Infernal Ramblings
A Malaysian Perspective on Politics, Society and Economics

Teachers Who Cannot Teach

Written by johnleemk on 2:00:28 pm Jul 18, 2007.
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There is a fundamental problem with the Malaysian education system. And that problem is very simple: the teachers.

Now, before anyone blows up at me for insulting their favourite teacher, I'm more than willing to concede that there are a great number of good teachers out there, because I myself have been taught by them.

That teachers are great people is out of the question; most people are great, and there is no reason to assume that teachers are otherwise. The problem is that when teachers enter the classroom, they aren't so great.

There are a variety of reasons for this. One is that they just don't have the passion for teaching. If you know your way around the subject matter, it's wonderful — but what good is it if you hate teaching, or if you are unable to foster the requisite bond between yourself and your students?

I recall having a temporary teacher who once introduced herself to us as someone who had always wanted to be a policewoman. Because of her parents' expectations, however, she entered the teaching profession — it was supposedly more fitting for a lady, and also it meant you don't work all year round.

When you treat teaching as a job for civil servants, rather than as a profession for people with passion, it's not surprising that you find a shocking lack of respect for teachers and the teaching profession. As I recall it, the same teacher mentioned earlier ended up being shuttled around from department to department, teaching all sorts of subjects — and later became famous for telling one class that Chinese could not be counted on to be loyal to Malaysia. (I wonder what she made of the recent government announcement that of the 100,000 Malaysians who have given up their citizenship since 1996, 70% were Malay.)

The second problem is teachers who just don't know what they are teaching. To a certain extent, this is ameliorated if you have a passion for teaching — you can end up teaching a useless subject like moral education, which only requires some experience in the real world to be taught properly anyway (as opposed to the horrendous way it is currently taught in school).

But the problem really is, what do you do about subjects where knowing your subject matter inside out is absolutely critical? How can you teach English if you can't appreciate a good English novel? How can you teach science if you haven't got a degree in a scientific field? Hell, how can you teach physics if you have a degree in biology — which goes on everyday thanks to our hapless Education Ministry, allocating teachers like it allocates civil servants?

The result is you have geography teachers who just regurgitate notes compiled from the text and reference books without understanding them, history teachers who are incapable of answering basic questions about historical players, and science teachers who state "red blood cells prevent from sick".

One subject which I've gladly found to be free from such idiocy is mathematics — perhaps it's difficult for the bureaucrats to screw up in this area because you actually need to somewhat understand the subject if you want to open your mouth in the classroom. But still, one of the best mathematics teachers I ever had was astounded when the result of a quadratic expression did not follow a linear law, insisting that the calculator we had must be broken.

If all a teacher has to do is stay ahead of the students by a couple of chapters in the text, what are we paying teachers for? It's no wonder that our teachers are so poorly paid if this is all the work we expect them to be doing.

Let's show a little respect for teaching and for education. Let's hire teachers who want to teach, and give them classes which they are capable of teaching. We are doing both students and teachers a disservice by sticking with the broken system we have.


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Infernal Ramblings is a Malaysian website focusing on current events and sociopolitical issues. Its articles run the gamut from economics to society to education.

Infernal Ramblings is run by John Lee. For more, see the About section. If you have any questions or comments, do drop him a line.


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