More (mis)adventures in 1Malaysia?


I NOTICED, and perhaps you did as well, that immediately after the High Court decision last Monday on what for sometime now has laughingly been called Sodo Mee Too, mainstream Malaysian radio – and even television – stations seemed at pains to not inform us all of the High Court verdict.

For a while that day, as some of us monitored media coverage of the morning’s events, it felt as though nothing had happened. Of course many have since waxed lyrical and waxed comical about this shameful chapter in our history.   But, no, today is not the day for us to mull over or even analyse 901 and its immediate aftermath.

Instead, let us look at one particular announcement amid the so-many feel-good announcements we have been bombarded with before and after 901.   I don’t mean the announcement of the (now-controversial) public servants new remuneration scheme that will truly fill the pockets of those public servants in the higher band.

Or the news that the MACC – even if ever-so-slowly – now appears to be taking account of the activities of the National Feedlot Centre (NFC) quite seriously.   After all, it would be quite difficult, I guess, for anyone, including appointed and not elected politicians, to continue to make illogical links between cows and condominiums.

No, what I wish to talk about today was hidden away and could have been forgotten amidst the media blitz surrounding the purported end of the there-year legal debacle. For me, it was a desperate announcement to offset criticisms of the government decision to scrap the teaching of Mathematics and Science in the English language. It was the announcement by the Deputy Prime Minister – who is also Education Minister – on Dec 30 last year that an English Language Council will be formed this year “to set the standard for English proficiency of school students”.

Since then, not many follow-up reports have emerged to enlighten us as to what this council means.

Indeed, like many of these things that are evidently picked from the air without much prior thinking and planning, very little thus far has been made transparent.

Beyond the vague and general comments of the minister in charge, no one has come up officially to provide us with a clearer picture.

According to the minister, “we are thinking of forming the English Language Council to set the benchmark for the standard of English used in Malaysia”.

A concerned insider, who happened to be at the hastily-convened meeting, confirmed the fears of many that not much thought appears to have been put into this ‘venture’. Apparently, the proposed council is going to be modeled along the lines of the Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka (DBP).

The DBP was formed in 1956 to spearhead the development and progress of the Malay language. More than five decades on, many critics remain skeptical of its ‘accomplishments’ over the years and the ponderous rate at which the institution has moved.

For some, DBP has turned out to be no more than a book publisher and translator, unable to move beyond such roles.

Now, the question that all this raises is: would having an English Language Council modeled on the DBP really be of any help in setting worthwhile benchmarks for the standard of English in Malaysia?

And yet again, according to the minister, there are plans to use ‘foreign experts’. Why foreign? And, really, in what way would they be ‘experts’?

Currently one hears horror stories about the so-called ‘foreign experts’ who have come into this country to ‘teach’ our children English. They are, evidently, provided very generous allowances, including a car.

But questions that continue to be raised in numerous educational and academic circles include: How qualified are they? Where did they get their qualifications from? And, which body evaluates their suitability?

We have been told that these ‘teachers’ would be ‘native speakers/users’ of the language. But are they really?

And if they are such hotshot experts with immense experience, how come, despite the project being in existence for awhile now, there really hasn’t been a marked improvement in the level of usage of the language, spoken or written?

The recent pathetic performance by the Ministry of Defence in designing and wording its webpage surely is just the tip of the iceberg.

Granted, this would be nothing more than an unscientific observation. But where are the scientific studies that we would expect to be conducted by the agencies concerned?

After all, surely it was Malaysian taxpayers’ money that went towards funding this project. So, such studies, preferably independent – and their findings – really should be made available to us all.

With the proposed English Language Council as well, the key issues are appropriateness and accountability. I think thus far we have made it clear that we don’t wish our hard-earned taxes to be used for housing cows in condos.

As we question and monitor the creation of this English Language Council, I would like to think that that at the end of the day, our children will become more proficient in the English language rather than some horrific version called ‘Engrish’.