Tuesday, February 4, 2014

An Appeal to the Ministry of Education

Just a day or two ago, I wrote a blog post suggesting that the Speak Good English Movement be scrapped. I gave a very good reason for the suggestion. From the articles published by the Movement and stored in the archives of the National Library, it can be seen that whoever wrote the articles on English grammar is undoubtedly clueless about even the rudiments of English grammar and usage. The many answers he provides to questions on grammar are not only wrong, but outrageously so.

From the searches I did on the internet, I discovered that the Movement is involved in the publication of two books on grammar which are ironically called ENGLISH AS IT IS BROKEN and ENGLISH AS IT IS BROKEN 2.

I may have sounded facetious in my earlier post which is not surprising since this is my personal blog and I wrote mainly for my own amusement but the more I thought about the matter, the more troubled I became.  Although I had promised myself to leave the matter alone, I felt strangely uneasy for the greater part of the day and this afternoon, I found myself unable to resist buying both the books. A mere cursory glance through them is enough for a careful reader to conclude that both books are aptly titled - English as it is broken by the writers.

These are books that purport to teach Singaporeans English grammar and to help us speak and write standard English but what I have seen so far in both books are errors heaped upon errors. And I'm not talking about the disputed areas of grammar where different grammarians hold different views on the subject. The errors in both books are errors that no educated person would make and they immediately call into question the suitability and qualification of the writers of these books.

My initial plan was to highlight the errors in my blog but after going through a few pages, I could see that it would be a truly daunting task. There are far too many errors and I have neither the time nor the energy to expose them all. And I'm not talking about minor mistakes. These are huge egregious blunders that no one who has a reasonable command of the English language should make.

It's very hard for me to determine who the writers of these deeply flawed books are. The articles in the archives of the National Library are all headed with the logo of the Speak Good English Movement and I thought when I wrote my blog post yesterday that the Movement was solely responsible for these mistakes. Having looked at these two books, I now understand that apart from the Speak Good English Movement, the Straits Times, the National Library Board and "English Language specialists" from the Ministry of Education are all involved in the writing of the books.

I should make it very clear that I have no political agenda. As I have stated many times in the past in various posts in my blog, as far as education goes, Singapore has a lot to be proud of as the recent PISA test only serves to confirm. Very few countries can boast of an educational system that even comes close to what Singapore has achieved and all this is only made possible by the clean, efficient and responsive system of governance we have and the rigorous emphasis we place on excellence and meritocracy. As I have said repeatedly elsewhere in my blog, Singapore indeed has the winning formula.

However, these two books are the only blot on our educational escutcheon and we should remove them immediately. I understand that both books remained best-sellers in Singapore for months and they are hugely popular in schools and countless unsuspecting teachers and students have read them to their detriment. The mistakes I have exposed in my previous blog post are but the tip of the iceberg. Having gone through both books more carefully, I am persuaded that they cannot in any way serve the objective of the Ministry to improve the standard of English of students in Singapore. On the contrary, they will only perpetuate errors in grammar and usage and create new errors which Singaporeans would not have made if they had not read the books.

Errors in books are usually few and far between and even then, they are usually corrected in the first reprint. The errors in these books are not few.  By my estimate, one is unable to go through two or three pages without encountering some very serious mistakes in grammar. That is disgraceful for a book that purports to teach grammar. These two books were published in 2007 and 2008 and they have undergone numerous reprints and surprisingly, none of the errors has been corrected. But the errors are of course too many for them to be corrected effectively. It would make more sense to discontinue publication of these books and to warn readers how terribly flawed they are.

Ever since Fowler wrote his first grammar book in the early 20th century, the world has never been short of good grammar books. We don't need these two books at all. I appeal to the Ministry of Education whose "English Language specialists" are said to have contributed to the writing of these books to find some means of neutralizing the impact they have on our students if it's not practicable to recall all copies of the books and have them incinerated.

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