Tuesday, August 11

Towards Vision 2020 and beyond via bilingualism


THE proposal to make a pass in English compulsory in the Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM) may take effect as early as 2016.

By then, students who flunk their SPM English paper will not receive a full certificate but are entitled to a re-sit the following year.

When first mooted, the proposal elicited strong support from many quarters. The firm endorsement, especially from parents, has given rise to lofty optimism that the proposal will be implemented according to schedule.

“I don’t see why this cannot be done by then (2016) since so many people are supportive of the proposal,” Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin has said.

In fact, the show of strong support is proof of the keen anticipation that the proposal could be implemented even sooner.

To lay the groundwork, the Education Ministry has started training over 60,000 teachers in English proficiency this year in two waves under the Malaysia Education Blueprint.

The first will cover the period between 2013 and 2025 while the second will start in 2016 when the proposed ruling to make passing English compulsory in SPM will be implemented.

Muhyddin, who is also the Education Minister, has reaffirmed the government’s commitment to promoting the use of English in schools.

“Our target is for students to be bilingual — proficient in both Bahasa Malaysia and English,” he said.

The effectiveness of English as a communications tool is reflected by the very large number of people learning the language – about one billion throughout the world.

After Mandarin, English is the most widely spoken than any other language. It’s the native language of more than 350 million people worldwide as well.

Moreover, English is the lingua franca of diplomacy, business, science, technology, banking, computing, aviation, tourism and also the UN.

Spoken English is the norm in the best careers and the best universities. It’s also being used increasingly at job interviews. So like it or not, mastering the language pays high dividends in most sectors of the economy.

In terms of developing technology, English has been playing a prominent role in many areas, including medicine, engineering and, of course, education where use of the language is needed the most.

A major consideration for securing high-quality jobs nowadays is the ability to work in English. This comes essentially from acquiring a command of the language through the education system. It has been shown that multi-national companies generally employ graduates proficient in English.

Students who know English can access foreign websites through the Internet. The cornucopia of information flowing from the global system of interconnected computer network is mainly in English. Most of the softwares are also written in that language, hence making it virtually indispensible for worldwide communication.

To gain a competitive edge and excel in the era of globalisation, it is imperative for our students to acquire language skills.

Recognising the importance of such requirement, Public Health Assistant Minister Dr Jerip Susil said people who had knowledge of various languages, especially English, would find it easier to get jobs and work anywhere in the world.

Presenting 1Malaysia Book Vouchers at a college in Kuching at mid-week, he advised the students to improve their English not only through lessons in school but also by reading good books.

Dr Jerip urged them to cultivate the reading habit as it would help improve their English as well as broaden their knowledge, both of which are important not only for their schooling but also their future careers.

In an interview with a national tabloid lately, a former cabinet minister had called for a review of the education system.

“Make English compulsory in all national schools. Without English we cannot compete. We must insist on English as a second language,” he said.

According to him, it was not a mistake to change the medium of instruction from English to Bahasa Malaysia which is the language of the nation and of unity.

The mistake, he pointed out, was in the policies which were to promote Bahasa Malaysia but it had to be at the expense of English.

It’s fair to say the vast majority of Malaysians support the learning of English as a language that is universally recognised for its proven efficacy in the field of education, diplomacy and trade.

More crucially in the Malaysian context, the duality of fluency in the National Language and English will serve to propel the country towards an industrialised and high-income society by the year 2020 and beyond.