Agents of #Change: ELS Language Centres
Continuing our series on education reformers in Malaysia, this week’s write-up features ELS Language Centres, a company committed to delivering quality English language programmes for academic and professional development. The core ELS programme is taught throughout the world and is recognised by more than 650 universities and colleges in the US, Canada and Australia. Here, Sean Chee, the Director of ELS Language Centres tells us more about the organisation and shares his insights on education in Malaysia.
What is ELS Language Centres about? What are its key features?
ELS Language Centres is a global institution with 90+ centres worldwide in 14 countries – delivering quality English language programmes for academic and professional development. Established in Malaysia since 1990, ELS has developed the English language abilities of more than 150,000 students in order to be successful in university and/or their careers.
The core ELS programme (Certified Intensive English Programme) is taught throughout the world using the same proprietary materials and teaching methodology. Featuring 9 levels, its standards are recognised by more than 650 universities and colleges in the US, Canada and Australia as proof of English language proficiency for admissions – in lieu of TOEFL and IELTS test scores. This means that students with an advanced level ELS certificate do not need any further proof of English when applying for further studies.
What inspired you to start ELS?
ELS was founded in Malaysia due to the growing need of an internationally benchmarked English language programme. Malaysian students were graduating from high school, where the medium of instruction is predominantly Bahasa Malaysia, and proceeding to universities/colleges where lessons and lectures are conducted in English. ELS aimed at bridging this gap by offering an intensive English language programme that efficiently and effectively brings students’ academic English language abilities up to the standards required by tertiary institutions.
ELS in the US was founded in 1961 for similar reasons – to assist new migrants to the US with university and career acclimatisation and later in the 1970’s assisting foreign students in preparation for university in the USA.
What are some of the challenges ELS has encountered?
- Spreading the word about the importance of English among Malaysians. While there is a general concern about the diminishing standard of English in the country – especially among the school-age students – there seems to be a slight inertia for people to take steps to counter this trend. This isn’t just about taking an English course; the reading habit is poor among Malaysians in comparison to world standards and many youths today shun their peers for trying to speak and use English – as if to “show off”.
- Providing access to quality English language programmes to learners in greater city areas and rural areas in Malaysia. There is a vast and genuine interest in English language improvement from areas outside of cities – seeing it as a prerequisite to get a job in the city or to attain a better education. Deploying qualified and dedicated teachers to these areas is a great challenge. ELS aspires to be able to offer effective programmes that reach out to these areas to assist and develop the ability of Malaysians as a whole.
If you had to name one thing about ELS that you’re proudest of, what would it be?
Having being established for 25 years now, many lives that we have touched through our programmes has enabled thousands of Malaysians and international students to be successful in their tertiary education and subsequently in their careers. The various community initiatives (i.e. Scholarships and special programmes) established alongside strong partners – from schools, colleges and universities – has instilled within many students the confidence to pursue their dreams and change the lives of others.
In your opinion, why do you think education is important?
Education is important for the social development and economic growth of a nation. It builds self-confidence, character and develops our abilities to think, analyse and judge. Education enables creativity in ideas and problem-solving and language plays a significant role in the sharing of such creativity – to expressed and interpreted in a variety of forms that would turn into actions. As the saying goes: ideas are a dime a dozen. It’s really the action that makes the difference.
How do you think collaboration can play a part in improving the education landscape in Malaysia?
The education landscape today is demanding. It requires more than just subject knowledge – it is about engaging the community to provide a multi-faceted and holistic experience in the students’ learning process. Experiential learning can maximise the students’ growth and development – especially in making career decisions as well as developing the knowledge skills and attitude that are essential in today’s society.
Partnerships between communities and their education providers can serve as an example. In the province of Ontario, Canada, students are compelled to perform community service during their school years. This gives students an opportunity to grasp a well-rounded impression on their learning and how it will affect their communities. In Malaysia, collaborations such as the Teach For Malaysia Fellowship and public schools brings to the education landscape new perspectives on education to students, teachers and participating fellows.
What’s your vision for education in Malaysia?
To be able to utilise the advancements in technology to provide every student in Malaysia access to quality education – especially to build skills in communication, mathematics and critical thinking. To also have all teachers and parents to be proficient users of technology to facilitate the learning progress of every student and child. This would produce world–thinkers and doers to be relevant contributors to tomorrow’s world.
If you could send a message to the students of Malaysia, especially those from challenging socio-economic backgrounds, what would it be?
Languages, not just English, will open doors for you. It is as important as subject knowledge – because without it, you cannot share what you know and therefore, limit your ability in using such knowledge.