It’s doubtful that any reasonable Malaysian would deny that the state of English language proficiency among us is atrocious. We are rapidly approaching the point where parents speak better English than their children. You can imagine the wonders that does for our competitiveness on the world stage.
It’s clear that we need to implement a comprehensive plan to raise the English proficiency level in this county, at least among the young. And we need a plan that doesn’t get changed with every election cycle.
Unfortunately, as Deputy Education Minister P Kamalanathan revealed recently, about 15,000 of Malaysia’s 60,000 English teachers are not adequately equipped to teach the subject. It appears that these teachers were trained to teach other subjects, such as mathematics or science or history, but the schools they join happen to have a glut of teachers in those subjects and a shortage of English teachers. So, a teacher who’s supposed to teach chemistry, for instance, ends up teaching English.
That situation can start a vicious cycle. There are not enough English teachers, so teachers who are not trained to teach English teach it, producing hundreds if not thousands of students who can’t use the language properly. Some of these students will eventually become teachers, and they might have to teach English, producing students with an even more pitiful command of the language. It gets rather comical, and certainly more than a little sad.
Our standards have fallen to pathetic levels and yet the ministry is still sending these teachers out to teach English without equipping them with the necessary skills. Perhaps the severity of the situation is not yet apparent enough, but will soon be as we try to catch up with a rapidly advancing world.
The Education Ministry must take aggressive steps to solve this problem, even if it has to come down to importing teachers from countries where the standard of English is excellent. We have to do something and do it quickly. Or else, we’ll be raising generations of Malaysians that can’t hold their own on the world stage.