I refer to the article published in The Star on 10th of August 2011 titled “Revive the days when we mastered English“. I agree with the author of the article that the command of English has been on a decline for a long period of time and something must be done to stop the rot, so to speak. But before we can do so, we would need to acknowledge that we have some mental hurdles to overcome.
Firstly, we need parents and other family members to encourage the learning and use of English language. It does not help when a student starts to struggle with the language and starts having the impression that it isn’t important to learn or master the language because his/her parents did not master them and yet they were fine. The era of our parents are not the same with our current era where English has become an important and even integral part of our daily lives. I am quite fortunate that my parents had the foresight to introduce English to me as a young child via story books and other easy-to-read books. My love for reading grew from there and as a result, my English improved.
Secondly, we need to change the mentality of studying for exams. I fear that this may be the biggest hurdle to overcome. The current generation of parents and kids typically have the mistaken notion that scoring A’s in exams equates to success later on in life. While scoring A’s is an achievement (thought this is debatable given the numerous 14+ A’s being scored annually), the purpose of going to school and studying is NOT so that you can score A’s in exams. Going to school should be about learning new things and understanding new things. Unfortunately, a number of students (if not most of them) are utilizing memorizing techniques to learn the answer to the exam questions. This is not the way to learn. It produces graduates who are unable to form a their own opinions and merely knows how to follow orders. The best example I can think of for such a person (who merely follows orders) is an operator. Is this what our country is trying to produce? Is this what you would want your children to be?
To change the mentality of studying for A’s would also need a total change of our existing education system. This is because our education system is very flawed. We have always been told that examiners give marks based on their answer sheets. Anything that is not in the answer sheets are just marked as wrong. In extreme cases, the answers are expected to be word-for-word. All this promotes is yet more memorizing which is not useful in the working life. While in exams we do not have Internet access, at work we usually do have either Internet access or other sources of reference which we can make use of. Working life usually does not demand a perfect memory. I’m sure many of us make use of Google and Wikipedia for work on a day-to-day basis. So why are we training students to be photocopiers and punishing them with low marks for failing to get a word or two right? Isn’t the main point or content of the answer more important to illustrate the understanding rather than a perfect word-for-word answer? Where is the common sense?
Newspapers have been publishing stories about how graduates have unrealistic expectations, poor command of English and lacking of analytical thinking. I would say that the root cause of all this is the mentality. However, the blame does not squarely fall on any one person as both parent and child share the blame. While not everyone can be a genius, everyone can succeed at something. Do yourself and your child a favor: Stop memorizing and start thinking.