Tuesday, November 22, 2005

The bilingual speaker: New respect accorded to them.

Or even better, multi-lingual to be exact!

When I was much younger, my mother considered sending me to a chinese school and my dad opposed , and finally I was sent to a malay school. In most cases, the Chinese people who can’t speak any Mandarin are generally labelled "banana". Some of the chinese educated students (in school then, and even now!!) seem to have an issue about any chinese who are not able to speak or write any Chinese characters or Mandarin for that matter.

What do I say to that? Actually, I really could not care less whether I can speak or I can’t speak it. (I never did anyway to begin with!) But I did take up some classes.
Not so much because I want to learn, but because I HAVE to learn. It is not exactly my favourite language in the world, and I could care less about learning it, (I’d rather learn Spanish, coz it’s much more easier than French and is more similar to English).

The kids in school (a lot of them) speak Mandarin. In order to converse with them (or to make them comfortable in conversing with me), I had to learn some Mandarin in order to communicate with them.
Whatmore, with the current unit I am taking, Cross-Cultural Communication, it discourses on the importance of bilingualism and the advantages of being bilingual.

Among the things pointed out in the readings were that "children from non-speaking backgrounds who were ex posed to English at a preschool age had a strong desire to learn and function in English, and through this rejected their first/home language. This rejection resulted in a breakdown of cultural communication- in many cases having devastating effects for family backgrounds (Filmore, 1991).

I feel that this is the case with my family as well with my nieces and nephews (who are now residing in English speaking countries). When I was younger, I was practically a non-English speaker until...well.....I don’t know. For me, it was not really a case of such, but it was for my brother. When I was younger, he didn’t like the fact that I was always speaking in Cantonese and didn’t want to be embarrassed in front of his friends! (my mother’s words!).

The other are my nieces/ nephews who are now overseas. Well, their grandfather is not pleased that the grandchild hardly/ barely speaks any Cantonese, but the thing is, it cant be avoided. The fact that there are barely any cantonese/mandarin speaking acquaintances around her, and the mere fact that her parents speak more "rojak" cantonese at home, does not really help much in the situation.

The new wave in ESL (English as a Second Language) teaching (sequential acquisition) now goes that "the emphasis in learning should instead be placed on maintaining the first/home language in a way that allows children to learn by bringing their basic linguistic background to the fore. If the first language is well developed and understood, the second language will follow the same pattern" (Giugni, 2002).

This statement is agreed by many others, including Cummins (1991) who states that successive bilingualism allows children who are already literate in one language would be able to transfer their reading skills to the other, depending on the extent of similarity between both languages, which to some extent I agree to.

In fact, research has shown that the students learn best (at the age range of 15, plus minus a few years), as they already have a basic grasp of their own home language. However, they may lack the skills in pronunciation as compared to younger learners who may achieve native pronunciation as compared to adult or teen learners.

Many parents are going into the one parent-one language approach (simultaneous acquisition) , whereby one parent strictly speaks in one language. I have seen this happen, with a friend of mine, whose mother only speaks Hokkien, and his father speaks English. This was not done intentionally, but merely out of convenience, and the friend of mine is fluent now in both languages. In the process, however, he picked up Cantonese from watching television serials (and friends as well!) and the Malay language from school.

Once the child has developed cognitively to understand that both parents are actually speaking different languages (and the child may only attain this level of cognitive understanding after the age of 5 and above!) it is important that parents continue to model proper grammatical structures for the child to follow after.

Another thing that a lot of Malaysians do, (and not just Malaysians either!) is code-switching, whereby the speaker usually mixes language to enhance communication. This is common when we can’t find the appropriate word to describe the situation or object, and we switch to either make the listener more comfortable or to better describe the situation.

In Malaysia, this is commonly known as "rojak" (which is very apparent!). However, this is not a wise practice to do in front of the child (if you intend to do the one parent-one language approach), but is fine within the context of conversing with other adults and friends. Constantly doing that will lead the child to
imitate the same, as well as cause confusion in the child to which language belongs to which!

