Tuesday, September 29, 2015

The Wonderful World of English Literature

Studying literature involves the development of sophisticated reading skills and of an ability to place literary texts in their wider intellectual and historical contexts. It also requires you to consider the critical processes by which you analyse and judge, to learn about literary form and technique, and to study the development of the English language. Literature is about life and the world we live in and I believe that the love for reading literary texts should be inculcated into the students as early as Year One as this would not only enhance their reading skills but also their thinking and analytical skills as well. Sad to say, the majority of our Malaysian students do not like to read English books and when it comes to literature classics, it's a big NO. Even our undergraduate lit students would go around looking for a summary of the literary texts online just for the purposes of completing their assignments - not because they want to read. They would do anything at all costs to avoid reading the complete and unabridged version of the texts. How sad! Perhaps it's time that something is done to change our students' learning attitude and particularly their attitude towards the English subjects. When it comes to English education, the Malaysian Government is never stingy but it is meaningless for the Malaysian Government to spend so much to improve our students' proficiency in English when their negative attitude towards this language remains unchanged. Much would depend on our Malaysian students i.e. if they don't want to learn, nothing can force them.

My interest in English literature started way back during my school days thanks to my father and his collection of timeless literature classics. Although my father had the almost complete set of English literature classics on his book shelf, I did not really begin to read these texts until I was 13. Prior to that (during my primary school days), I was only interested in Enid Blyton's works.

I started reading Enid Blyton's works at the age of eleven (standard 5) as this was the trend at that time. 'Mr Pink Whistle Interferes' and 'Anytime Tales' were my favourite at that time. However, this trend has changed now and what is really saddening is that many of our graduates of the present era cannot even afford to read even one these children books or to be exact they can't even read one page of it because they don't understand the words in it.

Enid Blyton's 'Those Dreadful Children', 'The Naughtiest Girl is the Monitor', 'Secret Seven', and 'Five Go Down to the Sea' were some of my favourite books when I was 12 (standard 6). But once I entered secondary school, these books seemed to be a bit childish to me or perhaps  I should say that I had already grown up then and these children books could no longer satisfy my taste. Many of these children books were already given away when I entered secondary school. These are amongst  the few books that I am still having with me now.

My interest in English literature actually began at the age of 13 when I was in Form One. That year, we studied three English literary texts namely, 'Little Women' (Louisa M. Alcott), 'Lorna Doone' (R.D. Blackmore), and 'An Anthropology of Poems'. "Little Women' and 'Lorna Doone' seemed familiar to me because I had seen them many times on my father's book shelf. Out of curiosity, I started reading the complete and unabridged versions of these texts (belonging to my father) and it was only then that I discovered the differences between the complete and unabridged versions and the simplified versions of the texts. After reading through the complete and unabridged versions of these literary texts, the desire to read literature classics had since begun. I went on to read 'Good Wives' and 'Jo's Boys' in the same year. Above are photos of the book 'Little Women' which belongs to my father and 'Jo's Boys' (Louisa M. Alcott) which was given to me by a church member.

I have read 'Little Women' and 'Good Wives' countless times when I was in Form One as I have the habit of reading my favourite texts over and over again. Above are the newer texts of 'Little Women' and 'Good Wives' which I bought when I first started teaching. The old ones have become so worn out that I really need to get some new ones.

When I was 14 (Form 2), we did 'Pride and Prejudice' (Jane Austen) for our literature classes. As usual, I went to my father's book shelf to look for the complete and unabridged version of the text. As though 'Pride and Prejudice' alone was not enough, I went on to read 'Emma', 'Sense and Sensibility', and 'Mansfield Park'. My interest in the works of Jane Austen had since begun. (If you click on the above photo, you can see my father's name written on one of the novels).

 However, it was not until I was doing my teaching practice (praktikum) at SK Tanjong Rambutan that I got to read the complete novels of Jane Austen. I also made use of the opportunity to study the 'New American Bible' thoroughly during this period of my life. Austen's works and the Bible were what kept me company for those 5 months of teaching practice. Time seemed to fly with the company of these books.

