28 February 2010

Awang Goneng commented – I do it my way (part 4)

For Pak Cik’s earlier blog entry, ‘Ha Ha Ha – I do it my way (part 3)’ – the famed Awang Goneng (Kecek-Kecek blog) sent some comments. I have in the past highlighted certain individuals’ comments which deserve to be viewed by visitors to Almanar. So here are the main parts of what Awang Goneng had to say:

I am in total agreement with what has been said here about the teaching of English. If only the politicians would stop messing about with our schools, changing this and that each time a new man arrives at the Ministry, to suit a superior ego's needs. I remember a man saying this about the fate of Bank Islam Malaysia (and he was one of its founders). "I know when an incompetent person has arrived at the bank. He starts to meddle with the branches and things of that sort instead of spending his time with general policies." He was bitter that all that they had achieved had gone to nought. We have every right to be bitter too, our education system, one that worked very well for you and me, is now in shambles. And as you rightly said, we are all put into this great big sausage machine, and some of our young students are made to go through the ridiculous Matrikulasi course, which is not recognised by anyone outside our system, and which is actually eduaction-in-a-hurry for our young kids.

There must be hundreds of good, retired English teachers throughout the length and breadth of our land. Forget the Kiwis and the Kangaroos, call all these people back to work. In London there is a wonderful man (a loyal Malaysian) who has been teaching English successfully for many, many years to people from all over the world, is an expert on English verbs, and who speaks English with the clipped received pronunciation of the Beeb. Has anyone come to him to ask for advice or help? No. I was talking to him once when another Malaysian made this remark. "In Malaysia, my friend, it is not what you're worth that matters. It's how much you're worth to anyone in backhanders that counts." I once saw a group of Malaysian officers here in London on a course at an idiotic college that I wouldn't even send my cat to for a feed. And I wondered who sent them all there? And how much was that worth in kickbacks to some idiot?

Pak Cik' s comments :

I am not at all surprised if the majority of Malaysians share the above sentiment, not just the two TRENGGANU (watch the out-dated spelling) folks like Awang Goneng and Pak Cik. We may spell Cina or China, Kota Baharu or Kota bahru or Kota Bharu, technology, teknologi or teknoloji, i’lan or iklan, and what else, but the real values are not in the clothing and the way we pronounce them.

Indeed we have to change. But I do not believe, for instance, in the way Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka has made the changes to modernise Bahasa Melayu ( or Bahasa Malaysia or is it now Bahasa 1Malaysia? Pardon my ignorance.) Look how Pak Cik spell the word ‘modernise’ never mind if a million others choose ‘modernize’.

It is sad in more than one way that many of us, old timers, look with disdain at the quantum leaps in our education. Even the mind-boggling names of educational institutions in the country are too much for an old block to comprehend the difference. Here are some school categories I often hear:

Sekolah rendah (kebangsaan?)
Sekolah menengah (kebangsaan?)
Sekolah menengah agama ( or is it ugama?) negeri
Sekolah menengah- ditto – persekutuan.
SBP ( Sekolah Berasrama Penuh?)
SBT ( the latest 20 I believe)
MRSM-imtiaz ( because it has a new chairman?)
Sekolah bestari
Sekolah integrasi
Sekolah elit
Sekolah wawasan
Sekolah kelaster ( klaster or cluster?)
…… and so on

The list does not include ‘Sekolah Teknik’ group which now is about to undergo drastic changes in names and contents as quoted in the local papers last week.

I have known of the ‘loyal Malaysian’ quoted by Awang Goneng, and I have been his silent admirer. Awang Goneng is in a better position to confirm whether the man does claim himself to be a Malaysian or a Malayan. When interviewed in KL during a visit home some years ago he expressed his views on learning of English by Malaysians. I can never forget one statement he made that, from his observation, of the three main races in Malaysia, Malay children would find it most difficult to study English. Indian pupils have a definite edge. After some years of running Almanar, I realise how difficult it is for kampong Malays to express in English, as an example, a string of adjectives which precede a noun. Sepasang baju Melayu bewarna biru - a pair dress Malay with colour blue!

To help overcoming some of these difficulties Almanar pupils have to do lots of exercises involving translation work from Malay. This is my way.

Additionally, if I were allowed to dream, I would think very hard about that very person in London who had successfully run for years and years a school for English study in the very heart of England. The man has to be back and work in Malaysia, full stop. To achieve that I would blackmail him with a ‘Tan Sri’ and lots and lots of money to design and run a special school for English language without any interference. To lend credence to his work, as is our general perception and practice in Malaysia, he would be honoured by a local university of ‘taraf antarabangsa’, of course, with a PhD and Professorship so that when addressed in public he will always be referred to as ‘ …. Tan Sri Datuk Prof Dr …..’. All those in the ministry of education and the respective politicians involved, in particular, will have to earn a certificate from his new school before they are allowed to mess up their jobs in upgrading the standard of English in Malaysian schools to the ‘British’ English. This, to my simple and uneducated way of thinking, will be more cost effective than importing 365 English teachers, who probably would have to work in super air-conditioned rooms at the temperature of English winter plus six months of general acclimatisation and adjustments to enable them to usefully participate in the celebrations of Hari Raya, Chinese New Year, Thaipusam, Gawai, Harvest and so forth – the 1Malaysia. And this would be my way.