There’s actually a lot of studies that has gone into this aspect of cross-cultural communication, and it is important that teachers of foreign languges (or those intending to teach English as a second Language) be aware of the current trends and the developmental stages of the learners and their learner styles before attempting to do so.

Even if you just intend to teach tuition, having some psychology background knowledge and strategies can really help you avoid headaches and avoid demotivating the child too much if they don’t seem to be progressing much in their learning!

Friday, November 18, 2005

Again, the chinese vs malay schools issue!

Minishorts has actually written an interesting entry on Chinese school vs Malay school.

I think she's worried too much about the future, especially the future of our public schools.

If she is in the education line, she would know the horrors of what an education system like that can do to the creativity of our young minds. Too much rote memory is not good for the young children, and what is the good of so much work books? I think it is redundant!

The children go to school at 7 and come back by 3. They dont see the sun in the morning when they come in, and by the time they leave, it is almost 4pm. They carry two heavy bags to school. In the morning, they have the MORNING HOMEWORK. After lunch, they are given EVEN MORE HOMEWORK for the Afternoon.

10 subjects and doing homework till 11pm late at night! By the time the child is done, they are so tired they don't even think of going to play! I think it is so *sad*. That is what is happening to children. They find NO MEANING in doing all the homework.

Week after week are tests. Tests. Tests. Tests.

Hello, and for children at 7 years old? I wonder how they cope. My former children all look so pale these days and complain that they hate going to school.

Futhermore, what is the point of so much homework if there is no time to *assimilate* the information?

My best solutions:

1)Send them to private schools. (if you can afford it).


2) Send to Malay schools, and send them for Mandarin tuition.
Thanks, but I don't want my children going to chinese schools.
I would rather my children have less work and more time to play, and enjoy their childhood.
Study, they must, but happy they must also be!

Semester 3 started!!

Semester 3 at USQ has officially started!!

I am doing three units (or courses, as the Aussies call them!).

1. Home and Society.

2. Play Based Pedagogies.

3. Special Needs Education in Malaysian.

For Play Based Pedagogies, it talks about the play curriculum set in Australia, where students have to watch a video (which is converted to cd format at this point of time!) which features a kindergarten that adopts the play based approach to learning and observe, reflect and make meaning out of it.

What is so good about a play based approach? Well, I will know more after doing this course. At this point of time, it is still something that is still new to me, although I have done the initial "Learning through Play" unit as well as a unit on Play during my Montessori course.

When we talk about learning through play, it does not mean that the child is left to play by themselves and can do anything they want. It means to say that the teacher has to be watching what the children and doing, and writes is down, and at appropriate times, come in during the play time to interact with the children to see what they are doing. The children will explain to the teacher what they are doing, and she will write this all down.

At the end of the day, the children will come together in a group to discuss what they have done and the children do actually sit down (4, 5 and 6 year olds!) and listen to what their friends have to say. The student teachers who were watching the first episode in the video were pretty impressed by it!

In related to what the children have done, the children may do writing, or, drawings based on it,
or may do projects based on it as well. The teacher may have to look up on children's books based on that subject to leave in the book centers and introduce it to the children during reading time and let the children go through the book after that. This may lead to another topic altogether.

However, this is not done in one day, but over a period of many weeks and maybe months, just as how it is done in the Reggio Emmilia program. (I have to read up on that as well!). Of course, one has to remember that the curriculum that they have over there is different from the ones we have here. There is not such a set nor structured program as we have here, and the programs are designed to meet and scaffold needs of the individual child, which is not possible here.

Anyway, this is pretty superficial knowledge, based on what I have read in my previous readings so far.

For Special Needs, I will have to choose to do a write up on a Special Needs Association or a child, and it can be any special needs thing. Pretty open-ended assignments, so I need some time to think about what I want to write about.
I was thinking of doing something on the Deaf & Dumb Association, since I learnt some sign language at one point of time, and I find it pretty useful. (when I feel too lazy to talk!!! *lolz*)
Anyway, according to Dr. Irene, there's less research done on this aspect as well, so it could be something worth looking into.

