Thursday, 23 October 2008

Jakarta Rediscovered II - Mind your English

Taman Fatahillah or Fatahillah Square, is the epicenter of Kota Tua or the Old City. This spacious quadrangle, bordered by Dutch colonial buildings, is a main attraction for tourists. While I was immersed in taking pictures of this amazing place, a group of young Indonesian students corralled me, eagerly asking if I would answer some questions for their English school project. I was immediately taken by their alert, bright faces and impressed by their command of the language and obliged. They were genuinely inquisitive and keen to know where I came from and my purpose for visiting their country. When they learned I was from Malaysia, they asked if I could speak Bahasa Indonesia. "Bisa", I replied. They were thrilled to bits by the answer.

I was thrown more questions, all in good English, and with little hesitation. They took notes and one was recording our dialogue. At 17 years of age they were in their final year of high school and looking forward to making a living.
Soon another group rushed over for an interview. I found out that this was a three month project for them to practice their English. I was given a form to fill in my personal data and sign as proof of their interview.

My comments were prompted by the kids, "Good luck" they suggested. I included congratulatory wishes to the teachers and students for their positive attitude and keen efforts to practice English. They thanked me profusely for the kind words and shook hands before running off seeking their next prey.

Very refreshing interlude, I must say.
In Malaysia we lament the fact that the standard of English has fallen. It has.

I couldn't help comparing these teenagers to my former medical students, the cream of school-leavers, a sizable number of whom, struggled to express their understanding of a subject clearly and in a concise and logical manner, be it in Bahasa Malaysia and more so in English.

Their overall reticence to vocalise, question and interact with peers, facilitators and teachers in an academic manner was contrary to the exuberance of this bubbly bunch. It left passionate teachers frustrated.
Is this indicative of a lack of confidence and low self esteem of our students?
Are they casualties of a misdirected education system?

Are they not pursuing a course of their choice? Do they know what they want?

Or as one of my classmates in medical school observed, "I deteriorated in Uni. I used to read books on history, philosophy, played rugby for school, was a school debater . . . Now I just sit and mug!"

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