MALAY civilisation – including the use of Bahasa Malaysia (BM) – will be promoted internationally.
Following Higher Education Minister Datuk Seri Dr Noraini Ahmad’s recommendation that the government set up a BM language development steering committee on March 7, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia Institute of Malay World and Civilisation (ATMA) was appointed its secretariat to start strategic cooperation to develop important aspects of Malay civilisation at the global level.
The steering committee, said ATMA director Prof Datuk Seri Dr Awang Sariyan, will:
> plan and coordinate cooperation in the development of the BM language and literature in higher education institutions (HEIs) among Asean countries, through research, teaching programmes, publications, conferences, portals and exchange programmes among experts and students;
> coordinate cooperation in the development of BM and literature with Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka, the Brunei-Indonesia-Malaysia Language Council (MABBIM) and the South-East Asian Literary Council (Mastera) with a special focus on the national language in the field of knowledge and higher education;
> amend the BM tests – which are equivalent to the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) and the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) – for students in HEIs in Asean countries; and
> translate and adapt words in BM to other languages in Asean countries, and vice versa, for the exchange of knowledge.
Prof Awang said that programmes to develop BM in Asean countries will lead to:
> a broader collaboration of expertise and outcomes with more comprehensive involvement of HEIs in Asean in the areas of studies, research, publications and conferences;
> the expansion of BM in non-BM-speaking Asean countries through courses and expansion activities; and
> BM becoming the language of higher learning in various disciplines and the language of communication in Asean.
The end goal, said Prof Awang, is to make BM the official language of Asean.
Over the past month, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob has repeatedly called for the use of BM at official functions, including at international conferences, but Prof Awang said efforts to strengthen BM and promote the national language to other Asean countries have been around since the 1950s.
In 1972, the Indonesian-Malaysian Language Council (MBIM) was established between the Malaysian and Indonesian governments, and in 1985, the council changed its name to MABBIM after Brunei became a member of the regional cooperation body.
“Singapore has been an observer country and a participant in the annual MABBIM conferences and activities and since 2015, Thailand has also been a MABBIM observer country,” he said, adding that in 1995, Mastera was established.
The latter, comprising Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei, Singapore and Thailand, focuses on the development of Malay literature at the regional level.
All on board
Private varsities have welcomed the Higher Education Ministry’s call to promote BM among students.
While Sunway Education Group chief executive officer Prof Dr Elizabeth Lee encouraged international students to learn more about the Malaysian culture to help them master the national language, Malaysian Association of Private Colleges and Universities (Mapcu) president Datuk Parmjit Singh said its members support initiatives to expand BM to other countries, particularly within Asean.
Where the teaching of BM to international students are concerned, Parmjit, who is also Asia Pacific University of Technology & Innovation (APU) chief executive officer, said the national language has been a compulsory subject since 2014.
Taylor’s University Liberal Arts and Humanities department head Prema Ponnudurai said there is an urgent need to rejuvenate and promote the national language, and this can be implemented by borrowing words and modernising the language to maintain its past and also prepare its users for future linguistic needs.
“The establishment of a steering committee, however, should not lie solely on the shoulders of universities and should be viewed from a multi-tiered approach with collaborative initiatives from all stakeholders due to its complexities.
“This must be led by various government ministries and agencies, outlining a clear strategy to rejuvenate the use of BM.
“A national language is a symbol of the nation’s culture and heritage, and focus must be given to it.
“Additionally, as we move towards a more digitised and borderless world, it is also essential that Malaysia takes great steps in equipping our students with the languages required to succeed locally and internationally,” Prema said.