Revive English for Maths and Science

  • Analyst Reports
  • Monday, 14 May 2018

IN view of political sensitivities, some reforms may not be very far-reaching but reviving the standard of English should be a top priority.

The deplorable state of English is leading to complaints of graduates with poor English and preference for foreign trained ones.

How can an economy boast of progress, efficiency and competitiveness when a segment of its young workforce is partially crippled with poor knowledge of the international language and worse still, is discriminated against by employers?

“Foreign-trained graduates are perceived to be able to speak better English,’’ said Pong Teng Siew, head of research, Inter-Pacific Securities.

An apparent reason for the switch from teaching of English for Mathematics and Science (which was instituted in 2003 till 2012) was that students in rural schools fared badly.

And so, other students have to sacrifice their progress and future prospects for this semi-political reason?

Instead of working harder to find a way to help these students in rural areas, the government just switched back to teaching Maths and Science in the national language.

So more rural students passed but did that make them more employable? It just pulled down the others, when they should have had a good headstart, had the government had stuck to allowing English to be taught for Maths and Science.

From 2003, when that was allowed till now, it would have been 15 years of nurturing students in Maths and Science, two crucial subjects, in English.

Not all parents (who are mostly taxpayers) can afford private and international schools or quite expensive tuition classes for their children to learn English.

Their affordability is stretched as they have to pay the goods and services tax, higher petrol prices, more expensive houses and other other high prices.

The new government has to attend to this area immediately as it affects morale and education standards of the young population.

Further meritocracy, quality and efficiency are vital to arrest the brain drain and attract talent back to the country.

Young people must be confident of job and promotion prospects if they are to sink their future to rebuild this country.

The new administration may do their best to upgrade all these but in view of so many differing interests, those that follow on may change or reverse some of the good reforms instituted.

“Some reforms will require painful adjustment. We need someone of Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s stature to push through less popular but much needed reforms.

“Reforms must be bold and far-reaching. Policymakers must be willing to confront taboo subjects. But sensitivities may keep reforms to superficial levels,’’ said Pong.

While the old economic policies were effective at a certain stage of development, the global economic landscape has “stiffened dramatically” since the 1990s.

Profit-oriented foreign investors, demanding “big bang” reforms may be disappointed. “What they want to see may be ‘a bridge too far’ as far as political realities in Malaysia permit,’’ said Pong.

Clear priorities and strong government will lead to investor confidence. Integrity, for example, in costing and the need to examine “bloated” infrastructure project costs, will be vital.

Policy risk and discontinuity of implemented policies will be monitored. “The new administration will have to address investors’ confidence as the manifesto is largely socialistic,’’ said Thomas Yong, CEO, Fortress Capital.

A key challenge, then, is managing the fiscal deficit. “Investors need to be assured of the sanctity of contracts and a business friendly environment,’’ said Vincent Khoo, head of research, UOB Kay Hian.

Major challenges include balancing the budget and infrastructure spending as well as saving costs and reducing borrowing while maintaining economic growth.

“Over the long term, the goal is to have checks and balances with a plan to pass on the work of the government,’’ said Danny Wong, CEO, Areca Capital.

Investors will look for signs of strong government by today while the next 100 days will be crucial.

“As long as a strong government is formed by today, any market reactions will likely be short-lived and fundamentals will prevail,’’ said Hor Kwok Wai, chief operating officer, global markets, Hong Leong Bank.

“The next 100 days will give us an idea if it is business as usual. Some cash-rich local funds will likely buy if there is a panic sell.

“Our long-term portfolio will also see that as a great opportunity to buy fundamentally strong stocks. I believe so far, it is positive, moving forward,’’ said Wong.

Foreign selling may pull the KL stockmarket down.

“The stockmarket may be volatile on foreign selling which should fade quite fast,’’ said Pong.

Columnist Yap Leng Kuen notes the high hopes and prays for unity.

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