As a trading nation, Malaysia requires her people to have high proficiency in English, which is the international language.
As such, after some years of neglect, it was with excitement yet disappointment that teaching of English would be revived for Maths and Science only at the standard one level and only in Sarawak.
And on a little pilot project involving 1,265 primary schools in Sarawak, with 2,657 teachers requiring to be trained for this.
Has the standard of English dropped so much that we have to restart at standard one, proceed at a snail’s pace and train teachers to teach in English?
We might have lost a whole generation of Malaysians proficient in English at the communicative and written level!
That is not to be taken lightly, or politicised, or made into an issue by those who are not able to catch up in English.
Malaysia is said to still possess a “high level” of English Proficiency (EF) among 88 countries in the EF index, although dropping from 13 to 22.
We do not compare ourselves with those at the bottom, but with the best!
The government is realistic in trying to tackle the problem at primary school level but this has to pick up at a more dynamic pace.
The road forward will be marked by ever increasing competition with new challenges amid a changing economic landscape shaken by tariff wars, tech fights and protectionism.
How are we, among other things, preparing our young generation to fight for survival, armed with the power of communication at an effective level?
Just leave them to the middle-road approach, and have them find out the harsh truths when they enter the job market, that they are not employable due to their lack of communicative skills in English?
Many of those who want to take the easy way out and just stick to Bahasa Malaysia (BM) to pass examinations, will likely regret that they did not learn enough English.
Realising this, the government should not just take an easy stance, and let them do what they like.
Or resort to half-baked remedies as “speak in English one day and BM another day.” English is not an easy language to master and requires constant practice.
The government should have a thorough strategy and execution plan to prepare students at all levels, starting from pre-school, to learn English.
They should educate those in reluctance or objection, probably at grassroot levels, on overcoming their fears and reservations in this matter.
Just learning English in two technical subjects is not enough, and does not lead our young people very far in the globalised economy where strong communicative skills in English are required.
Not all of those who studied in BM will end up in the civil service where, among the places, BM is most used.
To integrate well into the private sector, they need to know more English than what they learned in Maths and Science.
We should embrace the teaching of English in more subjects that will enable our students to gain flair, fluency and proficiency in the descriptive, argumentative and persuasive aspects of English.
How do we, as a trading nation, maintain pragmatism in the face of nationalism?
“It is well and good that we are thoroughly in command of BM, which is our national language. But we need to learn more English in order to make a living in the private sector, where English is the lingua franca,’’ said Pong Teng Siew, head of research, Inter-Pacific Securities.
Manpower may pose another big problem, besides attitude. There is no choice but to employ people with the language skills while intensifying training.
The government has to channel more money into this, and be willing to invest in teaching of English, especially when the momentum in Sarawak picks up in a big way.
This could be the first state to wire up to the global framework, and the “demonstration effect” could be too overwhelming for policymakers in Peninsular Malaysia to ignore.
A lot of political will and commitment is required to achieve a better standard of English, an area where Malaysia had once prided itself in.
It is observed that the Thais, Vietnamese and even Indonesians now speak better English than some Malaysians.
“Even their Ministers speak better English compared with some of our Ministers,’’ someone remarked.
“We, as a nation, have to move fast and hopefully, dispel concerns and cynicism among some seniors that ‘we may not see this happen (all Malaysians gaining proficiency in English) in our lifetime’”.
Columnist Yap Leng Kuen sees that all must move forward together but we must make sure the English teaching project succeeds this time from all angles!
Did you find this article insightful?