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Monday, October 31, 2011

Selfish Muhyiddin has made the biggest blunder for Malaysia

Selfish Muhyiddin has made the biggest blunder for Malaysia

Parents are too eager to have their children educated in English, and if given the choice and opportunity they would readily choose countries where English is used to teach such as, the United Kingdom, United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand or Singapore. There are many other countries where education is in English, such as India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, the Philippines, South Africa and many other former British colonies.

Why English when the native language of the people is perceived as not English? Linguistically this depends on the definition of the lexis "native." There are many countries in the world where the mother tongue may be one thing but the language of education could be English. Three cases that come readily to our mind are Singapore, India and Pakistan.

Most university students from countries like Malaysia, Singapore, Pakistan, Bangladesh South Africa, Botswana, El Salvador, Papua New Guinea, Jamaica, Kenya, Liberia, Philippines and Rwanda taking their degrees in English speaking countries would often claim that English is their mother tongue.

English is a language that is growing in popularity. Because of the domineering European economies over the decades (this includes the US, Britain and other European countries), English has become the language of business, international trade and law, information technology, the sciences and communication. As more countries and peoples adopt and speak English, it becomes more difficult to determine whether or not it is not their mother tongue or native language.

None is more important than the English language

In India, for instance, all education is given in English and people read and write in English (or English variant, as they term it linguistically) although they claim Hindi or some other language as their mother tongue. Linguistic studies show that most often English is used consistently whereas the mother tongue is used rarely in this country at the tertiary level of life such as in business, international relations and education. Even English is chosen for writing, as more often that not they are not comfortable in writing in their mother tongue because they do not have any specific vocational needs to do so.

The success of this 'Indian Education Policy' could perhaps be inferred by the content of an address of Manmohan Singh, the Prime Minister of India:

“Of all the legacies of the Raj, none is more important than the English language and the modern school system. That is, of course, if you leave out cricket! Of course, people here may not recognise the language we speak, but let me assure you that it is English! In indigenising English, as so many people have done in so many nations across the world, we have made the language our own. Our choice of prepositions may not always be the Queen’s English; we might occasionally split the infinitive; and we may drop an article here and add an extra one there. I am sure everyone will agree, nevertheless, that English has been enriched by Indian creativity as well and we have given you back R.K. Narayan and Salman Rushdie. Today, English in India is seen as just another Indian language.”

The farsighted Minister of Education

Pakistan is another case in point. In 2008, 18 colleges of the city in Pakistan were planned to be made "Model English Medium Colleges." The farsighted Minister of Education, Shujaat Ali Beg, once said:

“English is spoken all over the world and, in order to compete, Pakistan would have to introduce the extensive usage of the language in all its colleges. These colleges will be made to adopt English as the medium of instruction. All the subjects at the college, except Urdu and Islamiyat, will be taught in English. In the initial phase of its effort in this regard, the government has decided to declare 18 colleges as English medium and, with the passage of time, this practice would be adopted in other colleges, too. This practice would be followed in government schools of the province. An English proficiency test would be made mandatory for all students and those failing to qualify would not be awarded degrees by colleges. ”

The Government of Pakistan introduced English lessons on a phased basis to all schools across the country. This new policy states that, English language has been made compulsory from Class-1 onwards and the introduction of English as medium of instruction for science, mathematics, computer science and other selected subjects like economics and geography in all schools.

Even in Bangladesh the system of education is divided into three different branches. Students are free to choose anyone of them - English Medium, Bengali Medium or Religious Branch. In the English Medium system, courses are all taught in English using English books with the exception for Bengali and Arabic.

In Malaysia, however it has been a flip-flop policy since independence. The country had English medium schools before and since independence and this was abolished in the late 60s. English was brought back in the 2003 to be used to teach the sciences but the policy would not continue after 2012. This indecisiveness makes Malaysia the only country in the post-war world that has no clear vision in its education policy.

