KUALA LUMPUR: A former senior education ministry official says Prime Minister Najib Razak had supported the use of English when he was education minister but seems to have backtracked since taking over the leadership of the nation.
Khazanah Nasional Berhad adviser and consultant (education) Satinah Syed Saleh recalled how Najib was so much into English previously.
“He was very open and stated clearly that ‘we have to learn the language’.
“However, as a prime minister, he is not doing anything about it. Maybe he is afraid of losing the general election,” she said at a forum titled “Malaysian Education: Where Are We Heading” here last night.
Also present were Centre for Global Affairs (ICON) president Abdul Razak Baginda and former youth parliamentarian Mohsen Alkaff.
Satinah is a proponent of bringing back English-medium schools, which she says is possible, but is hampered by a lack of political will.
Satinah said the cabinet had once rejected the proposal to bring back English-medium schools.
“In my opinion it was a political decision. They were not ready to bring back English. It has to do with politicians.
“In some states they are supposed to be very patriotic. You must speak Malay, use the language to show your love for the country, which is definitely not very true,” said Satinah, who was previously the director of the private education division at the education ministry.
She said another obstacle to the reintroduction of English-medium schools is that there are not enough teachers.
“It is one of the biggest obstacles, because all teachers have been trained in Bahasa Malaysia,” Satinah said.
Razak concurred with Satinah, stating that what the country lacked was strong leadership.
“There’s also the issue of the so-called nationalists, and the ultra nationalists, who play the zero sum game.
“They say if you learn English you become less of a Malay. The irony is that they probably send their children to private schools and fight for scholarships to the United Kingdom and American universities.
“But here, they say the people should not learn English. We should bring these people to task,” Razak said, adding however, that the problem is that people don’t want to confront them.
Razak, who was a former political analyst and close associate to Prime Minister Najib Razak, also lamented the lack of strong leadership in the country to tackle the issue.
“We think education is a minefield. Education is not a minefield. Why can’t we confront the nationalists?
“We lack strong leaders, who would confront the nationalists,” he said.
Razak reiterated the call to take the leaders to task, and said that parties such as Umno and PKR will not bring up the issue, as they have their constituents to deal with.
“We Malaysians can confront but we do not. It is up to us Malaysians. Do not blame the government,” he said.
‘Bahasa Melayu won’t get us anywhere’
Razak stressed the importance of English in the globalised scenario and how being inward looking will not benefit the country nor the people.
“Bring back the English language. I tell you why. Bahasa Melayu will not get us anywhere in this world. It is true. I am an employer.
“If you cannot converse in English, no matter how clever you are you cannot impart your knowledge to the person. They cannot even string a proper sentence, so you don’t have high regard for them,” he said.
Meanwhile, Satinah said the ultimate losers in this lack of emphasis on the importance of English in our education system will be the Malays in the rural areas.
“Many parents in the urban areas can send their children to international or private schools, but the Malays in the rural areas, who are not given the opportunity to learn the language properly, are the ones who will suffer.
“It begs the question. Who are the ones who are really committing treason? They are depriving our children to learn what they are supposed to be learning in preparing to be global citizens,” she asked.
Recently, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Abdul Rahman Dahlan repeated his support for English-medium schools, calling for parents and other stakeholders to voice out if they wanted the same.
Rahman said this in response to research published recently by the Yusof Ishak Institute at the Singapore-based Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (Iseas), that most Johor parents want English-medium schools for their children in the southern state.
“I am a firm believer in English schools. However, everyone has different views on how such a school should be set up.
“Discussions on the issue of English-medium schools will never end. It could even become a political issue,” he was quoted as saying.
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