If anyone wants to come with me to check out the Deaf & Dumb Association (if I do choose to go there,) send me an email or something!

Friday, November 11, 2005

Timeline of an institution.

In context of this entry, it would refer to the kindergartens which are operating in Malaysia as at this point of time.

In the past 5 years or so, new kindergartens have been mushrooming up in my area. This is even more so at the centre I am in service at. I was just reflecting on the timeline of a kindergarten here locally, especially those which are of sole-proprietorship, and not a franchise. Many principals either hold a diploma or a basic certificate then, which would meet the minimum requirements of opening a kindergarten.

However, from my perspective, having a diploma is not adequate, especially as childhood education is dynamic and approaches change from generation to generation, and year to year. Fortunately, the authorities have upgraded now the requirements to a 2 year diploma level in opening a kindergarten. In my opinion, even that is not adequate to actually manage the planning of a kindergarten, including the staff, parent-teacher relations that studies may not have been covered in many basic teaching courses.

Among the problems in Malaysia is the issue of licensing, where there are many unlicensed kindergartens opened and there are not adequate staff from the authorities to go around to check whether these so called “kindergartens” are actually registered. Most teachers are not adequately trained, and many do not hold a degree, which is a reason why they are not trained in the proper strategies in handling the child emotionally and socially.

I was in this particular kindergarten, which is a franchise, which has their own program and textbooks. I was there for a short while, and from what I saw, it was not very child centered as it focused a lot on writing and academic work, and not so much activity based. Yet, these kindergartens pose a threat as competition to other long established ones.

Today my colleagues went around to scout at a particular kindergarten, and came back with feedback. They could not introduce themselves as preschool teachers as the threat of competition is something which is real and prevalent. Here it is not so much of the motive of providing what is best for the child, but more of a mercenary motive.

The school fees charged by that kindergarten was very much higher than the one in my school, but this is because the school employs a curriculum that of an activity based, and not focused so much on academic and written work. The school boasts the usage of an educational approach on a "child-centered, teacher initiated" approach. In my perspective, that should be right methodology, but because teachers here are not trained, they do not understand what it means and are only teaching within what they have been brought up or exposed to.

Reflecting on this, I feel that it is not really so much of the tutelage fees, that parent may be reluctant to pay, as I would have thought initially. It is true that there are parents still, who bargain about the school fees, even though it may be very low already! That is a minority though.

The much educated parents (especially those who are educated overseas, and exposed to western approaches), would themselves look for kindergartens who use the same approach. From my perspective, I do not think that parents actually want their children to have so much academic work, and would actually prefer more activity based programs.It is just that a huge majority of our society is like that, especially the less exposed, and those who prefer the chinese style of education, which focuses on rote memory and lots of writing.

These activities, as any trained educator can tell you, are not suitable for young children, as much as people would like to in their own mind to think so. I had a former student who came to kindergarten today for our end of year school party (she is now in primary 1 of a chinese school), and she complains that she wants to go back to kindergarten as there is too much homework in Primary 1 and dislikes it immensely. The only thing that keeps her going she says is the "company of her friends".

Sometimes adults neglect to listen to the voice of the children and instead impose their own wants and needs on the child. Unfortunately, it is highly improbable to provide individualised attention to children in our public schools, as classes are big, with as much as 50 children stuffed like sardines in one class, and the limited number of schools (physically existing) that is. Hence, the need for tutorial classes which is essential these days for the child to succeed in class. *this shall be another topic altogether on another day though*

In about ten years time from now, most of the parents would be my age, or even younger. I would be a parent myself too. I would predict and I would not be wrong if I were to say that parents would be looking for a more activity based education program as what it is I can see from this sample of feedback. Solely-owned kindergartens have to move with the times, and as old as the kindergarten is, they have to learn new approaches, in order to compete with the new ones, that would appeal to desires and needs of new parents. This also includes the incoming flux of diverse ethnic races into our country and to have a curriculum that shows respect to the multi-cultural spread of children and families that enrol in.

