EDUCATION: Focus equally on Bahasa Malaysia and English

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MALAYSIA was placed 55th out of 77 countries in the recent Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) report. Should we not feel ashamed?

There were no Malaysian public universities in the top 400 of the Times Higher Education (THE) World University Rankings 2012-2013 report. How do the authorities feel about this?

The Higher Education Ministry has taken the initiative to check the slide in the standard of English among graduates. It has come up with an English programme meant for students entering university to meet the requirements of the working world under a system which classifies students according to their competency level.

The responsibility to "supply" students who meet all the public universities' minimum requirements, including meeting the minimum standard for English, falls on the shoulders of schools.

However, with the national education policy not putting much emphasis on English, they are unable to do so. The government has put in place well thought-out Economic and the Government Transformation Programmes to make our country a fully developed one by 2020. To achieve the ETP and the GTP objectives, our human capital must be prepared and trained.

Everyone sees the problem and wants to improve on it, except, unfortunately, those in authority.

The country changed the national education policy about 40 years ago, switching from English to Bahasa Malaysia and we can see the results are not that impressive.

We need to give equal emphasis to English, the language of the globalised world. I know language nationalists will continue to throw cold water on any proposal where English is mentioned. I plead with them to put aside sentiments or personal agendas and to think more of the country and the young people in national schools and the coming generations.

Many of those language nationalists had their early and higher education in English and some studied for their first, second and doctoral degrees in English at overseas universities and some of their children, too, did and do the same thing. So, for them to go against using English in our national schools is peculiar and selfish.

Many people are not agreeable with the Malaysia Education Blueprint 2013-2025 preliminary report. I re-examined the report, in particular the list of names of the panel members and the list of names of the National Review Panel members. Both panels were peopled by impressive figures.

After reading the report, I have to ask: "Is that the best that they could come out with?" What happened to all the pertinent and important points that they must have raised?

During the National Education Dialogue, feedback was collected from live discussions, through written exit survey forms, 16 town hall sessions with almost 12,000 people taking part, 20 roundtable sessions, and other means.

The ministry received more than 150 memoranda as of July. A series of education labs was held from May to June. In total, the ministry received more than 7,000 responses across different channels. However, the blueprint does not appear to reflect the views and suggestions made by these people.

To be fair, there are some commendable proposals such as a better teacher training programme, improving schools' overall infrastructure and improving information technology infrastructure.

However, many important proposals, including reintroducing English-medium schools, reinstating the Teaching of Mathematics and Science in English (PPSMI) policy and greater content of subjects to be taught in English as an enhancement to the Upholding the Malay Language, Strengthening the Command of the English Language (MBMMBI) programme have been excluded.

To make MBMMBI effective, both Bahasa Malaysia and English language must be given equal emphasis. I am not suggesting that our national language be relegated to second spot. We can have policies and syllabus placing Bahasa Malaysia at the top, followed by English and vernacular languages.

With the level of English in our national schools, public colleges and public universities having dropped to a low level, we need to make a drastic change now and, like it or not, while we keep using Bahasa Malaysia in schools.

To make Upholding the Malay Language, Strengthening the Command of the English Language programme effective, and to enable it to meet its objectives, both Bahasa Malaysia and English language must be given equal emphasis.


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