Textbooks written in English used in primary years 4-6 with Brunei Malay first language pupils were analysed for reading ease and human interest. The results suggest that the current texts are too difficult and generally insufficiently interesting for the young children for whom they were designed. Possible strategies for rectifying the problems are suggested.
The Brunei Dwi Bahasa policy
The education system of Brunei Darussalam is centralised, with the Ministry of Education the sole authority responsible for all matters relating to education. The country has a national curriculum and there is uniformity of syllabus throughout the state. Texts and teaching materials are developed by or on behalf of the Curriculum Development Centre.
Education in Brunei Darrusalam is currently based on a bi-lingual approach known as `Dwi Bahasa', a policy established through the Education Act (1984), which gave importance to both English and Malay following the gaining of full independence for Brunei. The policy was based on the realisation that effective use of English was essential if students were to succeed in study at tertiary level overseas and if the country was to have a voice in international business, economic and political arenas.
Currently, children in the first three years of primary school are taught in the Malay medium, with English as a subject of the curriculum. At primary four level (average age nine), Geography, Mathematics and Science are taught in English. All other areas of the curriculum are taught in Malay. Until recently, History was also taught in English. At present, Ministry of Education policy is in the process of changing the medium for History from English to Malay. This is being carried out over a three-year period in recognition of the problems young students are having with the sudden changeover from Malay to English in primary four. It is also recognised as more appropriate that students learn the history of their country in their national language.
There is concern among members of the education community that the transfer from Malay medium to English medium in major curriculum subjects for nine-year-olds with a limited knowledge of, and prior exposure to, English is hindering the progress of students. Many students appear to be having problems in primary four coping with the level of English required and the readability level of the texts used may be too high. It is this latter issue that this article investigates.
In the production of written communication, it is vital that those for whom such material is intended can actually read and make sense of it. This is a problem that is faced everyday in classrooms throughout the world as teachers use their own or published materials. Readability is also a crucial factor in other areas such as written instructions to patients, notifications to employees about health and safety issues in industry, and explanatory leaflets about rights to social security benefits. In all these contexts much of the material produced has been found to be too difficult for the general population to understand.
According to most dictionaries, readability means understandable, and interesting to read. Readability is a useful way to gauge whether a message is written at a suitable level for the intended audience. It should be one of the first evaluations conducted by teachers or administrators in deciding whether to use a textbook or not. A publication which has a readability level that is too high for the age level is not an appropriate choice, irrespective of what other favourable qualities the text possesses.
Readability has two aspects:
* reading ease -- that quality of a book or text which enables us to read it with speed and facility without getting tired; and,
* human or personal interest content -- the quality that catches our attention because it appears to relate to us. …