One of the major challenges faced by the academically low performing Indian Malaysian students from the challenged communities - the Bottom 40 percent or B40 - in secondary schools is their inability to integrate or ‘mix’ with other communities. This inability has greatly affected the upward mobility of these youths and the key barrier to this is the lack of proficiency in language (including Bahasa and English).
Inability to communicate proficiently in the national language and/or English and the lack of competencies or skills has made matters worse for these youth. How are these people going to improve their livelihood? Who is going to employ them? Youths with specific skills are not successfully employed because they are not able to sell their skills beyond the Indian Malaysian community.
Having cognisance of the importance of language for social mobility and looking at language from an economic utility angle, the Educational, Welfare & Research Foundation Malaysia (EWRF) has been promoting ‘English’ acquisition as one of its core activities since 2006. This is in line with the government’s endeavours in promoting English as a language for knowledge acquisition and also as a ‘business’ language.
EWRF believes that being proficient in this international language will have a tremendous impact on the self-esteem and confidence of a student; especially one who has been exposed to only Tamil language during his/her early years.
Unlike the children from the Top 20 percent or T20 community who are constantly exposed to the English language, students from the B40 economic band have limited exposure and resources. They do not have the luxury of tuition centres, professional programmes and Internet facilities that are enjoyed by their affluent fellow students.
Various NGOs have been providing help to this group of children but the resources are not sufficient to cover all those who need help. EWRF is aware of the severe constraint in resources since we have been involved in this service for the last 10 years.
How do we avail opportunities for these students to improve their ‘business’ language proficiency so that they can secure a decent employment to eventually move out of the B40 band. Their only source for learning English are the teachers in schools. EWRF views the mplementation of the Dual Language Programme (DLP) as an excellent opportunity for the students from the B40 band to become proficient in English, the international language.
EWRF recognises the challenges faced by the community in the implementation of DLP, however, it is the community’s responsibility to identify these challenges and find ways to overcome them.
Denying students the added opportunity to become proficient in English should never be the choice.
Students in the B40 band especially in the rural areas need to get help within the school system since external help may not be available due to lack of financial resources.
Being aware of this, many parents have voiced their support for DLP. They are agreeable to this development and EWRF is of the view that the voice of parents must be given due respect. Parents are responsible for their children and no one should under-estimate their ability to decide.
Especially for parents from the B40 band who view English language from the economic utility angle, they know that proficiency in English is required for their social mobility and economic success. They want their children to excel in the language and climb the social ladder. So, let’s not deprive their children the opportunity to move forward.
SP NATHAN is president of the Educational, Welfare & Research Foundation Malaysia (EWRF).