Adakah Exam English Good = Teacher Good?
After reading unflattering comments from urban parents/teachers with obviously excellent English proficiency (C1 & above) in response to the news that some teachers have to take the MUET test, I realize that people are overlooking the effort & struggle of English teachers with average language proficiency (B2-B1).
Although I may be ostracizing my audience here (you're probably a CEFR C2 if you can comprehend my musings 🤓), I am compelled to speak the truth from my experience as someone who was a Head English teacher in both rural & urban Sarawak. Do hear me out. I'm going to be highlighting some systemic issues here. I'm also very open to criticism & correction. So, feel free to engage me in intellectual deliberation.
I agree that we need to gauge the language proficiency of our English teachers with proficiency tests, like MUET. Especially, if we want to figure out how to up-skill our human resources. I just have a problem with the ministry making teachers pay for these tests as they will have to keep on paying (both literally & figuratively) if they fail to achieve a high score. At the very least, the cost of these tests should be covered. What is the ministry going to do if teachers don't take those tests? Suspend them? Force them to teach other subjects when we have a shortage of thousands of English teachers? So, dear KPM, please don't make teachers pay for MUET.
1. Adakah Exam English Good = Teacher Good?
Obviously, a good score in an English test doesn't necessarily = good English proficiency. Additionally, good English proficiency does NOT = a good teacher. Just like scoring an A in a test about bicycles doesn't automatically make you a good rider or a good teacher of riding. Good proficiency in English is USUALLY = good socioeconomic background. I wonder what the rural vs urban ratio is for teachers under C1.
Yes, a person from an underprivileged background can achieve C1 too. However, are we going to discount teachers who have improved from A2 to B2 during their careers? (That's kind of like how we treat our students under our A-obsessed exam-oriented system, no?) Aren't these teachers the perfect role models for our students rather than those who have been C2 all their lives & never experienced the struggle of learning a second language or failure before?
2. Are Proficiency Tests & ProELT Courses Cost Effective?
Nationwide, teachers who score below C1 have been placed in ProELT courses. What do impact studies on ProELT have to say about their effectiveness vs cost? Do they really improve the language proficiency of our teachers? These courses are more focused on pedagogy than proficiency. If it's focused on pedagogy, we should have ALL teachers benefiting from it, including a refresher with the latest ideas & methodologies every 8-10 years. Since we're spending millions on this, let's have these consultants support our teachers in the rural areas too.
Teachers who need language support should be enrolled in actual language courses run by local IPGs/universities/colleges (which tend to hire locals & are cheaper than consultants) if you want their proficiency to improve. Make it clear that enrollment in these courses makes us the perfect role models for our students. Promote the growth mentality in us, & we'll do the same with our students.
Right now, attending ProELT is seen as a punishment & embarrassment. So, create a mechanism that rewards teachers for gradual improvements in their proficiency. Maybe with higher SKPMG2 evaluations, TnT claims, or an allowance.
3. Are IPGs Producing English Teachers With Poor Proficiency?
During my time at an IPG, I remember doing a computer-based proficiency test in my foundation years, but none towards the end of my training. Based on the result of that test, my cohort was streamed into different language support classes. Are IPGs still honing the proficiency of their trainees? Waiting until they've already been posted is too little too late. Hundreds of thousands of tax-payer money have already been spent on their training & we shouldn't have to spend even more on retraining them.
Why not have IPGs put their trainees through proficiency tests, like MUET, prior to posting?
Also, if high English proficiency is what the ministry wants, why aren't we exclusively enrolling only those at C1 or above in the first place?
4. What Are We Doing To Attract The Best To Become Teachers?
If you say that it's hard to recruit trainees with C1 & above, what are we doing to recruit the best Malaysians as teachers? And possibly the best who are also willing to serve in our worst possible teaching conditions?
Politicians like to pay lip service to the idea that teaching is a preferred profession, while doing nothing to actually promote/improve the profession. (Look out for this on Teachers Day. 😅) I appreciate that Dr Maszlee has made some baby steps, but if he genuinely cares for teachers, he needs to take a good look at how his policies are actually implemented, if at all.