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15 February 2010

Ha Ha Ha – I do it my way (part 3)

The Education Minister was reported in the New Sunday Times to have said that language arts and use of correct phonics will be the core of a new curriculum for English language to be implemented next year. “What is important is standard and the new curriculum will teach students according to the standard British language phonics so that our students will know how to pronounce English words as spoken by native speakers.”

That is truly fantastic.

It was also reported (in another paper) that 365 English language teachers ( any reference to 365 days in year ?) will be imported in June to train local teachers to teach this language.


Two years ago I met a very senior member of ‘Kementerian Pendidikan’ (or is it Kementerian Pelajaran?). In the course of our friendly conversation we touched on the subject of teaching English in schools and where to send our students to study. Not to show a total ignorance I tried to make a smart remark by saying that the University of Kent, England, was a good place simply because I happened to know of a number of Malayan students being sent there in 1980’s. That truly aroused his enthusiasm. He spent the next minutes giving me a lecture on selection of universities for English language studies. Obviously seeing my ignorance, he teed off with gusto,“England is not the best place for learning English.” At length he concluded that “New Zealand and Australia are the best for English language.

“Oh, is that so?’ was my meek response.

To lend credence to his powerful discourse, a young boy entered the house. “That is my boy and he is going to Australia to do TESL”. How convincing his argument was and I congratulated him for having a clever son who would one day teach good English like a genuine native.

I have never been to New Zealand and I wonder whether he had ever been to England, which may be, for all you know, a different country from UK and GB. In 1956 my Scottish (not English) landlady asked me whether Malaya was somewhere in Singapore! And I could hardly understand her strange accent although she was a native; then, I had newly been shipped to an English speaking country which I thought would have a kind of ‘bahasa baku’.


And last year a group of young American graduates of various disciplines (not English) were seen around and one, a girl, was stationed at a secondary school in Pakcik’s vicinity. Soon I began to hear from pupils coming to Almanar about the new celebrity in their school and her ‘strange accent’.


So (I must learn to use this new Malay word because that is the most commonly used word on TV today, and it will soon be in Kamus Dewan, I am sure) we are now about to go for standard British language.

In April last year Pakcik made some reference to PPSMI, the hot topic of that moment. Refer to PPSMI – I do it my way (Part 1)

Now it is ‘buy British first’. With his typical smile, our Tun Dr Mahathir must be wondering. At the same time I, too, wonder how my friend in the Dept of Education will take it now that we are not going to Canterbury of New Zealand for good English – possibly back to the old Canterbury.

Well, Pakcik will carry on doing it the way I believe, irrespective. Old habits die hard.

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01 February 2010

My Way – Introduction

Three months ago Pakcik had that Bell’s palsy which turned my face more ‘attractive’ than usual. People gave long looks at me – admiring, wondering, maybe? Even Makcik, in spite of having chalked up more than forty-five years of living together, could not resist studying my face – tenderly and lovingly, of course - anxiously hoping that the look on Pakcik’s face would not last too long.

No sooner the Bell’s palsy had disappeared than a charming couple arrived. For the first time Pakcik and Makcik met Dr Umi Kalthum Ngah, a Professor Madya and a writer of at least five interesting books for children, and her husband, Sofian, both of whom are with a well known university up North. They had driven all the way to K Terengganu. Apart from a nostalgic journey to the East Coast which they had planned, they were intrigued by the work of Almanar. They wished to know ‘my way’ of achieving my objectives at Almanar. Both are dedicated educationists who have spent a great deal of their time on voluntary work for the less fortunate in their area. What is ‘my way’?

They returned home and Umi Kalthum unexpectedly posted in her blog, Hues of dewdrops, and its Malay version, Biasan Embun , an unnecessarily flattering description of our simple retiring home - ‘That white house beside the beach.’ That, I suppose, is her way of thanking us for accommodating them and for the simple meals - which we enjoyed having with them.

This week, three months later, we hosted the famed Wan A Hulaimi, now better known as Awang Goneng the pen-name of his popular book Growing Up in Trengganu (and his Kecek-Kecek blog). Unlike Umi Kalthum, he was alone because his beloved wife - now best known for her Kak Teh’s Choc-a-Bloc Blog) - chose to return to London from KL and by-pass K Terengganu, probably after having heard and read enough of the famed ‘bandaraya persisiran pantai’ and its world-class miniature mosques of Pulau Wan Man, and the ultra modern sports stadium with its ‘collapsible roof’.

During the short stay of Awang Goneng, Pakcik managed to pick his brain on a number of points on teaching of English and creative writing. I could not have a better opportunity and a better person to ask. On blog writing, he suggested that I spend some time on highlighting problems faced in running Almanar and the way I had attempted to overcome them. So it is another ‘My Way’ of doing things in this sleepy town.

Having two parties who talked of ‘My way’, insya Allah, Pakcik will make this a mini series like ‘Pakcik Reminisces’ and ‘End of the Tunnel’. To the couple and Wan Hulaimi, the two of us must register the pleasure we had of their company.

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