Switch to English Medium

(Published in the Star on November 19, 2008)

I refer to Wong Chun Wai’s column on November 16, whereby I feel compelled to voice out my opinion in tandem with the issues raised by the Star Group Chief Editor.

I could not agree more with Wong’s apt observation about our students fairing badly in entrance examinations in the UK and US. On the other hand, our graduates also perform poorly at job interviews. It is disheartening to learn that these two issues plague the very fabric of our growing nation.

The quality of students and graduates – produced by our local schools and higher learning institutions – depends largely on the education system of our country. If our students, who scored string of distinctions in their Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia, but performed badly in the college entrance exams, it is time for us to realise that our education system fails to nurture its students to gain entry at prestigious institutions in the UK and US.

I am of the view that one of the cogent reasons behind this plight is the medium of language used in our schools. I struggled beyond comprehension during the switch of medium from a local boarding school – where every subject except English, was taught in Bahasa Melayu – to A-Level Program where everything was taught in English.

It is hardly about the student’s ability to stomach the contents of the syllabus in college entrance exams; it is simply the language transition. It halts the student’s speed of comprehension thus slowing his or her progress in coping with the syllabus. The result, more often than not, would be catastrophic.

The laudable effort by the Education Ministry to teach Science and Mathematics in English needs a dose of reality check. By mixing the two languages, we end up having students who are not proficient in neither Bahasa Melayu nor English. In addition thereto, the teachers are also not predisposed to teach the two dreary subjects in English.

Therefore, I recommend the education ministry to consider teaching all subjects – with the exception of Bahasa Melayu – in English. After your SPM, there is hardly a reference book in Bahasa Melayu for everything is written in English. English is your window to the world. Being fluent in English does not mean disrespect to Bahasa Melayu. I also urge all quarters to stop politicising the use of English at our schools for the sake of our children’s future. Prior to switching the medium to English, the Education Ministry must first train to the teachers to be fluent in English to avoid possible frustration and rejection.

Education Ministry must also ensure the quality of the teachers assigned to grow young Malaysians. Dedication and interest alone will not be sufficient to motivate the teachers. Higher remuneration and perks, too, play an integral role to motivate the teachers and to entice graduates to enter the teaching force.

Our high-achievers could not browse through the classical work of Shakespeare and understand the poetry world of Robert Frost with ease, if Bahasa Malaysia is your first language. Bahasa Melayu is a young and developing language, a progress of which could be deeply enriched, if our aspiring poets and writers could gain a pointer or two from English literature.

Even in our courtroom, there is a signage which reads, “Sila Guna Bahasa Kebangsaan,” displayed right across the bench. To me, it is a blatant disregard to the signage, when in reality, most of the senior counsels and judges converse only in English. But who could blame them when all law reports, references and judgments are written in English? It is ridiculous to translate everything just for the sake of using Bahasa Kebangsaan.

The strength of our economic pillar relies heavily on human capital. In short, the kind of graduate our education system produces would – from all different perspectives – adversely or positively affects the economic progress of our nation. Sadly now, as pointed out by the columnist, 60,000 unmarketable graduates remain unemployed due to their lack of fluency in English and social skills.

It is time to go back to English for the sake of our future.


14 thoughts on “Switch to English Medium

  1. Strong view. I like your articulation. I hope the policy makers take the functional and economic view on this matter and, not doctrinal and polemical political nonsense that has seriously veered this business of Malaysian education way off course. It has affected over one generation of Malaysians.

  2. Elviza, English is a must if Malaysian want to progress. The reason is simple in that other then Mandarin, English is the only language of knowledge that we have in this country. BM is a new language and still a communicative language, thus it takes time, maybe another 100 years or so to become a language of knowledge but we do not have the luxury of time for that. So the best is for us to use Mandarin or English.

    Do not try to compare like saying if the Japanese and the Korean language could do it why can’t BM. The reason is that both the Japanese and the Korean language is an extension of the Mandarin and all these languages are 5000 years old, so is the Anglo Saxon language which English is one of it has a history of 2000 years. BM is just 51 years old. Just visit any book stores in the country you could hardly find any books of knowledge in BM but thousand and thousand of books in English, Mandarin and Japanese. So how do we get knowledge in science and technology which is changing fast and the Internet at the speed of light without the reading materials?

