Teaching children to fail
BROWN envelopes that land on our table always get immediate attention. While some are routine anonymous notes with more venom than facts from disgruntled members of the public, a few contain unsubstantiated allegations while others usually are from self-appointed do-gooders who think they have the right cure for all our country’s ills. A few contain valuable information which helps us in our journalistic efforts to uncover some wrongdoing or another. But when the contents of one such envelope were opened on Wednesday, it was not only this writer who went berserk, but also several colleagues with whom they were shared.
The header on the note read: Jabatan Pelajaran Negeri Selangor: Program Peningkatan Prestasi UPSR (Selangor Education Department: UPSR Performance Enhancement Programme). It was a mathematics test preparatory paper for Standard Six pupils who would be sitting for the exam next month.
Going through the 40 questions, there were no less than 33 grammatical errors – more than 75%! Poring through the 18 pages of questions printed on 10 sheets of paper, one can only conclude that the questions were set in Bahasa Malaysia and were translated by a less-than-competent cikgu who was not proficient in the language. It also showed that whoever supervised this project never bothered to check them. Instead, they were sent to the printers with an accompanying note which was signed: Saya yang menurut perintah.
These are not exactly bloopers which could be blamed on the printer’s devil. These were not created by some untrained person who makes a living by making people laugh or a writer for David Letterman. These are what the authorities believed were correct and accurate. Some samples:
» Which of the following convertion is not true?
» What is the shape of the incline faces?
» What is estimate value in l of 60 glasses of water?
» How many oranges does Diana gets?
These are just mild. Here come the "better" ones:
» What is the difference value between the two number?
» The average of four number is 18. The fifth number is 28. What is the average of five number?
If you thought these were bad, here come the gems:
» Diagram 8 shows the Pravina’s twelfth birthday. Her brother borns 3 years 6 months after Pravina borned. What is the age of her brother at 7th January 2014.
» Diagram 10 shows the mass of a packet of flour. The flour is fill in three containers. First container fill in with 3.98 kg of flour. The rest of the flour in second and third container. Which of the flowing mass is for second and third container?
» Bar chart in diagram 16 shows the number of events won by Red Spout in Annual Sport. Table 4 shows the mark of each places. Calculate the total mark of Red Sport in Annual sport.
For years now, we have been debating on the declining standards of the English language. This test paper was set for pupils who have had six years of primary school education. The medium of instruction for mathematics and science is supposed to have been in English. If the teacher or teachers who set these questions cannot write proper English, how do you expect the pupils to write or speak the language?
This test paper shows that we are teaching our young minds to fail. It is also a reflection of the lackadaisical attitude adopted by many who claim to be in the "teaching" profession. Further, it displays the seriousness the authorities take in ensuring that our kids get a good grounding in the language.
In a nutshell, these mistakes mirror what has happened to our education system. As kids, we were taught to dot our "i"s and dash our "t"s. We were made to do "corrections" to the homework if we got it wrong. Our teachers spoke to us – both in Bahasa Kebangsaan (at that time) and in English – without mistakes in pronunciation or delivery. They were thorough. Teaching was a profession which was delivered with utmost passion.
Today, some think of English as a language of our colonial masters and therefore shun it. The system of education has been systematically dismantled and even nursery rhymes like "Jack and Jill" have been dropped. They took away the hallowed turfs in cricket pitches because "the game is only played by flannelled fools from England". They have negative opinions about other people’s history. When we were in primary school, we already knew about Alexander the Great, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, Mahatma Gandhi, Prophet Muhammad, Gautama Buddha and Lao Tze because we were taught about not only the lives they lived, but also their values.
In the same breath, the same few who take anti-colonial stands and preach about nationalism have no qualms about sending their children to the headquarters of the colonialism where everything is taught in English. Unable to communicate, they form cliques, become reclusive and then claim that "the English students refuse to mix with us." Why do you need the colonialists which you detested or were taught to detest? A parody? No, it’s much more than that.
We are at a crossroads and the debate on the medium of instruction in our schools continues to rage on. Both sides of the divide have their own reasons, some of which are justified. The debate is not going to end any time soon. The crux of the matter is that you can’t please all the people all the time.
But what we can hope for is while the debate ensues, the people tasked with moulding the minds and hearts of the younger generation do not abdicate from their responsibilities by adopting slipshod methods. Yes, change will come about in 2014, but in the interim period, can they make education fun by not making all these inexcusable silly mistakes?
R. Nadeswaran went through the old school where students had to write perfect sentences. A mistake or two would end up with an earful from the teacher or in worse case scenarios, errant students would get two of the best on the buttocks. He is editor (special and investigative reporting) at theSun. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.