Paper on-line for comment and discussion

Saran saran at
Fri Feb 4 21:55:52 UTC 2005

Anthea, you are right, there are definitely more Malaysians who can use the
language now compared to the post-independence period when only those in
the urban schools had access to the language.  But even though we have more
Malaysians using the language, the issue at hand is the quality of language
competency that they possess.

I can't begin to describe the almost desperate situation that Malaysia is
in re:  the low levels of proficiency in this case of students in the
public universities.  (this is one of the reasons why the former Prime
Minister made a drastic change in policy given the desperate situation)  I
am in the process of getting figures but they are taking some
time.  University students have to sit for an entrance exam that tests
their competencies in English for academic reading, speaking, listening and
writing.  The results are discouraging - the band ranges from 1 (very poor)
to 6 (very good).  I am still waiting for the results of the students in
the science and technology faculties.  But my colleagues who are directly
involved tell me that the majority of the students fall in the bands 3 and 4.

At the last faculty meeting, the Dean of the Faculty of social sciences
announced that 50% of the first year students fall in band 1 and 2.  There
are special courses being designed for them to upgrade their proficiency

I am a proud Malaysian who is devoted to her country.  It saddens me to
have to discuss and talk about these issues but I am also a pragmatic
educationist who feels that if this is the situation we might as well face
up to it, take it from there and then help the students in whatever we can
given the situation.   My aim is not to present a negative image of my
nation.  At no point, do we discourage the students but provide them with
all the help needed to work on improving their levels of proficiency.

I do raise and address a number of issues of how these challenges impact on
Malaysian society.  If anyone is interested, they can read:  Gill, Saran
K.  2002.  International Communication:  English Language Challenges for
Malaysia.  Serdang:  Universiti Putra Malaysia Press.


Prof. Dr. Saran Kaur Gill
Professor in Sociolinguistics and International Communication
School of Language Studies and Linguistics
Faculty of Social Sciences and Humanities
Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia
43600 Bangi

At 07:04 AM 2/1/2005, you wrote:
>Saran said: "In Malaysia, there were two reasons why there was a need for
>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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