    I have been fighting hard to get the English school back. Why can’t we have a Sekolah Kebangsaan Jenis English like we do with Mandarin and Tamil. Sekolah Kebangsaan would still be the national school. No one is questioning this. It is stated that Malay should be the National language we all have accepted it.

    I am from a generation who got educated in an English School. Today I could not only read and write in English but in BM as well. I am as patriotic as ever. So folks wake up and get the authority to reintroduce English school, one more medium stream, the English medium would do more good for the future of our society. If Malaysian want to progress they must acquire the English Language. Stop relating national unity or patriotism with BM. All Malaysian that I know are patriotic as ever.

    It is said that China is going to produce 200 million English graduate in one generation, so why is it so difficult for the authority to see that the future of Malaysian depend on be knowledgeable and with that maybe able to produce thinker which is so lacking in Malaysia. It is a common knowledge that Malay language graduates are not marketable. So what are we waiting for. Just introduce a English Medium and the rest would just be easy.

    Have a nice day.

    [Note: I wrote almost the same comment in a discussion with Ruby Ahmad recently]

  3. “…60,000 unmarketable graduates remain unemployed due to their lack of fluency in English and social skills.”

    a nice piece here.and i do agree with you.the problems with our students is that they seems to be weak in english.eventhough there are those who master and can communicate in english well but most of them are from the urban ares.what about the kids in rural areas?.

    rural area kids are quite weak because of their surroundings.in urban areas,it’s common to hear anyone to converse in english unlike in the kampungs.kids in rural areas have limited usage of english.the only chance i think for them to learn english is at school or watching english movies/songs.

    i’m myself still on the pursue to get better in english.i’m considered ok since i can speak and write quite well in english (eventhough there are errors here and there).but i have witness those who aren’t good in english and feel left out in a conversation.one thing that i can see with empowering ourself with english language is that it helps to built a more confident character in ourself.

  4. This is based on my own experience during a job interview Ma’am. So they told us, a bunch of fresh-just outta U-nervous like hell aspirants, to enter the board room, two at a time. So this girl I was with, couldn’t even talk.

    Mind you I was told that she allegedly was ‘The one’, the best candidate based on her freakin’ resume; much to my infuriation. So yeah. Like you said, ‘…remain unemployed due to their lack of fluency in English and social skills’. It’s so so true.

  5. After trawling the blogosphere, you cannot help noticing there are so many full time housewives or retired Malaysians who are proficient in English, and our Government should tap their resources to enhance the teaching of English in schools, by giving them sufficient incentives.

  6. Elviza, I wrote a complete opposite of what you stated here. I have to admit, you have the upper hand 😉

    In reality I do support English as medium, just as long as the teachers don’t go “first you disturb-disturb the water” (pertama, awak kacau-kacau sebatian). It’s ok by me.

    Someone by the name of Nazri commented on my blog,

    I’m not trying to woo your clients away, at some point I think he is right.

  7. Maam,

    Can I ask you a question?

    If the education system in this country is rotten and you are in the group of those who can afford to send your precious child to private school, sadly, you have no right to fight the issue.

    The government school is only for the averaged Joe like me. From your writing, you had soared to be privileged from the system you criticized.

    You and your friends have a choice to pick which school for your kids, whereas the poor just have to stuck it with whatever shoved to them.

    Its easy to have a point of view when you can afford it.

    Sad, but true.

