The relevance of English to Malaysians


ALTHOUGH Mandarin is the most widely spoken language in the world, it cannot rival the English language which is spoken in more countries than any other language in the world.

This is the reason why it is recognised as an international language and is increasingly used by people from non-native English speaking countries to learn science and technology, and to communicate with others around the world.

It is also the language of the World Wide Web as many materials are written in English.

All this cements it as the lingua franca of the 21st century. Therefore, English is an important asset that one should be equipped with.

Using the English language does not make us English or “ang mo” and it certainly does not cause us to lose our cultural identity.

It just makes us more relevant to the rest of the world and this makes us more competitive and sought after by the international community.

Undoing the Teaching of Science and Mathematics in English (PPSMI) was a mistake.

Instead of removing it, policy makers in the Education Ministry should have further strengthened it by mending the shortcomings of teacher readiness in teaching the subjects in English.

My mother, who was trained as a teacher in Australia in the early 1960s, encountered the same problem many years ago when she was asked to teach Maths in Bahasa Melayu (the medium of instruction then was English).

But after retraining and years of adapting to the new medium of instruction, she soon produced students who are successful professionals today.

A little perseverance would have done the job for PPSMI and achieved its objectives as foreseen and envisioned by our former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

As English is widely used by the private sector for business, it is vital that employees are proficient in it.

Yet, the graduates that are produced do not seem to meet this requirement though government agencies have forked out millions to rectify this issue by introducing programmes nationwide to retrain fresh graduates.

On the Internet, information is produced and published at an astonishing rate.

It is an impossible task for any government organisation to accurately translate every piece of information on the Internet for local consumption.

The only logical solution is to be proficient in the English language.

The digital divide is a common topic among education policy makers. It seems trivial to think that providing ICT equipment and broadband alone to all schoolchildren will reduce the digital divide that exists in our society today.

In reality, the source of the problem is the lack of English proficiency.

If you give a student the gift of English proficiency, he or she will be able to use this skill for continuous lifelong learning, unlike technology that gets obsolete over time.

The rationale is knowledge cannot be acquired through technology and broadband facilities but through having language skills.

The time has come to recognise that English is the language of knowledge and we must master it to thrive and be successful in the 21st century.

Let us be global citizens who can make a difference. We should accept change and be more progressive.

GERARD BOEY

Gelugor, Penang

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