[lg policy] Malaysia: Revive the days when we mastered English

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Wed Aug 10 16:23:47 UTC 2011

Revive the days when we mastered English
By Baradan Kuppusamy

The Government has to acknowledge the all-round collapse of the
English language as a teaching and learning medium and find ways to
seriously rebuild our country’s proficiency levels. DEPUTY Prime
Minister and Education Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin has ordered
the English Language Curriculum Division to re-study the learning of
English in schools to ensure students can master it as a second

Muhyiddin said with some exasperation: “How the national education
system that teaches students for 13 years is still unable to provide
them with a good grasp of the English language – I myself am incapable
of answering.” He said he doesn’t know whether the cause is a shortage
of English language teachers, equipment or due to other causes.

It is true that mastering English is important because it is the
language in international communication and the economy. For some
years now, the Education Ministry has been following a “Uphold Bahasa
Melayu, Strengthen English Language” policy that had resulted in it
hiring foreigners who are native English speakers to teach in our

At the same time, Malaysian teachers are sent overseas to master the
language and return to teach at our schools under a new programme to
promote English proficiency. These measures to promote English
proficiency in our schools are however insufficient to address the
massive problems that our schools face when it comes to English
language competency.

In our rush to promote Bahasa Melayu, we have allowed our once
commendable standards in English language to deteriorate to abysmal
levels. We wring our hands now and cry out – what more can we do? The
Education Minister is at a loss to explain the abysmal levels of our
English proficiency to the extent that we have to spend billions of
ringgit to get back to a level we once had.

Our graduates are unemployable because of poor command of the
language. Our researchers have trouble being understood at
international forums. Even our ministers fluster at press conferences.
In most schools, it is a case of the blind leading the blind because
the teachers themselves have lost command of the language – they teach
English in Bahasa Melayu!

Senior officials in the ministry are no better. It is an all-round
collapse of English language skills, which can even be seen in
newspapers and periodicals. The Government has to acknowledge the
all-round collapse of the language as a teaching and learning medium
and find ways to seriously rebuild our country’s proficiency levels or
we would be in the market for English language translators like Japan.

The “uphold Bahasa Melayu, strengthen English” is a good policy
because it urges our students to master Bahasa Melayu and, at the same
time, strengthen the use of the English language. You have to get
sufficient competency in English in order to be marketable. The
teachers can teach basic spoken English with writing skills thrown in
but they must be competent first.

They must master the language and, for that, they have to be trained
in the language. First, see to teachers’ training in English and, at
the same time, see to the hiring of ex-teachers and retired teachers
who can act as facilitators to plug the loopholes temporarily.

Only after these local measures should you bring in native speakers
from other countries to teach the language skills – both to students
and teachers. The teaching service has to be made multi-racial and
more non-Malays have to be hired and brought in as teachers, not only
for English but also other subjects. We don’t need a rocket scientist
to figure out why our students cannot master English even after 13
years of schooling.

If you were to put the finger on a single reason or two, it would be
the quality of our English teachers and the syllabus they teach.
Let’s face it – you can’t teach English in Bahasa Melayu. The
competency of teachers to teach English has to be enhanced and
improved while at the same time, the syllabus requires a revamp.

It is good that Muhyiddin has asked Education director-general Abdul
Ghafar Mahmud to undertake a complete review of the teachers and
teaching methods of English in our schools to stop the rot that has
set in. Such a review is long overdue and recognises the fact that we
are not producing English-proficient graduates after 13 years of

Only the elite can afford the many private schools and colleges that
teach English and give the language prominence in their curriculum.
But for the rank and file who have to go through our national school
system, making them competent in English is essential to realise a
bilingual society.


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