(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.