Parliament should allow debate in English for one sitting every week to promote the mastery of English by Malaysians as well as overcome the hangover attitude  that speaking English is being anti-national or un-Malaysian

Media Statement
by Lim Kit Siang

(Ipoh, Saturday): DAP applauds the call by the Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi yesterday to  Malaysians to master English as proficiency in the language is vital for success in a globalised world.

Abdullah said that as a country, Malaysia would stand a better chance of succeeding and safeguarding its interests if its people excelled in the language.

Speaking at the a pre-Budget 2005 consultation at the Finance Ministry, Abdullah cited as an example that  to be active and effective in negotiations at the World Trade Organisation (WTO), it was not enough just to be knowledgeable about its rules and regulations but  more important to have the strength in negotiation and this required competency in the English language.

The call to Malaysians to master the English language to enhance Malaysia’s international competitiveness has been made for the past five years, but without dramatic effect – as evident from the growing army of unemployed and unemployable graduates, one major cause being their illiteracy in the English language.

What is needed is a quantum leap in the campaign for Malaysians to master the English language, which must involve overcoming the hangover attitude that knowing and speaking the English language was somehow being anti-national and  un-Malaysian.

Dramatic efforts must be made to convey the message effectively to all Malaysians that it is in  the national interest to enhance the country’s international competitiveness in the era of globalization and information and communications technology for  Malaysians to master the English language.

For a start, I propose that Parliament allow debate in English for one sitting every week to promote the mastery of English by Malaysians as well as  to overcome the hangover attitude  that speaking English is being anti-national or un-Malaysian. 

Until the mid-seventies, the Malaysian Parliament used  English and Bahasa Malaysia for debates. When Bahasa Malaysia became the compulsory language for parliamentary debate, MPs were allowed to use English for  terms  or extracts after permission of the Speaker.

Parliament, which meets four days a week from Monday to Thursday,  should prescribe one day a week where MPs could use English for debate as of right without having to ask for permission from the Chair.  This will give a powerful demonstration effect and send a  clear and unequivocal message to all Malaysians of the seriousness and importance of  the campaign to get Malaysians of all age groups to master the English language to ensure that the nation can take her  rightful place in the international arena – whether the global market place or the world of diplomacy.

The various State Assemblies should follow the example of Parliament, and allow at least one day in  every  State Assembly meeting where English could be freely used by Assembly members for debate.

In this connection, the government should be level-headed, rational and not go overboard in the  campaign to promote the mastery of the English language among Malaysians.

It should be prepared for instance to review the “political formula of 2:4:3” to teach mathematics and science from Std. One in Chinese primary schools when a proper educational formula will give equal regard to the triple objectives in Chinese primary schools, viz: preserve mother-tongue education, raise English proficiency and  maintain/uplift the traditional  high standards in mathematics and science.

In fact, a level-headed and rational approach to educational issues will warrant a full assessment of the controversial education policy that required Science and Maths to be taught in English from Std. One for all primary schools, whether national, Chinese or Tamil, as to whether this is the most educationally sound route to produce future Nobel Prize winners in mathematics and science for Malaysia!


* Lim Kit Siang, DAP National Chairman & Member of Parliament for Ipoh Timor