Malaysia: Seeing language issue in a more holistic way

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Sat Dec 27 14:10:45 UTC 2008

Seeing language issue in a more holistic way

Yow Lop Siaw | Dec 26, 08 10:38am

So much has been discussed and debated over the use of language in
education, unity and nation- building. While it is good and proper for
a nation to adopt a national language policy and pursue its use so as
to reflect its role, it should not have been done at the expense of
English, especially so in an era where globalisation demands greater
access to global markets and businesses.Countries all over the world
where English is not widely used realise the importance of mastering
English and great efforts have been made to pursue this – China,
Japan, Russia and you name it!No one has questioned the role and
importance of Bahasa Malaysia as the national language and I am sure
most of us, Malays and non-Malays alike, have accepted the important
role of Bahasa Malaysia, and this is well reflected in the fact that
most Malaysians have learnt and mastered the language well. Attaching
greater importance and attention to learning English does not make one
less patriotic or nationalistic.What went wrong with its
implementation in the 70s was the simultaneous de-emphasising of the
English language, so much so the standard of English of many students
who completed SPM in the 1980s and after showed a significant drop.
What we have today is a pathetic scenario as far as the standard of
spoken and written English is concerned, including the proficiency of
English amongst editors of the media.

With the frequency of the use of SMSes and the Internet chat-rooms,
where short forms are a norm, there is only one predicted outcome in
terms of English language skills – further deterioration. The call to
re-introduce English medium schools is out of the question as this
contradicts the national education policy. If allowed, it would be
interesting to see how this would affect the racial composition of
such schools. Would this result in greater racial polarisation?

The most sensible approach would be to step up the teaching of English
in all schools and this enhancement exercise needs proper and
systematic planning and implementation, different from the ad hoc
practice of the past. This would entail

1. Planning manpower needs – the number of teachers required for the
whole exercise, including suitability of candidates. Teachers sent for
such training must be suitably qualified in the first place.

2. Proper training – local or overseas, as well as type, duration and
suitability of programme

3. Proper supervision and monitoring – we are, after all, noted for
poor supervision and monitoring (projects, buildings and programmes).
The inspectorate division must revert to its original role of
overseeing proper delivery and the maintenance of quality and

We hardly see inspectors performing this role these days. Instead,
they get tied up with going through reports on 'Excellent Schools'
(Sekolah Cemerlang) and the physical beauty of schools more than their
actual role.

A prominent academic has also advocated doing away with vernacular
schools. This view makes sense only when the national school system
has the means to accommodate adequate and appropriate development of
the Chinese and Tamil languages, which means increased teaching
periods and better trained teachers in these two languages in the
national schools. This is possible only when a major revamp of the
school system is effected, such as having single session schools and
at the same time, stretching school hours to beyond the current hours,
which will translate into longer studying hours for school children
and teachers. Or the education ministry may want to review the
structure of the entire school syllabus and in the process, adjust
duration requirements for every subject and incorporate Chinese and
Tamil Languages as additional subjects.

Just abolishing vernacular schools is out of the question, as
globalisation and greater mobility amongst the work force demands
mastery of more than just Bahasa Malaysia and English. Unity is
another hot topic lately and discussions on ways and means of forging
unity have always been shallow and narrow. Schools in the 50s and 60s
had children of various races learning and playing together without
reservations. We just treated each other as classmates – we joked, we
laughed and we competed healthily, without any notion of a classmate's
colour and race. Race and colour only reared its ugly head much later,
when discriminative policies made it so.

We understand and we accept the fact that the weaker segment of the
populace should receive assistance and we ourselves are prepared to
extend a helping hand. But when all these were carried out at the
expense of the non-Malays, which should not have been the case, then
these would invariably invite adverse reaction. In other words,
extreme implementation of certain policies – in education, jobs and
contracts served to drive a divisive wedge into unity – one that makes
us view ourselves more as Chinese or Indians than Malaysians. Had the
assistance been given out on a more balanced mode, the objection and
rejection could have been less and unity would not have been so badly

And this is exactly why thousands of brainy Malaysians opt not to
return to Malaysia year after year. This brain drain cannot be
attributed to just poor incentives and packages, as often alleged.
Again, those who brainstorm on ways and means of attracting these
highly qualified professionals back to Malaysia are harping on
peripheral issues when they conclude each session with better packages
and incentives. These people, mainly politicians, for reasons only
known to themselves, simply do not have the political will to face up
to reality. The more important and critical issue are government job
prospects and promotion policies whereby a non-Malay hits the ceiling
at 40 or so, despite being more qualified and experienced.

Remove extreme policies in the civil service and once this happens, I
am very sure many non-Malays would opt to join the teaching service,
the police force, the army, etc. Singapore came out with a bright idea
of recognising our medical degrees recently. Many doctors are aware of
the high standards demanded of them should they opt to work in
Singapore. Hence, only the cream of Malaysian qualified doctors would
want to apply and even then, they would need to get past pre-job
interviews. And many qualified doctors have opted to work in Singapore
since. Let us now take a step back and review the issue of language
and unity in a more holistic way. Cast aside political selfishness,
racial sentiments and look at the issue from a more practical and
academic perspective and do justice to our younger generations. Just
take a look at ministers and high ranking officials who struggle to
say something simple in international meetings and conferences. It is
simply pathetic.

Yes ! Lets switch to English.

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N.b.: Listing on the lgpolicy-list is merely intended as a service to
its members
and implies neither approval, confirmation nor agreement by the owner
or sponsor of
the list as to the veracity of a message's contents. Members who
disagree with a
message are encouraged to post a rebuttal. (H. Schiffman, Moderator)

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