An impressive English Language education conference
Each and every time an error in the English language is spotted, endless swipes are taken at the education system implying that the system is broken, the English language is doomed and our students’ future is on a downward spiral. Questions like “What are the teachers doing?” and “What is being done to arrest the problem?” are asked.
It was thus timely, in fact overdue, that the 2nd International Conference on English Language, themed “Envisioning the Future of English Language Education: Exploring Innovations and Best Practices in English Language Teaching” was held on Sept 26 to 28 in the pro-English state of Negeri Sembilan.
Co-organised by the English Language Training Centre, Resource and Educational Technology Division, Information Management Division of the Ministry of Education (MoE), and four Teacher Institute Campuses of International Languages — Batu Lintang, Gaya, Dato’ Razali Ismail and the Tun Hussein Onn Teacher Foundation — its objectives were to provide opportunities for educators to share knowledge, approaches and expertise, best practices and innovations, and to enhance the culture of lifelong learning, create a professional platform and establish collaboration through it.
The sub themes focused on pedagogies in a changed environment, teaching and learning environments, learner outcomes and sustainable development goals, management and leadership roles, curriculum, digital competencies, development in pre-school education, teacher training, inclusive education as well as assessment approaches and practices.
The keynote address by the deputy director-general of education emphasised how urgent and crucial continuous professional development has become. The event was further enhanced by four plenaries, two of which featured speakers (including from the Australian Council for Educational Research and the British Council), an array of expert panellists for special interest groups, a forum of celebrated personalities as well as a stunning line-up of 67 paper presenters, including our own educators as well as six from Vietnam, Pakistan and China.
The event drew close to 2,000 participants, both local and from abroad, and comprised workshops with an emphasis on virtual and augmented reality and gamification, while also “tapping into the artistic vein through poetry”.
Booths from all 13 states were set up, represented by outstanding students who, accompanied by their teachers, showcased the Highly Immersive Programme being conducted in all schools and how it has enhanced English language proficiency.
Among the schools proud to share their successes were students from SMK Alor Akar, Kuantan, Pahang; SMJK Sin Min, Sungai Petani, Kedah; SMK Sri Mersing, Johor; SMK Bukit Mentok, Kemaman, Terengganu; and SK Desa Chempaka, Nilai, Negeri Sembilan.
At the forum where I was invited as a speaker, I had suggested that if the Ministry of Education is serious about ensuring that all English language teachers are future-ready and CEFR (Common European Framework of Reference for Languages) level C2 (the highest level achievable) compliant, then it is time to approach it from a new vantage point.
Parent Action Group for Education Malaysia has been advocating for a secondary school in every state, aligned to international school standards, solely to produce a constant stream of top-notch English language teachers. Let us call it “Akademi Sejahtera” since English-medium schools are taboo, set within a B40 community where top students are given first priority, probably under the auspices of Khazanah Nasional but still operating within the parameters of MoE. These students will then be offered assistance to pursue their tertiary education abroad.
The legal eagles of the Ministry of Education will have to figure out the complexities of this arrangement to make it happen. The Sultans will be happy to support it and, once and for all, silence the naysayers.
A special mention goes to educators Datin Dr Thusha Rani Rajendra and her twin sister Dr Thusha Devi for winning the paper presenter prize for their contribution called “Eyesight and Insight: The Interpretation of Visual Images”. Students’ proficiency in narrative writing improved as teachers assisted in unpacking the reading of images through the use of art forms with digital tools such as paintings, advertisements, billboards or even book covers. The ANIL (ANalyse, Look, Interpret) model especially helped reluctant and struggling students autonomously as they increased their vocabulary and created better and deeper narratives. Themes focused on self-motivation, communication apprehension and effectiveness as students were more motivated and lessons became meaningful, creating an approach that is multidisciplinary in nature.
At the end of the three days, a Conference Resolution was framed, and will be delivered to the Minister of Education, recognising the demands of the 21st century, IR4.0 and the new normal where three broad areas — namely, assessment, creative and innovative pedagogy and teachers’ continuous professional development — shall be the driving forces to sustain quality education relevant to the needs of industry and the changing education landscape, to deliver effective training via ICT, making lessons impactful for students.
The conference packed a punch and teachers will have to reflect if all is well and where there is room for improvement (and there will surely be), reminisce, review and revise the papers presented, and attempt to deep-dive then fine-tune teaching styles to capitalise on state-of-the-art digital technology.
While it may appear a daunting task, parents will forever be grateful and appreciative of the sacrifices that passionate and dedicated English language teachers have made for our children. We celebrate them.