I do not support the postponement of English being a mandatory pass for the SPM examination by the Ministry of Education which was announced on Wednesday.
The reason given by the Board of Examination for the postponement is to give the teachers, students and all other parties involved to better prepare for it.
This baffles me because it seemed that everything was already in place to strengthen English in schools all around the country.
Under the Education Blueprint, steps had been taken such as giving training to English language teachers, having native speakers as teaching assistants, and more.
It sounded like everything was fine and dandy and moving along well. The English language was being given the importance that it deserved in our education system. But not anymore, I guess.
I can’t understand why this is being delayed. As it is, Malaysians are already so far behind because of the lack of proficiency in the main lingua franca of the world.
I am very passionate about education and have quite significant experience teaching undergraduates in both public and private universities and colleges.
In the public universities that I have taught in, I would roughly say that 70 percent of the students do not have even a basic level of English skills.
And although the medium of education is English, I would have to resort to speaking Bahasa Malaysia for most of the time I lectured so they would understand.
I have a few problems with this.
Firstly, a majority of new information, research material and data are in the English language. It is only natural because it s the main language medium of the world.
And when students do now have the necessary language skills to understand this material, they are at a disadvantage when it comes to their education.
Their world becomes so many times smaller than everyone else because their exposure to information and knowledge is so much more limited.
Yes, one can argue that there are countries and cultures that are weak in English but yet very advanced and knowledge such as South Korea and Japan.
But these are countries that have, for decades, been aggressively pursuing their own research and studies that they have even become leaders in certain fields of studies.
So much so that people from other countries are even clamouring and struggling to learn their languages so they can gain the knowledge. Has Malaysia achieved that level yet? I doubt it.
Then there is the issue with religion as perceived in Malaysia, in particularly Islam (another aspect of life that I am very passionate about).
Malaysians are so obsessed with the rituals of the religion such as how much area of the skin touches water during ablution or if the index finger moves too much during prayers.
If you notice, a lot of the local Islamic books in Bahasa Malaysia deal with topics like these.
This is a big difference compared to the rest of the progressive Muslim world who are discussing and debating much more significant and holistic issues of the religion.
They are having intellectual discourse on issues such as how best to interpret and adapt the religion to the current times which is so different than the time of the Prophet Muhammad.
And intellectual Muslim thinkers who are leading the way in this discourse, such as Tariq Ramadan and Ziauddin Sardar, are all using English as the language of communication.
So for Malaysians to move forward in the world, wouldn’t it be the wiser decision to empower Malaysians with English skills as soon as possible rather than later?