The commentary “Good Writing Means More Than Just Getting ‘A’s” (June 9, 2011) by Miss Chew Hui Min makes the astute observation that rote memorisation and regurgitation – especially in language education – may beneficial for short-term examinations, but can have potential ramifications. Perpetual episodes of ‘cramming’ can dent the student’s interest for learning in the long-term, and stifle his creativity because of the repeated needs to adhere to a fixed template for answers and expressions.
Exposing students to stock phrases for compositions, nonetheless, may not be necessarily unconstructive; active utilisation or familiarity with these phrases can expand vocabulary, heighten levels of expression, and increase literary understanding in terms of metaphors or creative word-play. The line is crossed when the student grows to be solely dependent on them, lacks the ability to use them appropriately or skilfully, and lack the necessary content or knowledge to pen coherent propositions in their essays. The expression of language in itself – even if it has been superficially constructed by stock phrases – counts for little if its user lacks the thought-processes to pen informative pieces.
In the bigger picture of language education in Singapore, it seems like disproportionate prominence has been placed on writing; and as a result, the skills in reading, listening and speaking have been overlooked. Naturally, students would speedily feel handicapped in presentations, research pieces or even vis-à-vis conversations-interactions simply because they lack the capability to put into practice what they have learnt.
The overwhelming emphasis on impressive writing abilities seems to be premised upon the fact that major standardised examinations test candidates on their linguistic proficiencies primarily through writing. Unfortunately, the mastery of listening, reading and oratorical capabilities are crucially important for one’s holistic comprehension or convenient application of the language. Through the diverse and unique channels that involve multiple forms of interactions and engagement, teaching-learning processes will be made more engaging and productive for students and educators. Therefore, instead of relishing in the comforts of the status quo, pedagogies within scholastic institutions should be creatively customised to take into account the aforementioned aspects.
Perhaps if more students and parents became more cognisant of the fact that the true value of language education lies in the learning journey rather than the end-result per se, they would be less hard-pressed to repeatedly and constantly churn out favourable assessment grades. More significantly, parents and teachers will then focus on making students’ mastery of the respective languages more applicable, productive and enjoyable.