English proficiency: Let’s defend DLP

azimah-dlp-1By Noor Azimah Abdul Rahim

The new academic year will begin soon for primary and secondary schools. The general election is also around the corner. School-going children number approximately 4.7 million while their parents are an important vote bank.

Wave 2 of the Malaysia Education Blueprint 2013-2025 (MEB) states that as far as the English language is concerned, an approach to enhance its proficiency is required. Thus, as initiated by the Economic Council and led by the prime minister in 2016, two radical programmes were budgeted for, successfully piloted and gradually implemented: the Highly Immersive Programme (HIP) and the Dual Language Programme (DLP).

There are 1,593 schools which had implemented DLP by the end of 2017. We are told that HIP will be fully operational in all schools in 2018. However, DLP is facing a hiccough as an ongoing legal suit by several parties of a Tamil school against the education ministry is hampering its progress.

One legal suit should not jeopardise the aspirations of the majority of parents who have high hopes for the future of their children. Parents do not have the resources to send their children to private or international schools where fees are exorbitant, merely to enjoy more exposure to the English language.

National schools are parents’ first choice where the national language is emphasised and yet importance is given to the English language through HIP and DLP.

Parents of children in Tamil schools also understand the importance of DLP because of the seamless transition that will occur at secondary school into tertiary education.

The MEB 2016 annual report showed that DLP has benefited students by strengthening their ability in the English language.

A baseline study was jointly conducted by the English Language Training Centre of the Ministry of Education and Cambridge English, an affiliate of Cambridge University. It was to determine whether students’ English language proficiency and teachers’ ability in English language teaching was on par with or exceeded international standards.

The study was conducted within partial DLP schools where 890 students were taught under the programme and 518 were not. What was most interesting was that in the first year of the DLP implementation, it was already apparent that the programme helped rural students achieve better English language proficiency.

DLP was conducted for students in Standard One and Four in 2016. At the end of the primary level (Standard Six), students are expected to achieve B2 level, which is the upper immediate proficiency. The study showed that 15% of rural students with exposure to DLP reached B1 level (intermediate proficiency), whereas only 2% of rural students without DLP reached this level.

On the other end of the spectrum, 25% of non-DLP rural students fell below A1 (basic proficiency targeted at end of preschool) compared to only 4% of DLP students.

The education minister along with the director-general of the education ministry should look at the bigger picture of producing global citizens who will bring the nation forward to greater heights. They should continue to pursue DLP by approving more schools that have applied to conduct the programme, which is gaining strength and has seen success over the past two years. The results speak for themselves. Let us not get distracted by politics and opponents of DLP who use it to pursue their selfish agenda. DLP is an option, after all.

The importance of the English language cannot be more emphasised. A recent article flagged by the World Economic Forum entitled “The Link Between English and Economics” by Christopher McCormick, published in collaboration with the Harvard Business Review, “shows a direct correlation between the English skills of a population and the economic performance of the country. Indicators like gross national income (GNI) and GDP go up. In its latest edition of the EF English Proficiency Index (EF EPI), the largest ranking of English skills by country, we found that in almost every one of the 60 countries and territories surveyed, a rise in English proficiency was connected with a rise in per capita income. And on an individual level, recruiters and HR managers around the world report that job seekers with exceptional English compared to their country’s level earned 30%-50% percent higher salaries.”

We urge the prime minister, members of the Economic Council, the education minister and the director-general of the education ministry to consider the positive long-term impact of DLP, endorse more DLP schools, give assistance where necessary, and witness the transformation of English language proficiency among our children, further powering the nation’s economic growth.

Any resistance to DLP or what may be termed as yet another infamous flip-flop will be a major failure by the education ministry to implement the world-renowned MEB in its totality.

Noor Azimah Abdul Rahim is PAGE chairperson.

The views expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.