Having been an English teacher for more than 10 years, I strongly believe that there are many factors involving teachers that contribute to this lack of proficiency.
First and foremost, there is a lack of qualified English language teachers, and this shortage is especially critical in rural and semi-rural schools. Most experienced teachers prefer to teach in urban schools so newly-trained teachers are usually posted to rural schools.
There are tonnes of Science and Mathematics teachers who are trained to teach these subjects in English. When there are no English language teachers around, it is these teachers who are expected to also teach the language as a subject – but most are inexperienced and unprepared.
To make matters worse, many senior teachers are leaving the workforce. Form Six teachers have retired or will be retiring soon, and their posts will probably be filled by English teachers who are teaching Forms Four and Five. And once these teachers are designated as Form Six teachers, many become reluctant to teach the lower forms as older students are more manageable and there are fewer hours required. This leaves younger students struggling.
Some senior English teachers are also granted scholarships by the Education Ministry to do full-time postgraduate studies, which further aggravates the current shortage of qualified teachers.
Secondary school English teachers have an especially difficult task as many students end up at that level with a very weak foundation in the language – a large number do not even know basic grammar thanks to our automatic promotion system.
Other factors that contribute to the lack of proficiency include dull English textbooks and the absence of a reading habit as well as little family and social support. The Education Ministry and all relevant parties must take proactive measures to address this issue or our students will never improve.
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