Why isn't KPM adopting the recruitment model of the Teach For Malaysia movement? Singapore has been doing it for years! Come on! You've absorbed plenty of TFM alumni into PADU. Listen to them!
Have the newly minted Adiwira teachers conduct outreach programs at schools & universities! Make them famous! Give them a platform to share their stories of overcoming great adversary & coming back from failure or heartbreak. Profile videos & lesson examples are great. But, it takes a heartfelt message or inspiring story to sway a new generation into making teaching their FIRST choice. Our Adiwira teachers are perfect for this role. Make teaching sexy again!
As for the Icon celebrities, I don't know la. I'm not smart enough to figure out what they are for.
5. Do We Hone & Celebrate Our Talents?
I once asked the deputy director of a JPN at a forum, "do we have talent scouting programs to seek out & support existing teachers who are amazing? Esp those in rural areas & those who do not blow their own horns." His officer's answer was current mechanisms suffice. Okay, the current method of getting teachers to write in with tip-tip documentation, promoting seniority, & getting desk officers to nominate their friends is great. But, it's not perfect. We need something more meaningful & wholesome.
Lots of hidden gems lose their shine over the years, because our system rewards loyalty (seniority) & documentation. After these gems burn out, they realize it's not worth it to burn their candle on both ends. Guess what they become after that?
Also, a simple activity for a Putrajaya / MARA / SM Sains school to carry out may actually be a heroic undertaking for a rural / urban school serving a poor community. Look out for these too.
6. Blame The Teachers
I suspect that, in the end, all of the blame will be passed down the ranks onto teachers, like it did half a decade ago when the CPT results were made public. Except this time, they'll make us pay for it, literally. Teachers are an easy target for the bigwigs. Every time there is a problem, cikgu salah. Cikgu kena jawab. Selama ini kita terima saja hakikat ini. Memang biasa pun atas pijak bawah.
By all means, make the results public, the public needs to know the truth. But, back us up once in a while. Use all those fancy statistics you use to cover your own butt to defend us too for a change. Show them that we are doing our best, working very hard for our students & improving our effectiveness as teachers! We'll appreciate you for it by working even harder & making your precious statistics even prettier. Gerenti tok. Read "Leaders Eat Last" by Simon Sinek.
7. I Don't Need Teachers With Excellent English Proficiency
We already know that a significant number of English teachers are at the B2 level or below. How do we move on from here? Do we condemn them to a life of language testing that does not directly improve their ability to teach or their language proficiency? Forking out hundreds of ringgit to retake a test in hopes of getting that illusive C1 & escaping weekends spent on a course that doesn't directly address their proficiency when they are already overburdened at school & in need of rest?
Honestly speaking, as someone who was a Head English teacher at both a rural & urban school with students of poor proficiency, I DON'T need a teacher with excellent proficiency. They're nice to have but NOT a necessity. Yup, I said it.
I resent how shallow our society is. It's like how we think someone with a Master degree is a better teacher than someone with just a Diploma. Or, a student with As is better than a student with Cs. Or, someone with fair skin is better than someone with dark skin. NO! NO! NO!
Do you really think entering a class with the Queen's accent & impeccable grammar is going to win hearts that have already been long lost?
What I actually need is a COMMITTED teacher of good ENOUGH proficiency because they will find a way to MAKE THINGS HAPPEN.
I know too many teachers with excellent proficiency who aren't committed. I don't need those. I need teachers who are willing to join me knee-deep in the mud as we roll up our sleeves & dig our students out of their trenches. I need people open to new ideas & willing to put their hearts into their work as we try to build the confidence of our students & spark a culture of English at our school where students are AFRAID of the language.
Still, a committed teacher is not excused from being committed to improving their English proficiency too, because walk the talk & students. We can work together on the proficiency stuff over time. Look up Cummin's BICS & CALP. It takes YEARS of IMMERSION to have high functional proficiency in any LANGUAGE! So, let's take some first steps on a long marathon. Unless, you're talking about English EXAM proficiency... Well, that one I can give you at a fair price. PM tepi.