PICK up a dictionary, be it an electronic or physical copy, and its publisher will most likely be Oxford Fajar - a household name many Malaysians are familiar with.
Rightly so as Oxford Fajar Sdn Bhd has sold over seven million copies of its bilingual dictionary (Kamus Dwibahasa) to date.
Renowned for its local (monolingual, bilingual, and trilingual) dictionaries in Malay, English, Chinese, Tamil, Iban, Kadazan, and Arabic, the publishing powerhouse has been actively producing quality academic and education resources that address the specific needs of local educators and students since its establishment in 1957.
Its diverse publishing programme includes educational books for schools and colleges, dictionaries, academic trade titles, atlases, guidebooks for major public examinations, teaching aids, English Language teaching books, and college and teacher training texts
About 400 titles a year in Malay, English, Chinese, Tamil and Arabic for different market sectors ranging from pre-school to tertiary levels are published.
The subsidiary of the renowned Oxford University Press (OUP) has no plans to rest on its laurels as it celebrates its 60th anniversary in Malaysia this year.
As one of the nation’s largest publishers, Oxford Fajar is now riding on the technological wave to further boost English standards of students here.
The publisher’s offering of digital content has been growing steadily over the years, from CD-ROMs and online content to the introduction of its first interactive e-book in 2013 and mobile apps in 2016.
With over 20 years of educational publishing experience under his belt, Oxford University Press (Asia Education) managing director Adrian Mellor believes going digital is an effective way of spreading the usage of English.
Describing the language as “pervasive” and “constantly evolving”, he says part of OUP’s duty as a publisher is to ensure that content delivered to readers is interesting and informative enough to avoid their attention from being diverted.
“There are risks of readers getting distracted from what they are reading. It is up to publishers like ourselves to give a lot of thought on how to deliver language learning in a feasible way.
“With digital delivery, the immediacy of connecting the oral English is incredibly enhanced,” he says.
He adds that though print material such as books are efficient in distributing information, using technology is better and has added benefits linked to it, such as audio files or educational videos.
“We do not mind what form our content is published in, just as long as people are able to use it for educational purposes,” he says.
He also points out that disseminating the language through digital platforms could perhaps help in bridging the divide in education access in rural and urban areas because OUP’s way of supplying printed books is through book stores that are usually located in urban centres.
Commenting on the supposedly diminishing habit of reading among the general public, Mellor says he believes the habit is “alive and well” and urged people to spend more time on it.
“Reading is a great way to learn technical grammar and acquire additional vocabulary, which helps people understand the different uses of it in various contexts.
“Extensive reading engages creativity and develops critical thinking, 21st century skills and Higher Order Thinking Skills,” says the Briton, who has been working with OUP since 2005.
In his current role, Mellor manages the local publishing operations serving India, China, Malaysia and Pakistan from a divisional head office based in Hong Kong.
He noted governments are interested for English to be part of their country’s education system.
“When you have English, your ability to work outside your own national border goes up and employers will pay more for your skills,” he says.
He points out that there are more than 100 countries where English is the second language spoken after the national language.
Mellor adds that OUP is supportive of the Education Ministry’s Highly Immersive Programme as it is beneficial to students who are able to experience a connection between strong pedagogy and classroom teaching from it.
“Practising English in a social setting and having additional activities can be extremely beneficial in helping people be more comfortable in the language,” he says.
Oxford Fajar Sdn Bhd managing director Sharmini Nagulan, who has spent the last 11 years contributing to the development of the company, shared Mellor’s sentiment.
She says mastering a language has a lot to do with confidence.
“Improving students’ confidence will get them to enjoy using English in non-classroom activities,” she says, adding that she believes reading is a habit that will not dissapear overtime.
“People’s consumption are from different channels, they might be going online to blogs and social media, but they are still reading,” she points out.
Sharmini says that the government is heading in the right direction as it does realise there are areas for improvement in English literacy, and are taking necessary steps to improve it.
She highlighted that Oxford Fajar plays a large role in supporting the government’s plans of improving English, which are in line with the Malaysia Education Blueprint 2013 - 2025, and pays very close attention to the government’s roadmap for the reforms of English in Malaysia, which is targeted towards both teachers and students.
“One of the initiatives form that roadmap is to align Malaysian English language standards to the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR).
“We are looking to see how OUP can incorporate our resources, many of which are CEFR compliant, into local syllabus,” says Sharmini.
However, a reform doesn’t happen overnight, so people need to be patient for progress in the nation’s English language standard, she adds.
Meanwhile, Oxford Fajar is also constantly organising events to spark the younger generation’s interest in English.
They include the Oxford Big Read and the Oxford Big Write competition, which seek to encourage writing, reading, exploring ideas and expressing opinions among students to develop thinking skills, as well as Project X which aims to improve reading among boys, and more, says Sharmini.
Besides activities for students, the publishing powerhouse also focuses its attention on improving English standards among teachers.
“OUP’s teachers’ academy provides face-to-face and online professional development courses to equip teachers with better skills.
“It is aimed at in-service teachers looking to refresh their skills. The 18-hour course taught only by experienced and trained teachers helps put them in the context of ‘now’,” she says.