One or two non-core subjects should be in English
Reinstating the Peace Corps programme in the country to make our students improve their English may not be as effective as making students do one or more subjects in English.
It was no doubt cheap to employ teachers under the US Peace Corps programme at one time as these volunteers were only given a living allowance while serving in the country but they were well rewarded by the US government after their voluntary stint overseas.
To get foreign lecturers to help improve the standard of English among students may not the best option for the Ministry of Education.
The vast culture gap between Malaysian students and foreigners would only further inhibit our students from learning the language.
The Ministry's plan to further buttress the learning of English in schools is apt indeed.
It's however more sensible to emphasise on this at the primary school level. The six years of primary education should see students have a reasonable grasp of the language.
This is the stage where students would adopt unconscious learning when they are less inhibited and keen to explore new things which include the learning of a new language.
When science and mathematics are no more taught in English, students will be deprived of one favourable environment where language is taught and learnt in an indirect manner.
Studies have shown that the few years students were exposed to learning Science and Mathematics in English did considerably improve their command of the language.
With the switch to Bahasa Malaysia, students now will be deprived of one useful avenue to fine tune their skills in English for special purposes.
Formal teaching of English may not be as effective in rural or semi-urban setting where the language is generally not used at home or among friends to communicate. To be more effective the ideal way of learning the language has to be more immersion-based.
Urban students are generally more at an advantage. They normally speak English at home and among friends and also enjoy watching English programmes and movies.
Language acquirement to this group of students becomes more of a natural or spontaneous process. The formal teaching of English in school with all the formal emphasis on the four skills (listening, speaking, reading and writing) and the two sub-skills (grammar and vocabulary) become a mere formality to these students.
The teaching here becomes just a matter of formality and it effortlessly helps augment their language nuances. They will thus find learning English as a very undemanding progression.
This same approach, unfortunately, may not really work in most rural schools. Formal teaching as practised today in most EFL (English as a Foreign Language) classes can be too exhausting for students as the language is taught as an isolated subject.
When English is merely treated as a subject, some students would not see the usefulness to use the language. This also becomes unimpressive when there are fewer avenues for them to use the language.
The traditional approach of grammar rules, reading comprehension, guided speaking, writing and finally the examinations will more often than not put these students off.
For these reasons, we observe students in rural and semi-urban settings neglecting English. They find the teaching and learning of English irrelevant to their immediate needs. We cannot blame these rural students for this setback.
To overcome this problem, schools have to create the environment for the language to be used in real life experience and this needs teachers who are creative - not necessarily only those with TESL/TEFL (Teaching of English as a Second/Foreign Language) qualification absorbed to teach but also those young professionals who are competent in the language and can become role models for the students.
They can be teachers of other disciplines who are proficient in the language. They can be volunteers who are willing to help create this language environment in schools. They can even be working professionals or retired teachers who would want to help these students.
If teachers themselves speak or write bad English despite having the paper qualifications or experience, they cannot become role models for these students.
In the case of lack of competent teachers, schools then could opt for authentic audio-visual aids where the language is used correctly.
Teachers on their part just need to facilitate the learning process.
To overcome this environment-deprived situation, schools can also encourage extensive reading activities among student and a lot of creative activities in English within the school environment itself.
English can be used to conduct school activities like sports and societies and when involving students in field trips.
These are non-core areas of the curriculum where teachers can exploit and put English to work. The possibility of conducting one or two non-core subjects in English can also be considered.
Teaching a language in isolation and through conventional teacher-centred approach are not as effective as learning it in an environment where the language is used meaningfully.
The former method used by most teachers in school has made learning English less inspiring.