The Star, Aug 10 2011, Analysis By Baradan Kuppusamy|
The Government has to acknowledge the all-round collapse of the English language as a teaching and learning medium and find ways to seriously rebuild our country’s proficiency levels.
DEPUTY Prime Minister and Education Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin has ordered the English Language Curriculum Division to re-study the learning of English in schools to ensure students can master it as a second language.
Muhyiddin said with some exasperation: “How the national education system that teaches students for 13 years is still unable to provide them with a good grasp of the English language – I myself am incapable of answering.”
He said he doesn’t know whether the cause is a shortage of English language teachers, equipment or due to other causes.
It is true that mastering English is important because it is the language in international communication and the economy.
For some years now, the Education Ministry has been following a “Uphold Bahasa Melayu, Strengthen English Language” policy that had resulted in it hiring foreigners who are native English speakers to teach in our schools.
At the same time, Malaysian teachers are sent overseas to master the language and return to teach at our schools under a new programme to promote English proficiency.
These measures to promote English proficiency in our schools are however insufficient to address the massive problems that our schools face when it comes to English language competency.
In our rush to promote Bahasa Melayu, we have allowed our once commendable standards in English language to deteriorate to abysmal levels. We wring our hands now and cry out – what more can we do?
The Education Minister is at a loss to explain the abysmal levels of our English proficiency to the extent that we have to spend billions of ringgit to get back to a level we once had.
Our graduates are unemployable because of poor command of the language. Our researchers have trouble being understood at international forums. Even our ministers fluster at press conferences.
In most schools, it is a case of the blind leading the blind because the teachers themselves have lost command of the language – they teach English in Bahasa Melayu!
Senior officials in the ministry are no better. It is an all-round collapse of English language skills, which can even be seen in newspapers and periodicals.
The Government has to acknowledge the all-round collapse of the language as a teaching and learning medium and find ways to seriously rebuild our country’s proficiency levels or we would be in the market for English language translators like Japan.
The “uphold Bahasa Melayu, strengthen English” is a good policy because it urges our students to master Bahasa Melayu and, at the same time, strengthen the use of the English language.
You have to get sufficient competency in English in order to be marketable. The teachers can teach basic spoken English with writing skills thrown in but they must be competent first.
They must master the language and, for that, they have to be trained in the language.
First, see to teachers’ training in English and, at the same time, see to the hiring of ex-teachers and retired teachers who can act as facilitators to plug the loopholes temporarily.
Only after these local measures should you bring in native speakers from other countries to teach the language skills – both to students and teachers.
The teaching service has to be made multi-racial and more non-Malays have to be hired and brought in as teachers, not only for English but also other subjects.
We don’t need a rocket scientist to figure out why our students cannot master English even after 13 years of schooling.
If you were to put the finger on a single reason or two, it would be the quality of our English teachers and the syllabus they teach.
Let’s face it – you can’t teach English in Bahasa Melayu. The competency of teachers to teach English has to be enhanced and improved while at the same time, the syllabus requires a revamp.
It is good that Muhyiddin has asked Education director-general Abdul Ghafar Mahmud to undertake a complete review of the teachers and teaching methods of English in our schools to stop the rot that has set in.
Such a review is long overdue and recognises the fact that we are not producing English-proficient graduates after 13 years of schooling.
Only the elite can afford the many private schools and colleges that teach English and give the language prominence in their curriculum.
But for the rank and file who have to go through our national school system, making them competent in English is essential to realise a bilingual society.