Paper on-line for comment and discussion

Anthea Fraser Gupta A.F.Gupta at
Tue Feb 1 15:04:55 UTC 2005

Saran said: "In Malaysia, there were two reasons why there was a need for publications
in Bahasa Melayu and translation from English to Bahasa Melayu of texts in
science and technology for tertiary education."

I agree that it is useful to have translations into Malay for tertiary education. I may not have read the paper carefully enough -- what I was meaning was that the very cutting edge work (which you would expect postgraduates and research scientists to read rather than undergraduates) did not need translation, which you mention later. I think we are actually in agreement here.

Saran quoted Asmah as saying: “There has been a feeling among Malaysians, including the top leaders, that
there has been a drop in the attainment level of proficiency in English
among Malaysians.  This impression has proven to be a fact supported by
performance in schools, colleges and universities. "
I question this finding. By every reasonable measure there has been a dramatic RISE in English proficiency since independence. A higher proportion of the population attend school. A higher proportion study English. A higher proportion pass a qualification in English (higher at whatever level is measured). We know that if you take a random sample of 20 year olds the level of English skills in them will be higher than in a random sample of 60 year olds.  Because a higher proportion of the population attend university now than ever have done there is a perception of decline, when the actuality is improvement.  What figures are there to support the claim that there has been a decline in proficiency in English?
It may be that 50 years ago a higher proportion of (say) 18 year olds who took exams in English passed than do now, but at that time the proportion of all 18 year olds who TOOK exams at 18 was much smaller, due to the expansion of education to the whole population. This is a story of success for Malaysia, not failure. I worry that the concentration on a perceived failure gives a wrongly negative impression to outsiders of Malaysia.
Anthea Fraser Gupta
School of English
University of Leeds, UK


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