When I was in form 2, my schoolmates had the habit of reading the Mills & Boons series of love stories and of course I did persuade my mom to buy those books for me as I wanted to follow the tide. However, what I got was a big 'NO' from her. All she said was that I could read free of charge from my father's book shelf. So, instead of reading Mills and Boons, I read the works of Jane Austen and Pearl S. Buck. I had no idea why I was attracted to Pearl S. Buck's 'Portrait of a Marriage' at first sight but this was the novel that helped me to get started with her works and I had since gone on to read the rest.

Amongst these fours novels, 'Voices in the House' is the one I like best. However, I still feel that 'The Hidden Flower' is still the best Pearl S. Buck novel. I even wrote a script about it when I was in Form 2 in the hope that I would be able to make a movie out of it when I grew up. My ambition was to be an actress then and I really wanted to play the role of Josui Sakai in the movie.

Pearl S. Buck's works always bring back beautiful memories of my Form 2 years. Every page of it has a beautiful memory of those good old days. At 14, life was simply gorgeous. Thanks to my father for his collection of Pearl S. Buck's novels.

I started reading the Bronte sisters' work at 16 when I was in Form 4. I did not read much when I was in Form 3 because I had to study for my SRP (Sijil Rendah Pelajaran) Examination. (If you click on the above photo, you can see my father's name written clearly on his novels).

I have read 'Jane Eyre' so many times when I was in Form 4 that the book has become too worn out to photograph. Luckily, I managed to get a new one. 'Wuthering Heights' is also one of my favourite novels, and like 'Jane Eyre', I have also read it countless times. However, I did not get to read 'Wuthering Heights' when I was in Form 4 because one of my cousin brothers took the book for his Form 6 literature classes. I only bought 'Wuthering Heights' after I started teaching.

 The works of Daphne du Maurier: My Cousin Rachel, Kiss Me Again, Stranger, The Scapegoat, and The Progress of Julius.
'Jamaica Inn' (Daphne du Maurier) was my favourite book when I was 18 (Lower Six). I did a lot of reading whilst waiting for my SPM results. Perhaps I should be thankful to my father for his literature classics collection because that was what gave me a start in English literature at an early age. After I started teaching, my love for English literature continued and I went on to read more and buy more and more books. Below are photos of some of the literary texts in my collection which I bought with my own money.
The works of Charles Dickens - The Pickwick Papers, Nicholas Nickleby, David Copperfield, and A Tale of Two Cities. You will love 'A Tale of Two Cities'.

The works of Joseph Conrad: Do you notice that I have two copies of 'Nostromo'?

The works of Thomas Hardy: Far from the Madding Crowd, The Mayor of Casterbridge, The Trumpet Major, A Pair of Blue Eyes, The Woodlanders, Jude the Obscure. Thomas Hardy's works have remained to be my favourite all these years. I love 'Tess of the d'Urbervilles' most followed by 'Jude the Obscure' - Hardy's most controversial novels.

The works of George Eliot, D.H. Lawrence, and Virginia Woolf

The works of Charles Dickens, Mark Twain, and Robert Louis Stevenson

Never miss out Nathaniel Hawthorne's 'Scarlet Letter' & 'House of the Seven Gables',  Bram Stoker's 'Dracula', John Milton's 'Paradise Lost', Mary Shelley's 'Frankenstein', Amy Tan's 'Joy Luck Club', and Baroness Orczy's 'Scarlet Pimpernel'.

These books should be read by all primary school children! But how many of them would ever bother to read them? Or can they ever read them? What can the teachers do to encourage their students to read? Did our English teachers read these books when they were young? Sad to say, the majority of Malaysians do not like to read English books. 

The works of Anthony Trollope, Sir Walter Scott, Rudyard Kipling, Elizabeth Gaskell, James Joyce, Wilkie Collins, and F. Scott Fitzgerald.

The Complete Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Why is it so difficult for our Form One students to read and understand the simplified picture version of Sherlock Holmes' 'Boscombe Valley Mystery when they are given the whole year to read such a simple thing? Perhaps it's time that something must be done about this!

The 70 Best Tales of Edgar Allan Poe

The Complete Works of Oscar Wilde

The Great Tales of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

And of course one cannot leave out the complete works of William Shakespeare. The world of English Literature would not be complete without his works.

