PETALING JAYA: An education group says the downward spiral of English-language skills among teachers is now at a crisis level. It urged the government to stop pandering to politicians and Malay-language ultra-nationalists.
“If we continue pandering to them, the problem will not end,” said Tunku Munawirah Putra, secretary of the Parent Action Group for Education (PAGE).
She said the government needs to acknowledge that teachers lack English proficiency.
While the Malay language was crucial to unify different backgrounds and as a common identity, proficiency in Malay should not come at the expense of weakening English.
Munawirah was responding to remarks by the Malaysian Employers Federation’s executive director Shamsuddin Bardan, that the poor command of English among many Bumiputera graduates was the main reason they found it hard to get jobs in the private sector, which accounts for more than 90% of jobs in the country.
Munawirah said officials in Putrajaya should look at the efforts by Thailand to improve English-language skills by hiring 10,000 English native teachers. “That is how serious Thailand is,” she said, adding that Malaysia needs to have plans and a road map to overcome this problem.
She called for the establishment of English-medium schools in every state to produce English language teachers, adding that Malay-medium schools will not produce adequate English teachers. “It is not going to happen,” she said.
She hoped the government will expand on the Dual Language Programme to increase contact time for English in schools.
Lack of political will to make reforms, says ex-principal
V Chakaravarthy, an outspoken retired secondary school principal, says that poor English standards in schools have persisted for years.
“They’re not interested in proper structure, like verbs, nouns, adjectives and adverbs, they’re more interested in how people talk. The problem is, some of the Bumiputera students think in Bahasa and do a direct translation into English, and that doesn’t work,” he told FMT.
He says that schoolchildren should not take on any blame. Instead, it is the system around them that has pushed English to the margins, much to the students’ detriment.
He says the lack of reform in English-language teaching is political as “(politicians) want to play to the gallery so that when elections come they can say ‘we believe in Bahasa’.
“Of course we all believe in Bahasa, and want it as our national language, but we are against the deterioration of English teaching in schools,” he added.
Changes should be made immediately to ensure future graduates are more proficient, and he called for English literature to be made a more prominent part of English-language classes.
Sarawak pushes on despite lack of federal funding
Sarawak’s assistant minister for education, Annuar Rapaee, said his state insisted on carrying on with the teaching of science and mathematics in English, a programme known as PPSMI.
“What MEF is saying is not new, we know this is a longstanding problem especially in the private sector,” he said. “If we fail to respond to the needs and demands of the industry, we are not giving them the incentive to come here.”
He said Sarawak not only recognised English as an official language, “we are also spending a lot of resources on PPSMI, because we know our children will be the biggest beneficiaries”.
Annuar said Sarawak had spent nearly RM10 million to develop the modules, print textbooks and workbooks, and to train teachers and provide them with supporting materials. Putrajaya does not provide any allocation for Sarawak’s PPSMI programme.