Use of English at tertiary level

Idris (centre) launches the Malaysia English Assessment in Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia. Looking on are (from left) Prof Noor Azlan, Dr Wan Zahid, Dr Yap and Dr Siti Hamisah.

Idris (centre) launches the Malaysia English Assessment in Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia. Looking on are (from left) Prof Noor Azlan, Dr Wan Zahid, Dr Yap and Dr Siti Hamisah.

The Higher Education Ministry has developed the Malaysia English Assessment to reinforce the usage of the language.

MUCH has been said and discussed about the levels of proficiency in English among Malaysians.

Complaints on the lack of competency in the language among students and graduates by employers, has propelled the Education Ministry and Higher Education Ministry to address the issue.

The latter’s most recent effort is the Malaysia English Assessment (MEA), which was launched on Oct 24, at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM), Bangi.

The first shift of the Malaysia Education Blueprint 2015-2025 (Higher Education) expresses the ministry’s aim of developing holistic, entrepreneurial and balanced graduates who are work-ready, competent and are able to communicate well.

In line with this aspiration, the ministry developed the MEA to reinforce the usage of the language.

Higher Education Minister Datuk Seri Idris Jusoh said, the MEA is in line with the Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR).

“This shows that our assessment is of quality and is accepted by the European nations.

“We hope we will continue improving the command of English in our universities and ensure that graduates are in the B2 level once they leave varsity,” he said after the launch.

The CEFR has six levels of competencies; A1, A2, B1, B2, C1 and C2.

Idris (second from left) and Dr Yap (left) engaging with students at the launch of the assessment.
Idris (second from left) and Dr Yap (left) engaging with students at the launch of the assessment. 

A1 is described as having the basic ability to communicate and exchange information in a simple way, while C2 shows that, a person has the capacity to use the language to good effect at a level of performance which may, in certain respects, be more advanced than that of an average native speaker.

The aim of the MEA is for students to improve their proficiency in English by at least one CEFR level.

Idris said as of now, most undergraduates fall under the B1 level, which is, having the ability to speak with limited vocabulary.

“We are also working with Cambridge Malaysia Education and Development Trust, in collaboration with Cambridge Accessible Tests (CATs).

“We hope (through this effort), we can solve the issue of (the lack of) communication in English in our universities.

“It will be implemented in each university using their own methods as each varsity conducts assessments differently,” he said, adding that the assessment has already been implemented in all 20 public varsities starting September this year, for the new semester.

A question bank, also known as the Higher Education Language Test Repository, is being developed by the ministry, whereby it acts as the central repository for all participating institutes of higher learning to deposit their English examination papers.

It is also a bank of materials for lecturers to formulate future examination papers.

The ministry said, the papers must adhere to the MEA Test Specification and Constructs for Formal Assessments so as to ensure it is aligned with the CEFR.

By having this question bank, each university can evaluate the best possible question for their students of any level, Idris said.

“The MEA consists of two components.

“The first is concerned with English proficiency. It includes on-going assessments that touch on istening, reading, writing and speaking.

“The MEA’s alignment with CEFR will ensure that the best practices in English language teaching are implemented within our institutes of higher learning,” he said.

The second component involves assessing students’ ability to complete real-life tasks by using English in situations comparable to those they may encounter in a workplace.

“Accomplishing the tasks will require not only knowledge of English but also appropriate use of the language within a given cultural and social context and as against relevant competencies.

“This second component will see performance assessments across six engagement sites, namely extracurricular and cocurricular activities, interdisciplinary collaboration, online resources, community engagement, industry-academia collaboration and global engagement,” Idris added.

The event also saw the minister launch the Ecosystem for English Language Learning and Assessment in Higher Education.

He said, the traditional means of teaching languages in classrooms by one teacher at a time, using one textbook in preparation for examinations, is not enough.

Thus, the English Ecosystem lays the foundation in which MEA is embedded in.

“The basic idea is that it identifies and uses resources already available within institutes of higher learning to create an ideal, campus wide, supportive environment for students to learn English.

“The aim is to enable students to accelerate and enhance their learning of English by engaging them and making them active participants in meaningful, authentic and experiential learning beyond the classroom through the six engagement sites as identified in the second component of the MEA,” Idris added.

Such engagement will require the use of a wider range of capabilities from students and Idris believes this way, learning the language will become part of their preparation for life after graduation.

There are many informal opportunities of learning English on campus , he said, adding that such opportunities must be recognised and taken advantage of.

“The implementation of the MEA and Ecosystem for English Language Learning and Assessment in Higher Education will be game changers in our higher education system.

“We not only want to make Malaysia as the regional hub of education, but we also want it to be the centre of learning,” he added.

The varsity’s vice-chancellor Prof Tan Sri Dr Noor Azlan Ghazali said, it is timely to prepare a holistic and integrated environment in which students can learn and practise English.

To ensure learning has taken place, assessments play a vital role, he added.

“The challenge in carrying this out, however, is in designing assessments that are able to capture students’ abilities to execute tasks that are relevant, engaging and meaningful.

“Proficiency in English is something important that we must promote to our students,” he said.

Also present at the launch were Deputy Higher Education Minister Datuk Dr Mary Yap Kain Ching, director-general Datin Paduka Dr Siti Hamisah Tapsir and former Education director-general Tan Sri Dr Wan Zahid Mohd Noordin.