  8. Dear Elviza,
    I can’t help it but I have to respond to your post. A subject that is dear to my heart and has been my profession for 20 years. I see a decline in the command of English across the board. So much so that even the new English teachers in our system (not MOE) are those who have limited proficiency! And these are the graduates with English degrees. Imagine that. How are our students going to be proficient in the language when their own teachers aren’t? Perhaps I digress from your intended point but I think this is indeed a serious issue when English teachers go to class and say things like..’thats mean’, ‘I has given the you many homeworks to make you write good English.’ So for damage control… I have to conduct courses to help these teachers improve their personal command of English. And yet, after 2 or three courses they don’t show any inprovement. They do not feel the need to improve because they are already English teachers. During an interview with a potential teacher I asked,” On a scale of 1 to 10, ten being the best, how do you rate yourself in English?”…”Oh, I am a 10!”… “Are you saying you speak like a native spaeaker?”…. “Oh yes, I am a native.”….Sigh…. It’s an uphill battle. I’m sorry if I have used your space to lament. But I needed an outlet. : )

  9. Elviza, I’ve watched you talking yesterday night on TV but I choose to talk to you on Switch to English Medium…err…anyway I like Qalam Malam as its better for me to understand the life of and culture of Bahasa Melayu rather than I have to translate all the words of Night Pen into English.
    All the languages have enough strenght to be “bahasa ilmu” including bahasa Melayu. But not all administration have enough power to strenghten the language as “bahasa ilmu”.
    Do you know why the Kerajaan Malaysia changed Maths and Science into English? Because they do not want to think how to upgrade the quality and that is mean lazy, beside their sub-people want to gain additional project in short term.
    Why don’t someone think how to upgrade Enlish language syllabus beside turning to reverse 39 years back. Why can’t English having additional syllabus by add Technology English as part of the syllabus rather than took out Science and Maths from Technology English and enter the sales shop, and tell the teachers…hey, please improve your English in writing, speaking, and marking paper.
    English is good as English is an International language. No…i do not agreed with Pak Idrus. For information for you to know Elviza, Bahasa Melayu was on top of the world and being a lingua franca via international world language for around 100 years at 14th to 15th century. Europe, China, Middle East countries, South Asia countries, and of course South East Asia countries, they all speak Malay, they deal trade and business in Malay…well known with “tulisan Jawi”…even you can find Jawi, the only writing in the world stamped together at the Mekah or Madinah mosques.
    Elviza, another thing at to the advantages is Bahasa Melayu is at the world’s ranking number 1 as The Most Easiest Language (in term of conversation and writing).
    They called Bahasa Melayu not Bahasa Malaysia.
    Malaysia is country name…Melayu is a race.
    Bahasa Jiwa Bangsa.

  10. Assalamualaikum wbth puan,

    Selepas membaca pandangan puan dan komen pengunjung, saya terpanggil untuk memberi pandangan saya yang tersendiri.

    Isu yang penting untuk diperhatikan ialah soal kedudukan dan martabat Bahasa Melayu, sebagai khazanah bangsa dan kepentingannya sebagai bahasa ilmu.

    Puan nampaknya tidak memikirkan tentang nasib KESELURUHAN anak bangsa kita. Puan bercakap atas pengalaman yang puan alami, iaitu kesukaran puan apabila melanjutkan pelajaran di peringkat A-Level, iaitu program persediaan sebelum ke luar negara. Saya tidak setuju jika hujahnya ialah kerana subjek Sains dan Matematik tidak diajar dalam Bahasa Inggeris. Isunya ialah pengajaran dalam subjek Bahasa Inggeris adalah lemah.

    Jika puan teliti betul-betul, adakah kaedah pengajaran subjek Bahasa Inggeris di sekolah membolehkan anak-anak kita menguasai Bahasa Inggeris? Orientasi pengajaran yang bersifat exam-oriented, disamping anak-anak tidak dilatih membaca bahan-bahan bacaan bergred (graded reading) dan pelbagai lagi. Menurut Prof Ungku Aziz, sekurang-kurangnya 2 jam seminggu, anak-anak perlu diajar membaca buku dalam bahasa Inggeris (menurut tahap dan bahan bacaan yang sesuai dengan umur mereka). Tapi adakah ini berlaku di sekolah? Saya telah melaluinya dan saya nampak apa masalah akarnya.

