Sunday, January 6, 2019

University Sains Malaysia and their lackadaisical attitude



I wrote to Professor Datuk Dr. Asma Ismail of University Sains Malaysia (USM) in 2010 September and did not receive any response.

I believe she did not understand what I had written.

Now, in September 2018 I wrote again and someone from USM responded. I guess they too do not understand what I am writing about and are probably embarrassed to ask me to give them a presentation of what I have discovered. I did write and request for a presentation by me to the lecturers in USM interested in why many kids leave school as illiterates.

Anyway, at least on this occasion they passed me on to one lecturer who did respond to my initial email but stopped corresponding when I explained in detail as to what I have discovered.

If Dr.Asma had responded to my email in 2010, Malaysia would have been the country to have received the honour of being the first country in the world to challenge the theory that ‘Phonological awareness deficit’ is the cause of kids being unable to read in English.

I wrote in September this year to again let our country do a research on my theory that kids are unable to read in English because of confusion created by teachers teaching the wrong sounds of alphabets. Again, she and her teammates have not understood what I am writing about.

They are in their soldier mindset when in fact the mindset to apply should be that of a scout mindset.

How will we ever improve our education system if our university boasting about Basic Education Research Unit is not prepared to discuss such an important matter as to why kids prone to shutting down leave school as illiterates?

Below is the email I had sent to the professors in USM and did not receive a response. It is a lengthy email but I am recording it here for posterity.


Azlinda Abd Ghani 
To:Dinsuhaimi Sidek,luqmanm2002@yahoo.co.uk,Naib Canselor USM
Cc:Mohd Rashid Abdul Rejab
9 Oct at 09:40
Thanks Prof Dinsuhaimi.

Dear Mr Luqman Michel,
Thanks for your email. I am no match to all the professors that you have communicated with and I am not yet an ‘expert’ as Prof Din’s claimed. However, I do have some experiences that I would gladly share especially with someone who has an inquisitive mind and persistence like you.

My response: Thank you so much for saying you will gladly share your experiences. I too would like to share all that I have learned and I do that via my blog and FB with whomsoever willing to learn. The grave already has too many ideas that were not shared with fellow human beings.

For your information, I am a lecturer and also a speech-language pathologist/ therapist graduated from UKM and later I received an MSc degree In Speech and Hearing Sciences from Curtin University of Technology, Perth. My graduate research project was investigated on the potential of using dynamic assessment (DA) of phonological awareness among typical Malay (Kelantan) students in mainstream classes; to see whether DA can really differentiate between students who have difficulties in academic caused by dialect differences or students who have difficulty in academic caused by their neurological limitation. The findings from this study supported DA of phonological awareness as a potential assessment tool for differential diagnosis.  Since then, I fall in love with reading disability cases and have focused many of my research works, teaching and clinical works into this field area.  

My Response: Great. I believe we can both learn from each other on this matter. Let me share what I have learned over the years.

I could not differentiate the sounds of words beginning with the letters ‘V and ‘W’. I understand that this is a problem with many Tamil speaking Indians. I can speak Tamil but I can’t read in Tamil. As such this may be a Tamil sound- based problem.
I speak a decent amount of good Mandarin. By good I mean Mandarin the way it is spoken in China. I know many Chinese friends who cannot differentiate the sound between many of the words starting with the letter ‘c’ in Hanyu Pinyin. If you take Chinese people above the age of 40 I would think that a majority of them cannot differentiate the sounds because they had learned the sounds wrongly from teachers who did not know how to teach.

The interesting thing is that the children now (those who learned Mandarin after the introduction of Pinyin in Malaysia in the 1980’s - it was first introduced I believe, in 1981) can, not only differentiate the sounds but are able to say the sounds accurately.
Another point I would like to make is that one of my students who is now a qualified chef could not pronounce many words in English correctly. On speaking with his father I realized that the problem stems from his father. I don’t know if I would call it genetic or just a habit picked up by the son from his father. One word or rather sound he had problems with was words beginning with ‘sh’. Should, would be pronounced ‘sood’. Shoe as sue. I listed words he pronounced wrongly and taught him how to pronounce them correctly and sure enough after sometime he could  pronounce them correctly.
A more recent example is from two siblings who could not pronounce many words including ‘with’ and all words ending with the letter ‘l’. They both had problems pronouncing ‘both’, ‘own’, ‘owl’ ‘children’ (missing out the ‘d’ sound). I have this on record as suggested by a Face book friend who had been reading my FB posts. These two students are my students whom I taught this year. You may read more about them in my blog.

The point is that despite all these problems in pronunciation which is mainly because of learning from parents who speak wrongly and also because of the language itself (as in the case of Indians who speak Tamil) everyone can learn to read in English. As such I will not say that sounds in any dialect or language are a barrier to learning to read in English.

However, since there are many confusions and unanswered questions still being debated in this area of study, I challenged myself to not only looking at dyslexia or SLI children, but also children who have other sensory and neurological deficits but have shown a potential to acquire reading skills, for example: the hearing impaired children, Attention Deficits hyperactivity Disorders children and Autism Spectrum Disorders children.

My Response: I would like to leave working with special children as listed above in the good hands of people like you. I do not like to use the word dyslexia as there is really no scientific definition of this word. It appears that any and all kinds of kids who cannot read are classified as dyslexic. This is what I have been against since 2010.

Puan, what I am saying (and have been saying since 2010) is that a majority of kids are wrongly classified as dyslexic when in fact they are instructional casualties.

