Malaysiakini Letter

English: A language sidelined

JH  |  Published:  |  Modified:

It doesn’t take a genius to know that the Malaysia's English language proficiency is going downhill and has been sliding downwards ever since the medium of instruction was changed from English to Bahasa Malaysia.

So many articles have been posted on this subject but the Education Ministry and the government have always turned a blind eye. No amount public outcry can warrant a change. It has something to do with the national pride, patriotism etc and not the vision of our children's well being and providing them the key to success locally and abroad.

Previously, only the rich sent their children to international schools but now, even middle-class families are putting their life savings and hard earned cash to send their children to study abroad. They see the key to ensuring that their children a better future is with an English education. 

Those left in our national schools are mainly the poor who are unable to afford the exorbitant fees, that makes up the majority of the population - over 68.8 percent. As the medium is in Bahasa Malaysia, they can still manage an education which will provide them a job locally or Indonesia. Even Singapore requires English and or mandarin proficiency as well for their higher paid jobs.

Therefore, the job sector to cater to our population with limited English is limited. International shores will barely see our faces adorning them save for a few.

Since the die is cast, and Bahasa Malaysia has firmly rooted itself in both primary and secondary education, imagine the gargantuan task of changing the medium yet again. 

This is understood by the Education Ministry, so to avoid this, a "patch up" is performed. A band-aid here, stopgap measure there and the country has been progressing along those lines ever since.

Change is also not permissible as it will have detrimental effects on votes and politics. The need to stay in power and please the masses far outweigh the right solution to put us back on the right track.

A story to tell

Picture this - Malaysia has been invited to participate in a rowing contest amongst other countries. Malaysia has two boats in their possession. One is a very sturdy and resilient boat able to move and navigate better, left behind by a foreign entity as a gift.

The other boat is in dire need of repair and the opposite of the first boat, but it was carved and made in Malaysia by a Malaysian entity. Further, the present rower is weak but is put to the task of entering the race. The race commences, and the outcome is no secret.

The coaches are left scratching their heads; why do we keep on losing, it must be the fault of the paddle. Let's change the paddle, patch up the boat and surely we will win the next race.

Somebody in the crowd then shouted "Oii, change to a better boat and get a better rower, one who is experienced and knowledgeable of the task. The paddle has nothing to do with it." 

The coaches then replied, "We can't because the boat is our national pride and if we renounce it, it is akin to a loss of face. The rower is also trained by us but we can't use the technique of other rowers or change the rower as it also comes part and parcel with the boat. Can we move on and change the subject please?"

The boat represents the medium or foundation which we are providing to our generations and the rowers are our teachers who must be equipped and competent to teach the generation, leading them to victory and success.

Are there employment prospects awaiting our children in Malaysia? The answer is yes.

But are our students able to cope with the high-end jobs, professional and skilled sectors that demand better language proficiencies? 

I doubt this. Most will end up selling nasi lemak, drive Grab cars, work in toll booths and other menial jobs which do not need much reliance on skill sets and intelligence.

An English speaker's lament

A survey by the EF English Proficiency Index (EF EPI) reported on Nov 16, 2016, states that Malaysia moved up two ranks from last year to number 12 out of 72 countries in the world in terms of English proficiency.

But let's not get too excited, it is only a survey.

It has been at least 40 years since our nation has sidelined English in the education system and the outcome of this neglect is all so clear for everyone to see.

The biggest global ranking on education quality has just been published, but while the top five spots in the world are dominated by Asian countries – spearheaded by Singapore – our beloved Malaysia is languishing in a dismal position at 52 out of 72 countries. Note that we are several rungs behind Thailand (47), Kazakhstan (49) and Iran (51).

The rankings, conducted by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) think tank, lists 76 countries and has Singapore in first place, followed by Hong Kong, South Korea, Japan, and Taiwan.

So to all parents, from an average joe who was educated during the time when the English medium was the curriculum in a missionary school, it is best to send your children to international schools and aboard to pursue their studies. We don’t want them to become graduates who will later be experts in evaluating "paddles".

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

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