Malaysian students unable, unwilling to speak up, says IDEAS


KUALA LUMPUR: Students across the country are still unable or unwilling to speak at all, let alone in English, according to the Institute For Democracy And Economic Affairs (IDEAS).

Its founding president Tunku Zain Al-‘Abidin Tuanku Muhriz said based on his observation during speaking engagements at educational institutions, including government secondary schools, as well as public and private universities, Malaysian students were still not confident enough to speak up, particularly in English.

“In general, I try to engage them (students) in matters of great importance, for example what it means to have independent check-and-balance institutions and how these institutions are supposed to work…

“It’s not just the content of their knowledge that is of concern, but also the way they express themselves about these institutions and concepts.

“These are problems that can persist throughout the entire education journey of a young Malaysian citizen.

“Often, identity politics in the form of racial and religious polarisation can make that journey even more fractured and make national cohesion ever more difficult,” he said at the annual English Speaking Union of Malaysia (Esu Malaysia) luncheon talk held here today.

Present were Esu Malaysia chairman Tunku Dara Tunku Naquiah Tuanku Ja’afar and Esu Malaysia deputy chairman Raja Arshad Raja Tun Uda.

Tunku Zain Al-‘Abidin highlighted that due to this situation, “the English language is suffering, both as a result of explicit language policies, as well as indirectly because of the impact of policy decisions in other areas”.

Shamefully, in some classrooms in Malaysia today, he said students made fun of their peers who spoke English, precisely because they saw it as an attempt to appear superior or elitist.

“In some parts of the country, it will require a new mindset to emerge before English is celebrated as a language to promote human achievement,” he said.

He also stressed that as much as speaking English was important for economic and diplomatic reasons, it was more important for Malaysians to speak English as a language of culture “with the same qualities of ‘sopan’ and ‘adat’ that early English-speaking travellers had first observed of Malay speakers in this region”.

“If that happens, even in these tough geopolitical times, I am confident that the objective would be much more easily achieved,” he said.