Good policies drive the review of serious issues and concerns and propose new ways forward for adoption at the national level, and create new and positive pathways. The PPSMI was a good public policy introduced by the current prime minister, when he was the minister of education.
Rather, lamely and unfortunately, before a good and proper study of the performance of the outcome and impact of the programme could be had, and mainly because of political pressure from conservative Malay groups, there was a policy reversal without a good and rational scientific basis. We have no First Principles, as argued by Wan Saiful Wan Jan.
The current Education Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, in seeking to play to the Malay middle ground gallery, affirmed that a policy continuation of the PSSMI is not possible, nor desirable.
Allow me to review this policy posture, and caution that BN will lose the middle ground of urban voters for this extensive policy reversal in its attempt to remain popular with the rural countryside. It is even not in their interest; but, they do not know any better!
The Malay countryside is split between the more religious, conservative and insular members and the more moderate, progressive and nationalistic members in the peninsula. PAS and Umno will battle and seek to influence this electorate on all related issues of religion and race.
However, the countryside in Sabah and Sarawak has other serious issues, such as Native Customary Rights (NCR) land, deforestation, and corruption issues to deal with. Therefore, the needs and concerns of the national countryside may not be similar in terms of either felt or real needs. A differential policy may therefore be beheficial to all!
In the every nation, it is the urban and the connected, defined within ‘the Global Village' of the connected and committed, who are knowledgeable about these issues, whether you find them in Tahrir Square, or with the Occupiers of Wall Street, or even the monks who march in Burma. They are the community of the connected who want to be included in the decision-making for good and participative governance of any nation and the globe.
Organisations such as the Parents Action Group for Education (Page) are made up of and led by modern leaders who are rational and articulate and who will define the issues and concerns for the majority within the urban landscape of Malaysia.
Therefore, it would be foolhardy and downright foolish of Muhyiddin to "continue to argue a case that has little legitimacy or rational validity". It would fall within my category of an ‘idiocratic policy;' one that has no rational basis but is argued on false premises, and which cannot withstand good and honest research and critique. Wan Saiful's is one such critique!
What are then are real problems with English in Malaysia today, regardless of whether science and mathematics are taught in English or Malay? The real and honest admission we must make is that:
- English is the global lingua franca of science and technology worldwide today and no nation will contend with or deny that. Our real innovation and high income economy cannot be driven by an agenda of learning science and mathematics in the Malay language! Any serious science and technology research requires the libraries of the world, which are all in English, and purely in terms of translations, we can never catch up in a hundred years.
- The current standard of Malaysian English is so bad that even graduate students in local Masters programmes in public universities are clearly not up to the mark. I speak from experience at one local public university!
- Most multinational companies that employ Malaysians will confess that locally educated students who are not fluent enough in English do not have the competence to hold a job that is either international or regional.
- As a faculty member of a private university, I would suggest that most of the Malaysian academia cannot meet the requisite standard of good English if we use International benchmarks. That, I think, may be one of the reasons we do not have any university within the top 200 under the Times classification.
- Most students in urban schools already have strong language skills (whether English or Malay) and therefore can be trained to become excellent researchers and scientists for the future of the nation. By dubbing down their standards in English, we are not going to contribute any value for that agenda.
- If Malay, Tamil and Chinese schools can have their choices of language preferences, then I think it is only right and fair that urban parents and their children, whose mother-tongues and languages of communication at home is English, also have their preferences. This is simply a human rights and justice argument!
- Finally, if the English pogramme could be reversed after less than 10 years, what is the big deal to reverse that conversion programme that has still not begun yet! And to do this selectively for the schools where the PIGB and principals feel strongly that their preference is English? The same parents will ensure their children will ensure both Malay the other POL languages are also acquired! My kids speak three languages.
Dear education minister, please understand the negative effects of "unprincipled pendulum decision-making!" I also call it idiocratic decision-making, because the curse is placed on thousands of parents by the stroke of the pen with an ill-pconceived policy!
Finally, the catch-word of the 21st century is not "control in an orderly world" but rather, "how to create some semblance of order in an already chaotic world!" Therefore, please do not worry that the ministry is losing control; our education policy is already in a mess with all the accommodations made over the past 50 years! What we need is to create some order in an already chaotic policy.
The Page proposal moves the locus of that choice away from the education system and toward the parents! That can be the only way, as their commitment makes for the success or failure of any new programme.
Their way out of ‘chaotic disorder' is to reduce control at the federal level and allow decentralisation and autonomy for improved school governance to be within the jurisdiction of school principals and PIBGs.
The only real control then needed is to ensure the quality of both content and the delivery of that content. This can continue to be done through a good quality and centralised examination and evaluation system!
May God bless Malaysia!
KJ JOHN was in public service for 29 years. The views expressed here are his personal views and not those of any institution he is involved with. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org with any feedback or views.