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  • Christina Chin, The Star

Coming together for the sake of better English

PETALING JAYA: A survey to gauge public interest on a project to help improve students’ command of English has been swamped by eager respondents, barely a month after its launch.

Almost 80% of participants in the online survey want to be part of the nationwide language coaching programme mooted by the Parent Action Group for Education Malaysia (PAGE).

Most of the 1,362 survey respondents agreed to help out under a semi-voluntary arrangement.

Bouyed by the response, PAGE chairman Datin Noor Azimah Abdul Rahman said a proposal had been prepared for the Education Ministry.

“A total of 77.1% were very keen, while 21.4% said ‘maybe’.

“Now we’re waiting to meet with the ministry’s senior management to present our idea,” she said in an interview.

PAGE is proposing to assemble a “dynamic team” of coaches who are “proficient users” based on the Common European Frame­work of Reference (CEFR) benchmark to improve the proficiency of the 300,000 primary and secondary school students in Malaysia.

The survey, which was reported in Sunday Star on Feb 25, closed last week.

It showed that qualified people were willing to coach small groups of students so that every child is given the opportunity to be proficient in the language.

Prof Dr Zuraidah Mohd Don from Universiti Malaya’s Faculty of Languages and Linguistics said the “excellent proposal” merits full support.

She said improving English requires a national response.

“It is important for this initiative to support children from less- advantaged backgrounds and from more remote locations.

“Our schools and our English teachers provide for basic needs, and we can look forward to rising standards as the Roadmap for English is implemented,” she said.

However, she said classroom learning must be complemented by measures that allowed children to use English in everyday life.

Volunteers, she said, could help students in different ways according to their qualifications.

“Retired teachers who are qualified to teach English can provide coaching and other kinds of support.

“But there are also many with good English but no teaching qualifications. They can create informal opportunities for learning,” said Prof Zuraidah.

She said informal learning enables children to do things they want to do – for example, read the sports pages in an English newspaper – but cannot do so without sufficient proficiency.

“Children will learn more effectively if they’re internally motivated than if they’re learning because they have to,” she said, adding that the PAGE initiative could contribute significantly to the Education Ministry’s Highly Immersive Programme.

She urged PAGE to consider ways for parents, who lack proficiency themselves, to participate.

“Parents who help at informal learning events can even learn English at the same time as their children,” she said.

Welcoming the proposal to involve the public, especially parents, National Union of the Teaching Profession (NUTP) secretary-general Harry Tan said the move was in line with the education system of developed nations where parents guide the children in their homework and reading.

Both teachers and parents could improve students’ reading, writing and communication skills, he said.

“In Malaysia, involving parents is not easy as they’re busy with their own responsibilities.

“This is where volunteers can assist. There are many retired teachers who are keen to help,” he said, adding that the involvement of corporate figures could also help motivate students to speak English.




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