We have to master English

Former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad who introduced the PPSMI (Pelaksanaan Pengajaran dan Pembelajaran Sains dan Matematik dalam Bahasa Inggeris) in 2003 had an understandable vision for the country on this matter but it has failed to materialise after only 9 years of implementation. Of late, he appositely mentioned a few pertinent matters relating to the use of English to teach the sciences in schools, although he was too late to realise that the Malay language could not compete with English in the sciences domain - despite he being at the helm for 22 years:

“Most parents are in favour of English being used to teach the sciences in English. When we expose students to the sciences in English we are not teaching them English but making them become familiar with scientific English terms and lexis right from young. This would help them at the tertiary level. Pursuing scientific knowledge in English cannot be matched using the Malay language as the latter is inherently not a language for the sciences. Information throughout the world is fed to the people through English and translating all of this into Malay is almost impossible. We just cannot cope with the volume. Translating needs skills in English and Malay. When we are not skilful in English, there is no way translation can be done. Ironically, those who are against the move to use English to teach the sciences are those who studied literature and not the sciences. To seek knowledge in the sciences and become competitive we have to master English. When English is ignored our people will be less competitive. Malaysians would be left behind.”

The PPSMI incurred over RM5 billion of taxpayers’ money only to see it culminating to the announcement of the policy's reversal in 2012 by the present administration. Critics may say that some of those countries adopting English in their education system are poor despite using English as the medium of instruction in schools and universities. But they fail to figure out that it is not the language here that makes those countries poor but the value systems they accede or adhere to that have made them not progress much. The fact however remains that countries like India, Pakistan and the Philippines have produced many scientists, intellectuals and professional expertise who are working in all parts of the world. The English language has always become their asset. Malaysians in general could not match these achievements of theirs.

Forget about creating another Steve Jobs or Bill Gates

Critics may also say that some these countries are not developed despite the use of English for education. But these are the countries that have produced many profesional expatriates, IT experts and scientists working in developed counties today. How many of our expatriates are working overseas as compared to those from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Myanmar and the Philippines? For this reason, Hong Kong has retained the use of English in its education system. China is opening up and today there are courses in the sciences offered in English by universities in China. Even Japan, South Korea and Thailand are giving focus on English.

As for the Japanese and South Koreans, they are totally of different class and breed. Malaysians in general cannot equate themselves with these creative people. They are inherently the innovative type. When they are the producers and creators we Malaysians are generally the end users. We are merely consumers of goods produced by them and we shall remain this way for many more decades to come. The country cannot even produce a car engine of its own despite having a national car industry for many years. Forget about creating another Steve Jobs or Bill Gates when education is not liberalised and catered to the varied talents of its people. Our education system does not emphasise on thinking, creativity and innovation. Added to this is that it is very much politicised. We are taught to grow up with a feudal mind set and to accept things as they are as part of the people’s psyche. Too many feudal stipulations in our system are making our students bogged down with passivity. They are not encouraged to think, question or criticise. Neither does it allow critical and creative learning. At the moment we cannot match the Japanese or the Koreans when it comes this aspect of life. Their success has nothing to do with the language used in education.

Our flawed education system

70 percent of what children learn in school today are irrelevant to the thinking process. They cater more for rote-learning, memory exercise for examinations and emotive aspects of life. Most Malaysians go to school with the hope that they would be employed by others and the government of the day has even set the precedence by having over 1.3 million employed as civil servants. That much is education worth in the country. Students who have acumen in certain specific areas are not honed right from young but made to study subjects that they have no interest in. They would rather drop out from schools and get into some domains that they have interest in. In fact, many non-schooled people in our society have made it in life.

Not allowing English to be used to teach the sciences in school is another setback in our education system. Education for the masses is not a matter for a single person to decide on. Politicians should be responsive to the request from the people and should not decide unilaterally on this matter which most parents and students consider very crucial for their future. Their political considerations should not override the people’s thirst for English education. The parents or the voters have the right to decide what is best for their children.

A point to note is that those students – about 25 percent – are those who would eventually go for tertiary education and they are those who need English the most. This quadrant of students are those who would one day become the prime movers in determining the business, political and the economical landscape of the country.

Research has shown that students in Malaysia would not attempt to learn English seriously if it taught in isolation as opposed to having subjects taught in the language. When English is taught in isolation students have been found to have less motivation to acquire it.

