Malaysia: National policies on English

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Mon Jun 18 13:41:52 UTC 2007

National policies on English

ENGLISH may have started out as the coloniser's language in many parts of
Asia but it has, in recent decades, become the de facto global language of
trade and technology.  There have been differing policies regarding the
incorporation of the English language into the educational systems of
various Asian nations, and its relationship to the respective national
languages over the years.

    Prof Saran spoke on the history of Malaysia's curriculum and policy
changes with regard to the English language.
Sri Lanka completely rejected English for 20 years after its independence
before the language slowly made its way back into the education system in
1997.  The new constitutional policy regarding English was that it would
serve as a link language between the warring Sinhalese and Tamils.  In
direct contrast, despite having access to ethnic-based schools, Singaporeans
embraced English schools to the extent that the Mandarin and Tamil-based
schools closed down due to lack of students.

In the Philippines, a bilingual policy was pursued with the number of
contact hours with English as the medium of instruction gradually increasing
through the years to the current 75% of total contact hours.

Meanwhile in Malaysia, English was adopted as the medium of instruction in
Mathematics and Science, in addition to being taught as a second language,
in 2002.  These experiences were highlighted by educators from the
respective countries at a colloquium entitled English and the National
Languages as the Languages of Instruction during the 5th Asia TEFL
International Conference 2007.

At two other sessions during the conference, the Education Ministry's
Schools Division director Noor Rezan Bapoo Hashim and Universiti Kebangsaan
Malaysia sociolinguistics lecturer Prof Dr Saran Kaur Gill spoke on the
history of Malaysia's curriculum and policy changes with regard to the
English language.

In the post-independence period, the medium of instruction was changed from
English to Bahasa Malaysia, as the government then saw the need for
establishing a strong sense of national identity and promoting integration
among the races.  However, in the wake of the 21st century, the country made
a drastic shift in language policy when the Government announced that
Mathematics and Science would be taught in English in national schools from

Also presenting topics specific to Malaysia were International Languages
Teacher Training Institute lecturers N. Manoharan and Aslam Khan Samahs
Khan, and Universiti Sains Malaysia School of Humanities deputy dean Prof
Ambigapathy Pandian.  Manoharan and Aslam presented their findings on
Teaching Mathematics and Science in English: Bliss or Blister? Among the
problems faced by teachers on the ground are feelings of incompetence in
English, parental demands, time constraints and excessive workloads.

Manoharan shared: "Our training programme always starts with motivation, the
need for change, and team-building."

One aspect of the training teachers found particularly useful is the
phonetics session where they are taught to pronounce various scientific and
mathematical terms correctly.  The two presenters stressed that the
programme was not to teach them English, but "contextualised English".  In
response to a question, Aslam added that they would continue "holding
teachers' hands for as long as it is needed."  Meanwhile, Prof Ambigapathy
shared his findings on ICT and the Teaching/Learning of English in Secondary
Schools: On Track or Off Track?

Revealing that students and teachers in his study scored below average for
proficiency and usage of both computer technology and the Internet, he
asked: "If teachers do not have the disease, how will the students catch
it?"  He shared that while conducting a multi-literacy workshop two years
ago, over 50 out of 70 teachers did not have an e-mail address or knew how
to use e-mail.  "Unless we are ready to convert ideas to reality, things
will not change. A whole generation of teachers need to learn new tools, new
approaches and new skills."  He added: "Every child has the opportunity to
go to a good school, but not every child has the opportunity to come from a
good home.  "We can change, teachers can change. We are service providers;
we are paid to be teachers."

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