    Isu yang perlu ditekankan ialah bagaimana mahu meningkatkan penguasaan dalam Bahasa Inggeris. Selagimana kaedah pengajaran dalam Bahasa Inggeris tidak diperbaiki oleh KPM, walaupun subjek Sains dan Matematik diajar dalam Bahasa Inggeris sekalipun, anak-anak kita tetap tidak boleh menguasai Bahasa Inggeris dengan baik.

    Mengapa perlu menggunakan Bahasa Melayu sebagai bahasa pengantar subjek Sains dan Matematik?

    Kerana penggunaannya akan membolehkan Bahasa Melayu berkembang sebagai bahasa ilmu dan seterusnya memperkayakan perbendaharaan kata Bahasa Melayu. Perbuatan meminggirkan Bahasa Melayu, hanya akan menyebabkan Bahasa Melayu hilang peranannya.

    Bukan sahaja Bahasa Melayu perlu diajar di sekolah, malah perlu dijadikan bahasa pengantar di universiti, sebagai suatu bentuk kesinambungan. Bagi mereka yang terpilih memasuki A-Level walaupun mendapat A1 dalam Bahasa Inggeris pada peringkat SPM, tetapi sukar mengadaptasi, bermakna mungkin A1 itu tidak mencerminkan penguasaannya yang sebenar dalam sistem exam oriented.

    Saya sarankan anda rujuk juga hujah2 di http://bahazain.blogspot.com dan http://kesturi.net

  11. Errmm..”the classical work of Shakespeare” aint his dear!

    Didnt anyone tell ya that Shakespeare was an illiterate? Even his daughter?! Both never been schooled.

    Hahah! Only 4 of his signature exist..Nope, no handwrtten scrip,,no maam, even his hand was guided when he signed his will on the deathbed, they say.

    So who wrote all those clever stories yeah? Why.. the one that got well rounded education at that period of time of coz = the bastard son of “Virgin” QE1 – Francis Bacon himself!

    > same smart guy who authored the King James Version of the Anglican Bible that was just formed by his Granddad Henry .. this one of coz evey one knows

  12. Hi Elviza. You mentioned of your ‘struggle’ during the switch of medium from a local boarding school (MRSM I believe)to A-Level Program. I’m glad that you did well at the end. My point is it all depends on your resourcefulness and adaptability. I too went what you went through but I don’t remember it being an extreme struggle. And there are countless others from MRSM/sekolah kebangsaan background switching from Malay to English at the local prep college who went on to achieve greatness in their degrees (local or overseas). Hendak seribu daya.

    And I dont think there’s any problem appreciating the works of Shakespeare, Blake, Burns, Chaucer etc if Bahasa Melayu is your first language, provided of course you have a good grasp of the English language. What I am trying to say is that you don’t have to sacrifice Bahasa Melayu (e.g. eliminate the usage of Malay as a medium in schools) to be good in English.

    I think the root of the problem is the quality of English teachers in schools. The teaching profession is increasingly being deemed as ‘uncool’ and those fluent in English especially are shying away from it for other professions with better salaries. Until this issue is tackled, I am afraid we will never get the problems solved.

    Anyway, more people should be like you; fluent and eloquent in both english and malay. I especially like your sajak about Luqman.


  13. I really enjoy reading both your writing and the comments made. I was from a sekolah kebangsaan, did my A-levels and went off to UK to pursue my degree. I didn’t remember a time when english was a struggle for me in school. English comes easy for me partly due to my family conversing in a rojak mix of english and malay since childhood as well as my love for books. Reading helps immensely with my english comprehension and building up my vocab. But then again, grammar and such is definitely not my forte, even until now.

    But yes, the quality of english teachers in school should be upgraded. I’ve been taught by teachers who shouldn’t be a teacher even, let alone teach english to impressionable youngsters. Its irresponsible act to say the least by the administrator and the teachers themselves to be in that authoritative position.

    And yes, its easier to debate a motion or conduct a trial in english because the malay jargon for court process are words we don’t usually use in our daily lives. I think it is similar to other professions as well.

    There’s currently a movement advocating a simpler plain english for use. Perhaps we could have the same thing for Bahasa Melayu?

    Just my 20 sen.

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