Wednesday, June 17, 2009

About time making English a "must pass" subject

KUALA LUMPUR: Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin is surprised to learn that English is not a “must pass” subject for SPM and wants public feedback on the matter. [The Star, 9/6/09]

The importance of the English language as the lingua franca of knowledge and technology cannot be overstressed. The mastery of the language among Malaysians have spiralled downwards since Independence and unless we make things right in the near future, we may just kiss our hopes of becoming a developed nation goodbye.

But before I start, I must say I am a little baffled over Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin's (image) reaction when he discovered English is not a "must pass" subject for the SPM examinations. I'd like to say: "About time, Mister DPM." God knows how long one has to be a minister to actually recognise such an obvious shortcoming in the system.

I belong to the school of thought that fully supports the government's decision to teach science and mathematics in English in schools and making the language a "must pass" subject in SPM. And I am also aware that there are certain quarters of our society oppose this move as they argue that by doing so ,we would put the rural folks at a loss and even compromise the position of the national language. But I must explain that by supporting the teaching of science and mathematics in English does not mean I am less of a citizen. I just feel all of this is essential for the nation to progress.

In my dictionary, forsaking the nation's future is the bigger crime and in this case, the mastery of the English language by Malaysians is of the greatest importance if we ever want this country of ours to succeed.

The issue of the the English subject is a perpetual problem - a vicious cycle where the end has as much influence on the beginning of the problem - and vice versa.

The people who oppose the teaching of science and mathematics in English argue that since Japan, China and Korea can maintain their teaching and learning in their native languages, why can't we do the same? But I would like to simply say that they are Japan, China and Korea...not Malaysia. These countries are major exporters of technology let alone economic powerhouses and therefore have the privilege to not have English being shoved down the throats of their younglings. Malaysia, on the other hand, do not have that kind of choice and privilege.

If I'd be cynical, what difference would teaching science subjects in English make? After all, most of the technical terms and jargon in the national language are direct phonetic translations of their English equivalents anyway.

Those people are right to argue that the rural students who have less access to quality materials would be at a loss if English is made a "must pass" subject. They also believe that the government should first ensure teachers are capable of teaching English. But just how do they expect young teachers to master the English language if they do not have a strong foundation in the language in school in the first place. See why this is a perpetual problem?

But I still believe we should start somewhere. I mean, at least there is a start to a solution to the never-ending cycle and is definitely better than folding our arms and expect English-fluent teachers to grow on trees. Making the English subject a "must pass" would encourage students who are poor in the language to work harder. A standard is set for people to follow, not to set it lower for it to follow people.

At the same time, the government should ensure language teachers are equipped with the necessary skills and materials to teach English effectively and properly. The DPM has recently contemplated to revisit the Kirby College concept first developed in the 1950s where Malaysian teachers are sent abroad to learn English in an English-speaking environment. It is a good idea and must I say the rural schools be given more attention on this compared to urban schools if the concept ever takes off.

Perhaps the government should also consider gradually increasing the passing mark of the English language subject, instead of making the subject a "must pass" over the next few years. That would certainly ease the pressure on the rural students while giving them and the teachers enough time to improve their language skills. But no matter what, it should eventually come a time that the English language subject be made a "must pass" subject in schools.


  1. Brian Barker said...

    May I comment on the position of English at an international level?

    Think the choice of the future global language lies between Esperanto and English.

    As a native English speaker, I would prefer Esperanto.

    English is impractical because communication should be for all and not only for an educational or political elite. That is how English is used internationally at the moment.

    Undemocratic, also, because minority languages are under attack worldwide due to the encroachment of majority ethnic languages. Even Mandarin Chinese is attempting to dominate as well. The long-term solution must be found and a non-national language, which places all ethnic languages on an equal footing is essential.

    An interesting video can be seen at

    A glimpse of Esperanto can be seen at

  2. vasantarao appalasamy said...

    i hope they will do it immediately...
    no wait until our education level gone to the rubbish...