Parliament should start the budget meeting on Sept. 9 with an “English-day” where English is allowed to be used  freely  to highlight the national seriousness to restore “mastery” and proficiency in English in Malaysia

Media Statement
by Lim Kit Siang

(Penang, Monday): On Friday, Kuala Lumpur High Court judge Justice Ramly Ali said that lawyers should master the English language which would eventually make them really “learned” as it is a means to access a greater pool of knowledge. 

When I was in Miri on Saturday to attend the Miri DAP Branch Anniversary dinner, the Sarawak Agriculture and Food Industries Minister, Dato Sdri Adenan Satem (bruited as a  possible successor to Tan Sri Taib Mahmud as Sarawak Chief Minister) said the government’s policy to uplift the standard of English in the country was a practical decision as “those proficient in the language would open up a whole treasury of human experience and culture for themsevles’”. 

These are only the latest in a deluge of justifications as to why Malaysia must check the decline in English proficiency, without anyone pausing to ponder as to how and why Malaysian proficiency in English had dropped to such a deplorable extent that, according to the National Union of Teaching  Profession secretary-general, Datuk S. Siva Subramaniam,  60 per cent of school heads in the country have a very poor command of the English language and “people who can’t even understand English are in charge of English” in the Education Department. (Star 14.1.01) 

As the Deputy Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi clarified yesterday, there was no total agreement in his meeting with 36 Malay-based NGOs on Saturday on the use of English to teach science and mathematics in schools, but there was consensus to support  the raising of  English proficiency in schools and universities 

This will also be the case if Abdullah meets the Chinese-based and Indian based NGOs concerned about education, including Dong Jiao Zong, who all support the raising of proficiency of English but disagree about using it to teach mathematics and science in the primary schools as inimical to the educational interests of the pupils. 

DAP fully supports government efforts to raise English proficiency, not only in schools and universities but in the country generally,  because of its importance as a a global language in the era of globalisation and information and communications technology.  English is the dominant language of commerce, of science, of the skies, of the Internet and of opportunity.   

The introduction by the Selangor Mentri Besar,  Datuk Seri Dr. Mohd Khir Toyo of an “English Day” in Selangor every Thursday to get the whole state government to be proficient in English by encouraging everyone from office boy to mentri besar to talk, converse, discuss and meet in English and to promote the English language among the people in Selangor is most commendable and should be an inspiration to national and other state government departments as well.

Parliament should also set an example and start the two-month budget meeting on Sept. 9 with an “English-day” where MPs are allowed to debate  fully in English to highlight the national seriousness to restore “mastery” and proficiency in English in Malaysia. 

In May, the Parliament Speaker, Tun Mohd Zahir Ismail had suggested that English be partly used in future Dewan Rakyat and Dewan Negara proceedings in an effort to improve the command of the language among leaders.  

This is no more the time to talk but to act, and there is no doubt that the adoption of an “English Day” by the Malaysian Parliament on the first day of its budget meeting, which can be emulated by the Penang State Assembly and other state legislative assemblies, would go a long way to destroy the mistaken notion that to learn and speak English is an act of disloyalty to Malaysia and the national language – just as it is a fallacy to believe that it is an act of disloyalty to learn mathematics and science in English. 

However, one must not make the mistake of the Sarawak Deputy Chief Minister, Datuk George Chan, who called on the Chinese in Sarawak to support the use of English to teach mathematics and science in Chinese primary schools from Std. One as 300 million Chinese in China are also learning English – as such an argument holds water only if the 300 million Chinese in China are being taught mathematics and science in English  in primary schools. 

What should be a matter of grave concern is the frequent “chop-and-change” in  the education policy, without adequate professional expert advice, parental consultation or  effective implementation preparation. 

A good example is  the introduction of English for Science and Technology (EST) for Form Four students effective next year. 

The Education Minister, Tan Sri Musa Mohamad told The Star on Saturday that this compulsory SPM paper is an interim measure until mathematics and science are taught in English at Form Four level in 2006 with the teaching of these two subjects in English from Form One next year. 

Musa said “it only made sense” that this be the case as the proposal to introduce EST was made before any discussion on the teaching of mathematics and science in English was raised – and that EST will be done away with in 2006 as the students will not need it any more. Until then, EST will be taught in addition to the general SPM English language paper. 

This may make “bureaucratic sense” to Musa but it makes no common sense to Malaysians. 

Although the introduction of EST was made in the 10-year Education Development Blueprint 2001-2010 approved by the Cabinet on June 20 last year, there had been no preparation to train teachers to teach EST until last week – some 14 months after the Cabinet decision. 

The first batch of EST teachers underwent training from August 19-23, with teachers receiving the directive to undergo such training three days before the start of the course.  How unprofessional and shoddy can the Education Ministry get? 

Even now, the Education Ministry has not yet decided if the EST is to be taught within the school hours or whether it is to be a separate examination subject!  (The Star 25.8.02) 

The Education Development Blueprint 2001-2010 adopted by the Cabinet in June last year approved for “immediate implementation” the introduction of EST for science and technology students and “Alternative English” for students who are weak in the language. The latter has now been scrapped. 

Instead of introducing a new subject, EST, which is to scrapped in three years’ time in 2006, the Education Ministry should  seriously consider scrapping the EST as well and instead teach mathematics and science  in English either (i) in all the secondary forms; or (ii) Form Four  apart from Form One from next year. 

If mathematics and science can be taught in English from  Form One and Lower Sixth from next year, the Education Ministry should seriously consider the feasibility of switching the medium of instruction for these two subjects for all secondary forms or at least for Form Four from next year – which will do away with burdening the education system with another new subject with such a short shelf-life. 

For primary schools, the government should heed the educational objections of all racial groups to the use of English to teach mathematics and science in primary schools from Std. One, and instead focus on introducing a radical programme to significiantly raise English proficiency in all primary schools including the introduction of English literature  so that the pupils could easily dovetail into the secondary school programme of using English to teach mathematics and science. 


*Lim Kit Siang - DAP National Chairman