Friday, September 18, 2015

My Elegant Artificial Jewellery Collection

THEY look like real gold, but they are not. They are finery made of cheaper material but are designed like gold jewellery. With the increasing number of incidences of snatch thefts and robberies these days, more people are opting to adorn themselves with these imitation gold jewellery as they feel safer wearing the artificial ones.

In the not so distant past, wearing artificial jewellery was meant to be only for those who could not afford the authentic ones. Wear artificial jewellery used to be considered as low class and without standard but this attitude has changed now because people’s preferences has also changed with time. Many working women are no longer interested in heavy traditional jewellery and prefer wearing light weight jewellery for their daily routines. Jewellery manufacturers have also come to understand the need and demand for artificial jewellery and this industry is expanding fast. The availability of artificial jewellery in beautiful designs recently has brought a dramatic transformation in people’s preferences.

Stylish and elegant fashion jewellery can now be found everywhere and at reasonable prices too. Many of them are even more beautiful than the real ones because of their unlimited and exquisite designs. As it is impossible to buy real jewellery to go with every dress, it seems that wearing fashion jewellery is the only choice which our fairer sex could have. Below are photos of my elegant watch collection. After having been robbed of my most treasured gold chain and pendant, my desire for authentic jewellery has since gone. I prefer the artificial ones as I don't have to worry about being robbed anymore.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Teaching Mathematics and Science in English in Malaysian Classrooms: Reality or Fantasy?

The book (in the photo above) means a lot to me because this was the book that sparked off my interest in learning science in English when I was only fifteen. That year, just after I sat for my Sijil Rendah Pelajaran (Form 3 examination), I visited my former tuition teacher and her sister was about to throw away this book when I arrived. Since it was still new, I asked her to give it to me. So, instead of spending my year-end holidays working at KFC (Kentucky Fried Chicken) like what my schoolmates did, I read through the entire book word by word within two months. As I have been learning science in the Malay language up till then, I did have some difficulties reading this book at first but after having read through the entire book, I discovered that I had actually learnt many new scientific terms that I have never come across before. Learning English is one thing but learning science in English is another because it is not possible for me to come across any scientific terms by learning English alone.

Learning Science in English has since become a great enjoyment for me as I could not help feeling proud of myself then because I was doing something that I knew none of my friends would ever do. Why stay at home and read when you can have fun? Why study science in English when it would not give you any monetary benefits? Well, only a silly child like me would ever do that. Feeling excited with my achievement and new discovery, I made up my mind to learn Mathematics and Science in English the following year when I was in form 4. Although my mom had already bought all the maths and science text books for me in the Malay language, I went to all the bookshops that I could find to look for the English version of the texts. I was lucky that I could still find some which the shopkeepers intended to get rid of. I considered myself very lucky as I managed to grab them on time. Below are photos of some of the memorable mathematics and science textbooks that I am still having with me even though I have thrown away most of my old text books. 

Comprehensive Biology by Lam Peng Kwan, which was recommended to me by my cousin brother, was the best biology text of my time. I was lucky enough to get the last copy of this book from Anthonian Store when I went book hunting after passing my Sijil Rendah Pelajaran (SRP) Examination. Luckily it wasn't extinct yet! This book used to mean a lot to me as I've read it countless times until I could memorize long passages from it. Although I have already thrown away the translated Malay version of this book because the translation was confusing, this original English version, which is already old and torn, has in it memories of my beautiful childhood days that I will treasure forever. 

A New Certificate Chemistry by Holderness & Lambert: Although I have the Malay version of this book, the translation was difficult to understand and confusing as there were some minor translation errors here and there, Translation can be hazardous as it could remove many important details and one cannot deny the fact that a translated version of the text could never be the same as the original one. Further, after spending my holidays reading a science text in English, I just could not force myself to read the Malay version of this book anymore even though I knew that I had to answer my exam questions in Malay. I prefer to read the original text in English, untampered with translation, and with its information at first hand.

Chemistry by D.N. Underwood & D.E. Webster: It was my cousin brother who recommended this book to me. I bought it from Anthonian Store on the same day I bought Comprehensive Biology (above) by Lam Peng Kwan. I used this book as a reference. Answering exam questions in Malay did not give me any problems even though all my mathematics and science texts were in English. 

Fundamentals of Physics by M. Nelkon: I find this book very easy to understand - the most perfect physics text for a form 4/5 student. Just imagine how many new words you can learn from this book after reading it thoroughly! I actually fell in love with this book at first sight!

