Sixteen and struggling with English

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Last Updated: 12:21pm, Apr 17, 2014

KUALA LUMPUR (April 17): Wong Heong Wei, 16, struggled to follow the mentor who was giving a talk in simple English to his class in SMK Seri Kembangan. "She was speaking too fast for me," Wong said frankly when asked for his comments about the talk on role models by The Edge Education Foundation CEO Dorothy Teoh last week. Most of Wong's 30 classmates are in the same predicament, according to Alicia Low Yi Jun, who was at hand to facilitate the one-hour sharing session by Teoh, that was organised under the Teach for Malaysia programme. Even the term "role model" was alien to the students, most of whom studied in the Chinese medium in primary school. Teach for Malaysia is an independent, non-profit organisation that collaborates with the Ministry of Education to enlist the nation's most promising future leaders to teach in low performing schools. For most of the session, which was an activity of the Teach For Malaysia Week 2014 (TFMW), Low, who is a Fellow with TFM, had to translate Teoh's speech into Mandarin. With their vernacular school background, Wong and his classmates find it almost impossible to switch from the Mandarin medium to Bahasa Melayu or English. They can only understand single English words, and clearly looked lost when Teoh spoke to them. With Low's help, however, Teoh managed to get her message through to the students. Getting them to participate in a discussion was equally challenging, probably due to the language barrier. "Who is your role model?" Teoh asked, but the students reacted timidly to her question. Speaking to later, Teoh said:  "The students must improve their English to be equipped for the real world. Otherwise, they will face a situation where other people will have to read official documents for them. Most importantly, it will be difficult for them to find a job as they will not have the necessary communication skills." Low, who has been teaching at the school for three months, said that it is sometimes difficult to deal with the students' motivational problems. "It is hard to get the students to do the lessons that we require them to do. Sometimes, they don't listen to you," said Low. However, she believed that it is not necessarily a bad thing, since those who go against the norms tend to be innovators. "They are just kids and they will run around because they have a lot of energy. As educators under TFM, we will keep on inspiring these students to become better persons," Alicia added on a positive note. SMK Seri Kembangan is graded as a Band 5 school under the Education Ministry's grading system for the School Improvement Programme (SIP). Under the programme, high achieving schools are grouped in Band 1, while the lowest performing schools are grouped as Band 7. Therefore, TFM is helping SMK Seri Kembangan with numerous subjects like Bahasa Melayu, English, Mathematics and Sejarah, among others. The theme for the TMFW 2014 programme is "Joining Hands" where top performing Malaysians, particularly professionals from a wide range of fields and backgrounds, are invited to participate in the classroom, teaching alongside the organisation's Fellows for one day out of a week in the year.

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