Written by Not An English Teacher (From Harakahdaily.Net. English Version)
Let us start by putting things into perspective. Prior to entering university, our children spend 6 years in primary school, 5 years in secondary school and 2 years in a pre-university programme (by the way, why do we have multiple pre-university programmes?). That is 13 years of formal pre-university education.
As most bachelor degrees are three-year programmes, university education constitutes less than 20% of our children's formal education.
Ask any educationist and he or she will tell you that the first few years of a child's life is the most critical because that is the period a child's character is formed. As the Malay saying goes, "Melentur buluh biarlah dari rebungnya".
Keeping in mind that university education constitutes less than 20% of our children's education, why are universities blamed for the many shortcomings of our graduates?
Take for instance, their proficiency in English. Given that they spent 11 years learning English in school, would it not be reasonable to expect that they are able to at least construct grammatically correct sentences in English?
Alas, this is not the case! I have come across many students who do not even know how and when to use present, past and perfect tenses correctly.
Unless the students are majoring in English or are in the TESL programme, the various faculties do not spend time teaching them basic English grammar, and assume that they would have already mastered this while they were in school.
If, say, one is an engineering student, the focus of his or her university education should be a sound understanding of engineering principles and the practical aspects of the subject so that at graduation, he becomes a good, competent engineer.
His lecturers and professors at the engineering faculty do not have time to teach him English – it is not their responsibility to sit him down and point out all the nuances of the English language. His English teachers in school were supposed to have done that already!
It is not the university's fault if graduates have poor command of English. The root of the problem is at school!
If after 11 years of learning English in school, a person is still unable to write simple, grammatically correct, sentences, then I'd say there is something very wrong with the way English is taught in our schools.
Do not blame the lecturers and professors for this problem. It is no fault of their.
The joke goes around that a child asked her teacher how to pronounce the word "opaque" and the teacher answered, "oh-pah-kiu". If that's the quality of our English teachers, little wonder then that our children cannot speak proper English. And don't get me started on how parents themselves set very bad examples with their pigeon English.
Then there are also other complains with regard to our graduates, such as their lack of communication skills, incapability for critical thinking, and poor interpersonal skills.
During the 13 years of education prior to entering university, are our children not required to think, communicate and interact with other people?
These are social skills that children should develop while they are growing up. Don't expect universities to teach them how to communicate and interact with people.
By the age of 19 (when most children enter university), they should already know how to interact and communicate!
As far as critical thinking skills are concerned, are our children not required to do any thinking at all in their schooling days? Are schools only teaching our children to memorise and regurgitate what is taught to them?
It certainly seems that way judging by how students behave in lecture halls and tutorial classes. The sad truth is our schools produce zombies that can't think for themselves and form their own opinions.
The root of the problem is not our universities but our flawed education system. We can bring in world famous professors from top ranking universities and the problem will not go away.
As the saying goes, garbage in, garbage out. Look at the entry requirements of top universities like Cambridge, Harvard or Yale. What is the quality of the students that they accept?
The students are not only required to excel academically but also in other aspects, such as co-curricular and community service. The students are already excellent – the universities then simply hone the talents and skills of their students to produce outstanding graduates.
Here's an analogy. You own a factory and want to produce top quality products to remain competitive in the market. How would you choose the raw materials you need to produce your products? Would you use sub-standard materials or would you use high quality ones?
If the former, you are compromising the quality of your end products. If the latter, you can rest assured that the end product will be of high quality.
The same applies to universities. The lecturers and professors can only work with what they are given. Even the best professors of Oxford and Yale will find it extremely challenging to undo within three years the 13 years of damage done to our children.
Having said that, while English plays an important role to remain competitive in an increasingly globalised world, it is not the determinant factor of success.
Take a look at the list of top 100 Asian universities. What language is used as medium of instruction at these universities? If English were the determinant factor of success, these institutions would not be on the list.
While English plays an important role in science-based subjects, it might not be as important for other subjects.
That is why the vice chancellor of University of Malaya was so strongly criticised when he berated students at the Academy of Malay Studies and Academy of Islamic Studies over their poor command of English.
While his concern for the graduates' marketability is commendable, arrogantly bragging about his supposedly superior command of English and other skills and belittling the students is not going to correct the problem. It is doubtful that Dato' Ghauth Jasmon is really concerned for the future of the students.
The videos of his meetings with the students are available on YouTube. Anyone who has watched them would be able to judge his command of English, mediocre at best. So who is he to berate the students?
It was reported that he bragged that there was not a skill he had not mastered and one student bravely retorted that he had no communication and inter personal skils.
What kind of example is he setting for the students? That it is acceptable to belittle and put people down in public? Is that the kind of skill he wants the students to master?
If Dato' Ghauth Jasmon were a good leader, he would take proactive actions to address the problems, such as offering courses or seminars during the semester breaks for students who would like to improve their skills.
I am sure there is no shortage of ideas or input that he can garner from staff and students on what can be done to address the problems. Unfortunately, he is unable to see the bigger picture.
Watching the way he interact with the students, Ghauth Jasmon comes across as coarse and uncouth. He is a far cry from the kind of vice chancellors of high calibre in the past.
Not an English Teacher
The Hague, Netherlands