DAP supports Mahathir’s call to students to master English and proposes making pass in  English compulsory in SPM, STPM and matriculation

Media Statement
by Lim Kit Siang

(Petaling Jaya,  Saturday)DAP fully supports the call by the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad to Malaysian students to master English as “necessary for communication and essential to keep abreast of developments in the technical fields such as engineering and science”.  

Speaking to Malaysian students in the United States at the Malaysian Embassy in Washington before the end of this trip to the US, Mahathir said that with Bahasa Melayu, Malaysians had found that people were unable to interact with foreigners in a way  which was productive. 

The government has been talking about the decline of the standard of English language in the past two decades and the urgent need to arrest it, but it had nothing to show for the results.  

There can be no dispute as to the importance of English as 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.  

It is the official language of in more than 75 countries. Although 1.2 billion people speak Chinese as their mother tongue, more than 1.5 billion people speak English as their mother-tongue or use it as a second or foreign language.  Plans are afoot for some 300 million people Chinese in China to learn to speak and use English.  

The European Union uses English alongside French at its informal gatherings, even though Europe has more native German and Italian speakers. In Japan, the government had said that the tongue of its onetime enemies should become its second official language to “achieve world-class excellence”.   In Dutch-speaking Netherlands, some government officials recently proposed switching the language of education to English - the language of most reference works. 

Virtually all scientific organizations use English, partly because most relevant literature and terminology is in English and partly because scientists want to spend time on science, not on translation.  

The urgent question for Malaysia is not whether English is an important global language which Malaysians must master if we are not to continue to lose our edge of international competitiveness, but what immediate actions to  take to arrest the catastrophic decline of the standard of English and to achieve a turnaround to the  high standard of English three decades ago. 

After the short-lived four-day invitation by the Prime Minister the previous week to the Malaysian public for their feedback as to whether the people want a re-introduction of the English medium school system to arrest the decline of the standard of English, the UMNO Supreme Council overrode the Cabinet decision on the matter and decided on 10th May against the re-introduction of  the English-medium school system and proposed instead that science and mathematics be taught in English starting from Standard One.     

As the Education Minister Tan Sri Musa Mohamad confirmed the very next day that science and mathematics will be taught in English and that a committee had been set up under the Education director-general Datuk Abdul Rafie Mahat to implement this decision, Malaysians are entitled to know whether the Education Ministry had earlier commissioned expert studies on the matter. 

Educationists and parents are legitimately concerned whether with the present low standards in English, Mathematics and Science, without major reforms in the infrastructure of the education system for the teaching and learning of English, the teaching of science and mathematics in English from Standard One would be a cure worse than the disease resulting in further lowering of the standards of Mathematics and Science without any significant increase in English fluency. 

Musa should make public all the studies which the Education Ministry had carried out which positively demonstrated that the immediate introduction of the teaching of Mathematics and Science in English from Standard One is the best and most effective method to arrest the decline of the English standard   in the schools - as parents are equally concerned about the decision.  

I believe the decision with the most far-reaching effects in generally raising the standard of English in schools is to make a pass in English compulsory for SPM,  STPM and matriculation examinations, which should be seriously considered and decided by the Cabinet on Wednesday.  

The Cabinet should also establish an all-party committee to launch a nation-wide campaign to promote the learning and use of English among the people to restore Malaysia’s international competitiveness edge lost as a result of the unchecked decline in the standard of English in the past three decades - so that this problem is tackled in a non-partisan manner transcending the pressures of political party competition.


*Lim Kit Siang - DAP National Chairman