PETALING JAYA - Students are poor in English because they have no interest to learn and not because they are not capable.
Poi Lam High School English teacher Yong Ah Yong, 69, said the students had no interest or were unwilling to learn the language.
"We can only tell them the importance of learning English for their career development, global interaction and science and technology," said Yong.
He said they could not teach higher-level students taking the GCE, Cambridge International Examination (CIE) and SPM level exams the fun way like in primary schools as they required logical thinking and linguistic proficiency.
Yong and several other teachers approached by The Star are disappointed and saddened by the poor state of English proficiency seen in their students.
They are equally dismayed about a report run by The Star on Monday, which quoted the Malaysian Medical Association as saying that some 1,000 medical graduates were no longer keen on becoming doctors despite completing their two-year housemanship as they had problems coping with English.
Yvonne Moses, 58, who has 38 years of experience teaching in local and international schools, said the level of English among students today had deteriorated.
She added that children should be made to start reading from a very young age and that primary schools should focus on filling their libraries with books with pictures to catch their attention.
"As soon as they can walk, they are ready to read and parents can also start by reading to them.
"It is very disappointing that our system does not help children realise that language is very important and that is why they don't improve," she said.
Rachel Sharmala, 46, a teacher at SMK Rawang, said getting students to like them was the tough part but once they did, they would turn to the teachers.
"We have to make them understand the purpose of learning the language and show them you care, even if there are only two students in class," said Rachel.
"I'm not saying it is easy as every child has his story and stubbornness. Six to seven months is a battle in Form Four - even if there is slight improvement, it is a reward."
Rachel has ways to win the interest of her students such as getting them to use technology and photography to present their work, making them interview the gardeners and canteen workers, and teaching them nature by going to the garden.
A rural secondary school teacher in Sarawak, who wanted to be known only as Andrea, said reducing the paperwork and non-teaching related workload of teachers was one way as it demotivated them, which in turn caused students to lose interest.
"English teachers are also under pressure these days, with all the attention in the news and education officials always coming to monitor classes.
"This means less time and focus to prepare for classes and make them interesting, so sleepy teachers go back to the textbook style of teaching which makes students themselves sleepy," said Andrea, who is head of her school's English department.
She added that the Government should also make English the medium for teaching Science and Mathematics and stop politicising and changing the issue.