Additional Mathematics by Tan Wang Seng: This was my first Mathematics text in English. Although my mother had bought me the Malay version of this book, I did not use it but kept it for my younger brother.

An Atlas of Histology by W.H. Freeman and Brian Bracegirdle: Here you can see both the original English version of this book as well as a translated version of one of my form 6 texts. It has never occurred to me that I am still having the translated version of one of my biology practical texts until I was clearing my things some weeks ago!

A Course in HSC Practical Chemistry by James Chong and David Law. This book was given to me by my cousin brother. It has helped me a lot with my chemistry practical when I was in form 6. I did have a translated version of this book (if I were not mistaken, it was green in colour) but I have never opened it as I preferred to use the original English text.

Introduction to Physical Chemistry by G.I. Brown: When I was in Form 6, the desire to learn Mathematics and Science in English continued. The moment I got into Lower 6, I went to all the bookshops in town to find the original English texts even though it wasn't easy because these books had almost become extinct in Malaysia.

Biology: A Functional Approach by M.B.V Roberts - The Bible of Biology. I have read through this book countless times until I could memorize long passages from it. Although I have the Malay version of this book, I have never opened it. I prefer to read the original text in English.

Advanced Level Physics by Nelkon & Parker: The Bible of Physics. The original text is always the best and cannot be replaced by any translated versions of it. So what's the problem with the learning of mathematics and science in our Malaysian schools? Why is it a failure? If a silly girl of 15 like me could do it, why not others? Learning mathematics and science in English is actually a very simple task but why is it made so complicated that it has to be discarded? 

In 1996, Dr Mahathir – as the then Prime Minister – had introduced a policy to teach Mathematics and Science in English but this policy was reversed in 2012. Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad does not agree with reintroducing English-medium schools but maintains that Mathematics and Science should be taught in English. He said a pass in English should also be made compulsory and that all the measures were needed to help stem the declining proficiency in the language as well as help pupils master Mathematics and Science. “I won’t agree to reintroducing English-medium schools but I do believe that if we teach Maths and Science in English as well as make English a compulsory subject, it would be sufficient,” said Dr Mahathir. Making a pass in English compulsory and teaching of Mathematics and Science in English, he said, would not breach Malaysia’s policy of promoting the national language. “Other subjects can be taught in Bahasa Malaysia but Science and Maths are different subjects because the pace of change and new findings happen almost every day,” said Dr Mahathir. On whether the country’s students had suffered as a result of the policy reversal, Dr Mahathir said he had received complaints that the quality of local graduates had fallen. “Their poor English proficiency means they cannot interact with people effectively, which is a problem especially if they work in foreign affairs, for example,” he said (The Star Online, 13 June 2015).

“Let’s be honest with ourselves. Singapore has done well as a country. Their students have fared very well in Mathematics and Science. The prominent use of English has set them ahead of us,” said the Sultan of Johor, Sultan Ibrahim Sultan Iskandar (Malay Mail Online, 14 Sept 2015).

Malaysia must make proficiency in English its top priority if local businesses are to thrive globally, said prominent banker Datuk Seri Nazir Razak. In a caption accompanying his Instagram post, the chairman of the country’s second-largest bank CIMB cautioned that the current workforce was losing its competitive edge due to poor mastery of the language. “English is the global language and as a nation we should declare English language proficiency as our top priority. “It’s a traditional edge that our workforce is losing fast; we must reverse the deterioration now,” he wrote as a caption on the photo-sharing app accompanying a snapshot of a June 30 Bloomberg report headlined, “Honda to Set English as Official Language.” He added that enforcing the use of English to boost its command would not cause the national language to suffer or be forgotten. “(And no, it does not mean we have to neglect bahasa!)” he wrote. A Forbes contributor also pointed that Malaysians’ deteriorating command of English and education system has left its workforce vulnerable to regional competitors that are both cheaper and improving. This came after former Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyididn Yassin said he was “shocked” that Malaysian students continue to lag behind global counterparts despite Malaysia spending as much on education as some developed nations such as the United States. Last year, Muhyiddin, who was also education minister, expressed bafflement at local students’ inability to master English despite nearly two decades of education (The Malay Mail Online, 21 July 2015).