The billions of ringgit spent on programmes to teach English as a subject in isolation, employing foreigners to teach English and adding more hours to teach English are not going to be effective. The effective way to grasp the language is by having English used across the curriculum or by having subjects taught in English.

Politicians should stop twisting research facts

Research has also shown that 23 percent of Malaysians who are exposed to English and speak English at home would consider English as their native language. They need a school just like those existing vernacular schools to have their children to be taught in English. Denying them this privilege is not fair and undemocratic. In fact, they would want English to be the medium of instruction throughout their education.

Politicians should stop twisting research facts on the use of English to teach the sciences. This to the academics is an intellectual crime. Being a body that also looks into the sensitivity of the people throughout the world, UNESCO, have to promote mother tongue-based bilingual or multilingual approaches in education. UNESCO has not specifically mentioned that only mother-tongue language has shown positive impact on learning and learning outcomes. The reason is that many countries have adopted foreign languages in their teaching processes. It works and this does not exclude the use of English if a nation decides to opt for it. In other words, UNESCO asserts that bilingual or multilingual approaches work in most countries. Research shows that this has positive impact on learning and learning outcomes – citing European countries, India, Pakistan, the Philippines, Singapore, Hong Kong have adopted English to be their medium to teach in schools and universities.

Thus based on this premise what parents desire now is for the country to give students a choice to learn the sciences in English. No single person should decide the future of out children and nation. Education policy cannot be the privilege of a few elected politicians to work on. Education is a basic right of the people and they have a say on what they desire most for their children.

A country cannot have a native language

The decision to switch back to Bahasa Malaysia the teaching of the sciences, beginning 2012, has drawn criticism from the public. Many feel that it is not the right thing to do, citing political interests overriding genuine needs of the people. Some who supported this move have even cited that English is not a native language of the people in the country.

Less we forget, some countries have more than one official language and English might be considered one of them. The issue now is that it is true that English is spoken as a native language in many countries with non-English roots, including Malaysia. A country cannot have a native language, only the people could have native languages. Most educated people in the country consider English as their native language (the one they start to hear from their parents as soon as they are born) but many people in the country actually have some other birth language.

Thus English is a native language in any country where anyone speaks it, as for this reason English would be a native language in practically every country of the world today. Today, not all Malays, Chinese and Indians speak their mother tongue. English is widely used by most Malaysians at home and there are many who would prefer their children to learn the sciences – if not all subjects - in the English language.

They would even prefer if their children were to be totally educated in English. Not having a choice, they have to send their children elsewhere - especially to private schools. For this reason, the country has allowed the establishment of international schools and many well-to-do parents prefer their children to be educated at these schools. The well-off also have their children educated in English speaking countries. Unfortunately, only a privileged few could afford to do so. The majority, who aspire to have their children’s education conducted in English but do not have the means, are deprived of this opportunity unless they could secure a scholarship. Not many could be lucky, though.

It seems, to please all groups of people, it would be a good idea if students are given a choice to study in whatever language stream they wish. The political formula in the country is unique in the sense that vernacular languages are allowed in its education system. If the use of languages is so liberalised, why not include English then?

This would undeniably stop parents from censuring the Government for scrapping the policy that allowed the sciences to be taught in English. Politicising education would not benefit the people in the long run. Let this be a reminder to Barisan National or Pakatan Rakyat before they start facing the wrath of the people in the next general election. Education should never be politicised by both the coalitions.

Voters have the right to protest

Where are most of our ministers’ children studying? Where are the rich sending their children to? In local national or vernacular schools and universities? Are the children of the rich and famous educated in private schools and also in English-speaking countries. Why must the ordinary people be deprived of this opportunity? Why the double standard here? Are we promoting an elitist group in the country?

Those well-heeled parents, including ministers, are sending their children to English speaking countries to be educated. Many others are sending their children to private schools as they have the financial means to do so. They value education and they are aware that education in English is still the best option for them. How about those middle-class parents and the poor who do not have the financial means but have the desire to have their children educated in English? They are the ones who are going to be disappointed most with all this flip-flop education policy we have. The voters in the country would definitely have the right to protest.

Malaysia Chronicle

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