than five months, Form 3 Assessment (PT3) students will sit for new English exams aligned to the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) – an international benchmark for English proficiency.

And by December, English option teachers who have yet to take any proficiency tests will have to sit for the Malaysian University English Test (MUET) using their own funds.

On Thursday, Education Minister Dr Maszlee Malik said the English exam paper in PT3 will be set according to CEFR standards starting this year.

Earlier, on April 14, Education director-general Datuk Dr Amin Senin issued a circular stating that English option teachers should have a minimum of CEFR C1 level qualification.

He said 20,634 teachers had yet to take any tests to determine their level of English proficiency.

Rekha Dutt, whose children are in Forms Two and Five, said parents should have been made aware of the new format a year in advance.

“PT3 is only five months away,” she said.

“Knowing about the changes earlier reduces panic and pressure on teachers, students and parents.

“However, this is a positive step towards improving English among Malaysians, placing us on a level playing field with other nations.”

She said the new format was more robust and encouraged critical thinking.

Another parent who wished to be known only as Fauzia, and whose son is sitting for the PT3 this year, is all for better quality students but is concerned over how it would affect students who were less proficient in English.

“Are schools ready to cope with all these ad hoc announcements?”

Christine Rowland wants her daughter’s proficiency to be on par with international standards but said it was too close to PT3 to make such an announcement.

“Have the teachers undergone enough training to be able to teach and prepare students for this?”

Melaka Action Group for Parents in Education chairman Mak Chee Kin said the students should have been told about the format earlier.

“The teachers have also told me that they only got to know of the new exam format last December.

“There are concerns this batch is not fully equipped to prepare the students for the new format. This batch will be the guinea pigs.”

National Union of the Teaching Profession (NUTP) secretary-general Harry Tan is worried about how the CEFR will affect teachers.

Tan said upon sitting for MUET, results should be sent to the ministry’s English Language Teaching Centre (ELTC), which “is detached from grassroots problems faced by teachers”.

“Go ahead with policies to streng­then Malaysians’ English proficiency but the operational method is important and teachers’ constraints must be taken into account.”

But there are others who are taking the changes more positively.

PT3 student Ee-Shaunn does not mind sitting for the new exam.

“I enjoy learning this English curriculum that’s in line with the CEFR.

“It’s comprehensive and has strengthened my proficiency in the language,” he said.

Educationist Datuk N. Siva Subra­maniam commended the ministry.

“We live in a competitive world. Aligning English exam papers to CEFR is a right move for the country’s future,” he said.

Parent Action Group for Education Malaysia (PAGE) chairman Datin Noor Azimah Abdul Rahman said students could generally read and write, but the weakness was on listening and speaking.

“With the CEFR alignment, students will now know whether they need remedial action, which can then be addressed through structured interventions and coaching by teachers and parents,” she said.

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