Good English proficiency ranking no reason to rest on laurels

PETALING JAYA: Malaysia ranking third in Asia in the EF English Proficiency Index 2023 is an achievement to be proud of, says a high-level educator.

In a statement on Friday (Dec 1), Associate Prof Dr Adelina Asmawi, who is the Language and Literacy Education Department Head at University Malaya, said the ranking was proof that the Education Ministry's English language-related policies and roadmaps had been effective.

However, she urged the nation and government to continue improving our English proficiency.

Below is her statement in full.

I’d like to respond to The Star’s brief summary of the EF English Proficiency Index 2023 scores published on the 30th November 2023.

Firstly, I am extremely proud to see my country’s EF EPI 2023 scores. Malaysia is in the High proficiency band and KL city is also ranked High in the city scores. Not only that, let it be clear that Malaysia is ranked 3rd in Asia and 25th in the world. We outranked Hong Kong, South Korea, and surprisingly, India which ranked 60th! Those who typically mock Malaysians speaking English should eat their words now.

Nevertheless, it is important to highlight several aspects of the summary. This study was carried out in 2022 and was biased towards younger adult respondents, which means that the finding that highlights 26-30-year-olds as having the highest level of English language mastery is to be accepted with limitations. There were more respondents from this age group, so obviously the analysis would present such findings.

From my reading of the report, I am also not too worried about the (seemingly) decline in the youth proficiency level as there is a need to consider the effects of the pandemic. 2020 onwards marked the pandemic and after effect of it on worldwide education, workplace transactions and social well-being. This, I believe, would fix itself and should not be a huge concern.

It is interesting though, to witness the findings on professions with very high proficiency like aviation, media, sports, entertainment, and professional services. It is also welcoming that work forces in food and beverages, information technology, education, and engineering, are among those in the High proficiency band. This calls for a careful lens to be placed on these professions.

The EF EPI 2023’s Very High proficiency band measures users’ nuanced and appropriate language use in social situations, the ability to read advanced texts with ease, and the capacity to negotiate a contract with a native English speaker. I believe Malaysians can improve beyond the fundamentals, leading to better scores in the next EF EPI.

What do the EF EPI 2023 scores mean to Malaysian education then? Do we need to discuss DLP, yet again? Running in circles, trying to catch our tail? We cannot say that we have not developed Malaysians’ English language competency, nor can we say that the Ministry of Education has failed in her implementation of English language-related policies and roadmaps. Data have proven otherwise.

So what is our argument now? What do we want as a nation? To policy makers, with due respect, do not digress now that we already have the momentum.

Associate Prof Dr Adelina Asmawi

Language and Literacy Education Department Head, Faculty of Education, Universiti Malaya

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