[lg policy] Malaysia: Accept that English is important

Harold Schiffman haroldfs at gmail.com
Sat Aug 11 12:08:50 EDT 2018

 Accept that English is important

   - Letters <https://www.thestar.com.my/opinion/letters>

   Thursday, 9 Aug 2018

FIRST and foremost, I would like to congratulate Dr Maszlee Malik on his
appointment as Education Minister in the Pakatan Harapan government. It is
not an easy task but it could be less complicated if he puts his ears to
the ground.

I appreciate his vision for a holistic education but after listening to his
views at a recent public forum and on TV, I have doubts over whether it
will materialise.

What this country needs is to go back to the old, time-tested education
system. We then had English-medium schools using the Cambridge syllabus,
which is no different from those offered at private international schools

Despite the various efforts of previous education ministers in the Barisan
Nasional government, the level of English competency among students
remained very low. This is primarily due to the lack of a conducive English
environment in national schools (*sekolah kebangsaan*) despite the great
efforts of teachers and the facilities provided.


Being handicapped in the language, many students are unable to read books
in English or even English newspapers.

We are now in an ironic situation where the national school is not the
school of choice among parents who can afford other options. This was not
the case when the medium of instruction in schools was English. Back then,
there was a good mix of races in the classes in both urban and rural

While it is not easy to go back to the old system, at least the Pakatan
government can convert some selected schools, like Batu Road Boys School
and Batu Road Girls School, into English medium beginning from Primary One.
Parents will then have a choice of schools to enrol their children.

We have to be realistic. Despite the National Education Policy and *Dasar
Bahasa Kebangsaan* (National Language Policy), English will still be more
important as the language of commerce, diplomacy and academia in this
country. Hence, we should not deny our children an English education, which
today is accessible mainly by the elites.

Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad has raised concern over the poor
English competency of civil servants. The rot started in school but it was
not the fault of the students, teachers or parents. It was due to the
absence of a conducive English environment in national schools.



 Harold F. Schiffman

Professor Emeritus of
 Dravidian Linguistics and Culture
Dept. of South Asia Studies
University of Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6305

Phone:  (215) 898-7475
Fax:  (215) 573-2138

Email:  haroldfs at gmail.com

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