I have successfully taught more than 60 so-called dyslexic kids, many of whom were certified as dyslexic, in the last 14 years. Most of them could not read even a single sentence when they first came to me.

Dr. David Kilpatrick had in his book ‘Equipped for reading success’ said the following:
i.                    In a large study conducted by scientists from the University of New York at Albany, researchers were able to reduce the number of children who require ongoing remediation from the national average of 30% down to 2%.
ii.                  Another example is the Assured Readiness for Learning (ARL) programme which incorporates numerous researched-based teaching practices. Many school districts using ARL have dramatically reduced the number of poor readers.
iii.                A third example is a study by researchers at Florida State University. They showed how the most severely reading disabled students could reach grade level- and stay there- using a surprisingly brief intervention programme.
The above examples question the inevitability of widespread reading failure.

I also accept typical/normal children whose parents have complaints or worried about their child’s performance in reading and failing in academic. I noted that there is more than phonological awareness to solve reading disorders and I am still learning on it. Currently, my interest is on working memory and its relationship with phonemic awareness and reading ability especially. Though many studies have confirmed that they have a bidirectional relationship, however the direction of the relationship is still inconclusive.

My response: These are the kids I am talking about; the ‘normal/typical’ kids who cannot read in English. These are kids whom I call ‘shut down kids’ – instructional casualties. I urge you to get a copy of my book which explains clearly why these kids shut down. After reading the book we may have a better discussion. You may grill me on anything I have written in my book.

So, yes… Your argument as such, that phonological awareness is not the cause of dyslexia has its ground basis. To be honest, I have never thought deeply into that. I know about the claim, but it did not bother me much all these years. It may be because I used various methods in my teaching and decided to not only stick to phonological awareness alone. 

My response: This theory has now been debunked. I only wish that USM or UMS whom I had written to in 2010 had discussed this with me instead of ignoring my emails. Anyway, now I hope USM will do a research on what I have written in my book. We are in the best position in the world to do this research. I am willing to fly over to Penang and give a presentation to the learned professors as well as teachers on my findings. All those present may ask any question they like based on my presentation. Then the University may do a research and earn Malaysia the name of being the first in the world to discover why kids all over the world fail to read. Subsequently, illiteracy will be reduced.

Regarding phonics teaching in Malaysia, I cannot comment on how it is being taught in school, but I do notice many people do not really understand phonics. That is why I avoid using the terms phonics, instead, I prefer to use ‘grapheme to phoneme conversion/ correspondence’, as it covers more than the sounds of letters and able to better describe orthography.

My response: I believe giving different labels is not going to address the problem at all. I know that many schools are teaching phonics wrongly and this is the cause of about 30% of kids who shut down/disengage from learning to read in English.

I am now in the midst of discussion with Astro and the company responsible for distributing the following programme to many countries around the world.

If this programme is not removed by this week end I will post it in my blog and on FB. Please add me to your FB friends list and comment on my posts. Let us learn from each other so that together we may reduce illiteracy around the world.

Here is the programme I am against. Many kids predisposed to shutting down will disengage from learning to read. Then, teachers will call them lazy, stupid or dyslexic.
                        https://www.babytv.com/charlieandthealphabet.aspx?cid=8

Unfortunately, there are too many such programmes on the internet. I have managed to terminate 3 such videos.
Here is another one I saw recently. This should definitely be banned.

Regarding Malay orthography and English orthography, I am sure you already know about the arguments that the Malay orthography is more transparent than English and that English is an irregular language as compared to the Malay language? Hence this is why if using phonological awareness alone to teach decoding for English reader would not be sufficient. We have to teach decoding by sight word and or using the dual route model or analogy model in the teaching. Mostly for students who have good cognition and memory, using sight word alone even yielded a better and faster result and less confusion. I realize you have different opinions regarding this. Would you mind sharing your ideas with me?

My response: I believe my explanation above has answered this section. We can definitely cover wider grounds if you can arrange for a meet up in USM.

The argument about ‘opaque’ and ‘transparent’ language is just a lame excuse for the people who are groping in the dark to find an excuse for why kids cannot read in English but able to read in many other languages. This is akin to the shepherd who has the lamb on his shoulder and searching for it all over the place. 

Within a few years of teaching the so-called dyslexic kids I had written on why educated people want to argue on which method to use to teach. Phonics is definitely good as suggested by research. However, why can’t we combine ‘whole words’ with Phonics? I use both and get my students who cannot read at all to read about 20 sentences in the first hour of teaching. The children get back their lost self esteem and confidence and go home satisfied that they are not ‘stupid’ and that they will be able to read.

I will definitely not agree with teaching whole language without teaching phonics. That will reduce a decodable language to a ‘pictorial’ language.

An example I had given in my blog on this is; how would anyone who has not learned Phonics be able to read the following sentence? Ramasamy bought ‘coconundum and kungumum for his wife Thangaletchumy.

The confusion you talk about is not because of phonics at all. It is the result of teachers not knowing how to teach phonics. I would urge you to get USM to invite me for a presentation.

Thank you very much Puan, for this opportunity to discuss this important matter with you. I hope to hear from you with your comments.

Best Wishes,
Azlinda Abd. Ghani
Senior Lecturer,
Audiology and Speech Pathology Programme,
School of Health Sciences,
USM Health Campus,
16150 Kota Bharu,
KELANTAN

Phone (O) : 609-7677592
Email         : azlinda@usm.my

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