Not so easy to have English-medium schools

Kamal-Quadra-englisj-schoolPETALING JAYA: Federal minister Abdul Rahman Dahlan faces a number of hurdles in his push to reintroduce English-medium schools in Sabah, says a former Sabah education director.

Speaking to FMT, Kamal Quadra said the Education Act would first need to be tweaked so that English would be recognised as an official medium of instruction in the country.

He also spoke of the need to develop an English-based examination certificate. The certificate must be universally accepted to be viable, he added.

“What also needs to be determined is whether a new curriculum will be created for the English-medium schools or if we are to translate the existing curriculum, textbooks and so on.”

Another issue, Kamal said, was ensuring there were enough English-speaking teachers for such schools to be effective.

“If there aren’t enough, our current batch of teachers will have to be retrained as many would need to catch up with being fluent again in English. At the same time, we have to build up a pool of new English-speaking teachers.”

Kamal, who served as the state education director between 2000 and 2003, said it wasn’t just an issue of “software” but also “hardware”.

“Unless we are building new schools, existing facilities need to be identified so that Bahasa Malaysia and English classes can operate in tandem.

“What is also important is to decide whether we want to start from the kindergarten or primary school stage and progress through to high school and Form Six.”

Kamal noted that it took 13 years to convert the medium of instruction from English to Bahasa Malaysia and to gradually replace the Cambridge School Certificate with SPM.

He said the reintroduction of English-medium schools would also have implications on admission into public universities, which would need to be resolved.

He said he didn’t forsee such schools being set up in the immediate future because it would take time to lay the “legislative and political” groundwork.

The main challenge to the setting up of English-medium schools would be the cost factor, he said.

“Perhaps, for a start in Sabah, big companies operating in the state, like the government-linked companies and private plantations, can be invited to invest in districts outside Kota Kinabalu.”

Despite these challenges, he added, Rahman’s proposal deserved to be considered as it would give parents and students a choice.

Presently, he said private English-medium schools were beyond the means of even the average-income earners.

“Schooling in the English medium is only a start,” he added. “The environment to breed language proficiency is just as crucial, including at home, in the community, and later on in college and work.”

Recently, Rahman urged Putrajaya to allow Sabah to set up its own state-funded English-medium schools, saying he had already broached the subject with the prime minister, Sabah chief minister and his cabinet colleagues.

‘Let Sabah set up own state-funded English me­­dium schools’