A QUARTER of the world’s population – some 1.75 billion people – speak English.
And there are billions more, according to the World Economic Forum, who are trying to learn the language not only for self-improvement, but also as an economic necessity.
This is because good English is a critical tool for them to tap into new opportunities in their homeland and abroad, especially amid the Fourth Industrial Revolution (IR4.0).
National Education Advisory Council Member Datuk Satinah Syed Saleh said the council had strongly suggested to the Education Ministry that English be made a compulsory pass subject in the Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM) so that parents and students would take the language more seriously.
“Whether we like it or not, we cannot ignore the fact that English is pertinent. It is widely used on the Internet, ” said Satinah, who is also National Schools Board of Governors chairperson, during a panel session at the National Education and Learning Summit 2020 in Kuala Lumpur on July 28.
To enhance the employability of future graduates and to meet the demands of IR4.0, English is already a must-pass subject in many Malaysian universities, Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM) Centre for the Advancement of Language Competence’s English Language lecturer Dr Tan Wee Chun pointed out.
“Making English a compulsory pass subject in SPM prepares students for the IR4.0 workplace. It will show that the ministry supports industries that seek workers with a strong command of the language.
“It also will show the ministry’s commitment to education reform by ensuring that SPM leavers are independent users of the language.”
Under the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR), language proficiency is measured in relation to the four communicative skills on a scale starting with A1 and progressing to A2 (basic user), B1 and B2 (independent user), and C1, C2 (proficient user).
Tan said this could only happen if all parties share the same attitude towards English and view it as a beneficial language for future employment and economic growth instead of a threat to the national language.
“Students who are proficient in English will be able to master technology advances efficiently and effectively. Those who are not may be left behind, ” he said, adding that English is the language of technology.
IR4.0 emphasises digital and data literacy, he said, and technology courses such as artificial intelligence (AI), Virtual Reality (VR), Big Data, and Internet of Things (IoT) are all taught using the international language.
Noting that English is the preferred language of interaction globally, Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) School of Languages, Literacies and Translation former dean Prof Dr Tengku Sepora Tengku Mahadi said English should not be seen as a threat to the national language – Bahasa Malaysia – which has hindered efforts to make people realise that English is an essential tool in daily life.
“It is logical to see English as the language for IR4.0. To be active participants of IR4.0, students have no choice but to master English.
“Mastering the language allows students at various levels and on different platforms, to react and respond when and as needed. It enriches human communication and eases technological understanding.
“Being in command of this universal language puts power in the hands of students or any of its users, enabling them to obtain access to relevant and necessary knowledge. This translates into more confidence in themselves to handle new industrial needs, ” said the professor who is currently in charge of PhD research supervision.
She hopes that English would be made into a compulsory pass subject in SPM so that it enables youths and the younger generation to be confident communicators of multiple languages that will give them a competitive edge in the workforce.
Assoc Prof Dr Juliana Othman from Universiti Malaya (UM) Education Faculty’s Language and Literature Education Department said English is not only the language of communication, business, and academia, but it is also the language of the Internet due to the dominance of digital English websites.
“Internet users who search for content in English are considerably higher. They make up 25.3% whereas users who consume content in Mandarin is 19.4%, ” she said, adding that IR4.0 is characterised by the occurrence of new forms of interaction between humans and machines.
Students who are competent in English have an advantage over those who are not.
Communication skills in the digital era, she said, involves both spoken English and digital English.
She said the three language skills needed in IR4.0 are digital literacy, which increases the ability to read, analyse, and use information in Big Data; technology literacy, which provides an understanding of the workings of machinery and technology applications; and human literacy which improves communication skills and the mastery of design science.
“These are the new literacies which are expected to create competitive graduates in the IR4.0 era, ” she said.