I attest this, as I remember the words of my lecturer, who told us that her own kindergarten had a drop in enrolment as she did not think it was important to market or advertise her kindergarten to go with the social trend that time, and when the students left, no one knew the existence of her kindergarten. She was a trained educator, with a good program, but not in marketing. Fortunately, she wised up and now her kindergarten is still thriving!

Kindergartens that use an academic approach, would have to change to a more activity based approach, and move along and conform to the expectations of the main social trends to meet the parents' need and wants. It is either a go with or die thing!

Thursday, November 10, 2005

The training to be a teacher.

Off and on when I meet up with my friends, they ask me about my profession. Well, more so recently, as I have announced to them that I would be furthering my studies to Australia.

They ask, if I did my Montessori, how come I am studying at USQ?

Well, this is because Montessori is only up to diploma level, and the tertiary studies is well... tertiary! The Montessori Diploma can be used to articulate into the uni program (this applies more so where my college, Summit International College has a MOU with the university anyways!).

Yes. You guessed right! It is time I informed my avid readers that I am finally going Down Under in about a couple months time from now. I would be there for about 9months, equivalent to one academic year.

Today I met up with an old high school friend of mine, Jen Ee and his wife, Mavis who just got married recently. It really made me feel *old*. That's cause he's only a year elder than me. *lolz*

He asked me this question:
Can anyone qualify to walk into the kindergarten and be a teacher?

The answer to that: it is an obvious NO!

Firstly, a undergraduate qualification in any other area, i.e, banking, I.T, finance, economics, etc, does not mean that the person is able to practise as a trained educator. Even if the person is a mother,or has children, does not mean that AUTOMATICALLY qualifies them to be a teacher.

If it were college students being taught , it would be a different case altogether. But at preschool level, many children are unable to express themselves verbally. They are at that level of learning to socialise, and some even babbling! We do not know how they think, unlike university students, who are already considered independent thinking adults, and know how to differentiate right from wrong.

Learning to be a teacher, means that the teacher has to be trained in the basic foundations and knowledge of the child, psychology, developmental areas & stages, HOW TO teach, and how to use the materials to bring across the knowledge and transmit to the growing child, as well as foster interest in the child to want to learn and read so that they can be a successful, interactive, sociable, useful member of society, able to be overcome problems. and etc. etc. (the list of responsibilities goes on...)

Let me ask you a question: Would you want someone who is unqualified, and not trained in the knowledge and ways of the child to teach your own child?

Preschools that employ qualified teachers would expect a higher cost in terms of montly school fees. If one wants quality preschool experiences for their child, and yet, want to save on the tutelage fees, well, as the chinese proverb says, "yat fun cheen, yat fun for". (what you pay is what you get).

As said, in countries like Australia, you can't even apply for a permit to be a teacher unless you have an additional 4th year, compared to Business students who only need to complete 3 years for their general degree. In fact, the younger the age group is, the more training is required for the teacher!

Of course, the problem is many people have a dim view of going into the profession. Although it provides a steady income and job security, however it only provides enough for an individual to survive with no extras.. I think the same may apply for other countries. Well, we'll see about that in future.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Documenting professional practice

Documenting professional practice through a portfolio: Empowerment of self by Dr.Joy Goodfellow
Now, this is something that teachers in Malaysia should do. Reflecting on their experiences, and their lesson planning. The question is, do we, and why not?

The teaching profession is a profession like any other. It is because it is so, that teachers should document their professional practice.

Winsor (1998):
'Each teacher's portfolio is a display of individual goals, growth, and achievement, as well as a testimony to acquired knowledge, and professional and personal attributes. In other words, it may be the most valuable three-ring binder a teacher ever possesses.'

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