Meet preschool teacher Noorjahan Sultan, who not only has over 20 years’ experience, but is also a Global Teacher Prize 2016 award finalist.
Her love, passion and dedication for teaching English has earned her international recognition, thanks to “Let’s Rhyme”, a module she developed in 2009 to engender interest among five to seven-year-olds.
Holistic, fun and meaningful, according to Noorjahan, are the three basic principles she employed in developing Let’s Rhyme.
“The language used is simple and clear enough for children to understand. The learning experience will ensure the children acquire listening, speaking, reading and writing skills.
“Fostering language through Let’s Rhyme also enhances their vocabulary besides improving pronunciation, grammar and spelling,” she said.
Let’s Rhyme is made up of two modules — Alphabet Rhymes and Thematic Rhymes. Alphabet Rhymes consists of 28 rhymes (introduction rhyme, 26 alphabet rhymes and a closure rhyme) while Thematic Rhymes consists of 40 themes based on National Preschool Standard Curriculum.
“The Alphabet Rhymes are introduced and carried out in the first three months of classes to ensure impeccable mastery of the alphabets.
“The next level is introducing vocabulary based on themes systematically,” she said, adding that themes chosen are developmentally appropriate for practice and socially engaging for students.
Noorjahan said sharing them with children will help to develop English language skills. She believed that learning English should start at a young age, particularly at preschool level.
“Reciting rhymes to children with correct pronunciation and intonation together with appropriate action will make their learning process fun and meaningful.
“The more exposure children have to be familiar with letters of the English alphabet, the better prepared they will be for reading.
Children are encouraged to share ideas and opinions.
“As they listen to one another, their perspectives are expanded. Children become more confident, responsible and most importantly they learn naturally,” she added.
Her module has led to producing excellent results in terms of student outcomes.
“Preschool students learn the meaning of hard work and discipline through watching others. For most of the year, my students join competitions in English and often manage to finish first place.
“I make sure all 25 students are involved in English presentations like action choral speaking, rhyme reciting, action song and drama. This is to help develop confidence, at the same time giving them a chance to show their talent.
“My students are enthusiastic and possess positive energy which I think is the very foundation and reason of their success.
“They have also received the honour of setting the benchmark to other preschools. Teachers and students from all over Malaysia visit our classroom to observe and learn from our teaching processes and the various interactive activities that I carry out with my students.
“These events are usually carried out in order to instil awareness in teachers and students, especially those in rural areas.
“My principle is that ‘every child must be given opportunity and that no child should be left to chance’,” she added.
According to English Language course provider, Cambridge English For Life chief executive officer Dr Elsie Chin, the practical ideas for parents to cultivate the love of learning in children are varied.
“For example, if you observe babies and preschoolers, you will notice they are curious about the world around them. They are eager to learn everything.
“As they grow, they develop their own particular learning styles whether it is visual, auditory, tactile or kinaesthetic.
“So as your children grow, embrace the way they learn best and set up learning environments best suited to their particular learning styles,” she said.
Chin said parents should remain excited about learning themselves such as having a home environment conducive to learning with books, puzzles, educational toys that sends the message to their children that learning is important.
“Include your children in daily activities. Doing things together with them will teach them invaluable life skills. Let your children go grocery shopping and cook with you, check the car engine with you to understand how it works, help in the garden, fold clothes and play a role in other household chores.
“In helping with daily activities, they may discover new interests, and you will be better able to hone their interests along the way.
“Additionally, as you talk with your children during these activities, you will develop the language area of their brain, which influences all aspects of their learning,” said Chin.
Chin said there’s plenty of room for improvement in order to increase the level of English proficiency among school students in Malaysia.
“There’s also a segment in all three settings (primary, secondary and university) that require immediate intervention in the acquisition of English but where and when do we start to do this?
“Once we have decided on the move, we can’t be flippant about the initiative and institute and ‘Engxit’ before it even has a chance to take effect,” she added.
Sixty Cambridge English for Life centres across the country already work successfully with children and families for whom English is not dominant language in the home.
“As many as we have children who have been learning English in our centres at a young age as they have parents who have long recognised the merits of a commendable command of the English language, we also have our fair representation of students from linguistically and culturally very diverse backgrounds who could not string a grammatically correct utterance despite having attended public schools for 16 years.
“Providing quality and equal learning opportunities for children and families new to English, or at various stages of proficiency, is not only an uphill task but one that calls for patience, commitment and dedication not just from the teacher but the learner as well as the moral and financial support of the parents,” she said.