Key to better English

Ten ways how we can re-introduce the language to key areas in the education system and raise standards.

IT’S really quite obvious why there has been a steady decline in the standard of English in the country over the years – basically, it has been replaced by Bahasa Malaysia, Manda­rin, and to a far lesser extent, Tamil, as a medium of instruction in primary schools.

Even in secondary schools, colleges and universities owned by the Government, Bahasa Malaysia is the predominant medium of instruction. In almost direct proportion to the improvement in standards of Bahasa Malaysia and Mandarin, one must expect a decline in English standards after decades of replacing English as the medium of instruction.

Simply put, English standards have declined simply because English is so little used among some sections of the country, and especially among rural folk. The only way to improve English standards is to improve usage.

Here are 10 ways to re-introduce English to key areas in the education system and to improve English standards generally.

1. Stress the importance of English. A recent survey by a networking group called Jaringan Me-layu Malaysia said that 55% of some 15,000 parents of school-going children in rural areas prefer Maths and Science to be taught in English in schools. Only 32% felt that teaching of the two subjects should go back to Bahasa Malaysia while 66% felt their children would be able to build a better future if the two subjects were taught in English. It’s clear that even the general populace now feels English is important.

It is time for the Government and its officials to recognise this, stress the importance of English and take concrete measures to ensure its rightful place in the curriculum.

2. Realise that it’s easier to keep up with knowledge using English. English is now the undisputed de facto language of knowledge in the world. Even those from other countries who have a history of strong know-how, publish their work in English. You need to know English to get to the primary source of information. It is impossible to translate this knowledge into Bahasa Malaysia or Mandarin.

3. Prepare to overcome objections from some quarters. When a change is proposed to reflect the importance of English in the educational system, it will only be natural that language champions will oppose these changes. But the overriding decision criteria should be whether such a change is beneficial to students and the country. It is strange how many language champions send their own children to international schools.

4. Don’t pander to parochial issues. We must avoid pandering to the voices of a vocal minority at the expense of the majority who are now prepared to see the usage of English widened by teaching some subjects in English.

Some pressure groups are notorious for turning the most innocuous issues into emotional ones. The Government must not fall into the trap they lay and be unwavering in its stance.

5. Have a uniform system for English education. It will be better that whatever system is used for improving English applies across the board to all schools whether national, religious or vernacular. That will avoid further polarisation of a fragmented education system which is posing serious questions over national unity.

6. Teach some core subjects in English. The best and easiest way to improve usage of English is to teach some core subjects in English starting with science and maths. This can be increased to more subjects such as economics, commerce, accounting and other specialised and technical subjects at a later stage.

7. Have the majority of tertiary courses in government universities taught in English. It should be a given from the change in the secondary school system that the science and mathematics courses in universities should be in English straight off. But serious consideration should be given to having more courses in English and making this the norm for post-graduate courses. That will make it easier for us to link with the worldwide knowledge diaspora.

by P. Gunasegaram.

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