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Wednesday, March 17, 2021

What learning English looks like for your child in 2021


Geoff Taylor, the Head of Young Learners at the British Council in Malaysia, shares your views on your children learning English and their broader education in Malaysia:

At the end of last year, we asked a group of Mumsgather readers to complete a survey about their child’s education and their experiences in learning English. The results were fascinating, and I am delighted to have the opportunity to share them with you.

As a British national who has lived in Asia for around 15 years, the first thing that struck me when I arrived in Malaysia was that everywhere I went I heard people speaking English. This is very different to places I have lived previously, such as Vietnam or the Czech Republic. This is also reflected in the survey results with an overwhelming number of parents saying that English is their child’s main language. However, despite saying that their child is fluent in English, they also stated that their child still has significant room for improvement in their English ability. English may be their child’s main language, but they still feel they have yet to fully master it.

Reading English books or watching English TV series and films were listed as being the main ways in which Malaysian children improve their English. In addition to English, parents expressed an interest in their children studying more topics such as Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM), and stated they were particularly interested in developing their critical thinking ability. Parents of 7-9 year olds also listed public speaking classes as something they felt would benefit their child. These areas are increasingly important in today’s global societies as we move away from the industrial age, with its foundation in hard skills, and embrace the digital age, where soft skills are increasingly vital.

According to the survey results, parents felt that getting the right teacher was crucial to their children’s education. For younger children the personality of the teacher was most important. Teachers working with younger students must genuinely love children and have a real passion and tremendous enthusiasm for what they do. For teenagers, the teacher’s expertise in the subject area was identified as being more significant.

When choosing between academic results on the one hand, and soft skills (such as communication and problem-solving) on the other, all parents chose soft skills. Again, this reflects the changing world. Obviously, our children still need to do well at school, but good academic qualifications are no longer enough to guarantee a successful future. Flexible individuals who can find creative solutions to challenges and work well with others are increasingly valued. When we consider how the world is changing, and the new global challenges we all face, is not surprising to see this strongly reflected in the survey results.

The questions parents ask about their child’s education are, in order of priority, as follows:

1. Will your child’s intellectual ability, perseverance, creativity, and other personality traits be developed?

2. Will your child’s communication skills improve?

3. Are the teachers of high quality?

4. Is the learning environment safe, supportive, and positive?

Surprisingly, it was only with teenagers that concerns about affordability and price are mentioned.

In general, what was most noticeable from the survey was that although for many children in Malaysia English is their main language, parents believe that they have a long way to go before they can be said to have completely mastered the language. Likewise, the shift from a traditional academic focus to developing core skills for life, such as communication or problem-solving ability, and even personality traits such as resilience and perseverance, reflects changes taking place in education across the globe. The British Council is proud to have been working in Malaysia for over 75 years, and we take great pleasure in doing everything we can to help Malaysian children prepare for the world of the future. Find out more about what the British Council does here


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