The education ministry’s launch of the English Language Education Reform in Malaysia: The Roadmap 2015-2025 is an indication of the nation’s determination to bring about substantial improvement in our students’ proficiency in the English language.
Although the roadmap has been in the process of implementation for some years, there have been some serious misunderstandings and much inaccurate information about both it and the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR).
The English Language Standards and Quality Council (ELSQC) has written this article in an attempt to present a clear and concise picture of the reforms as outlined in the roadmap.
The roadmap was produced to address a fundamental problem faced by our young people today. They have to cope with a rapidly changing and increasingly globalised world and job market which requires them to communicate effectively in English at a much higher level than before. They need to be aware of the wider world in which they are growing up, and they need sufficient support to enable them to achieve the necessary levels of English proficiency.
There is currently a wide range of English language (EL) proficiency among our young people. Some have excellent English while others have little ability to use English efficiently or at all. In between are the many young people who can function at a general everyday level of English. For example, they can communicate basic information at a shopping mall, make simple enquiries on the phone, or send short messages through social media. The problem for most of these young people is that their level of proficiency will not be enough when they leave school to look for jobs or to enter tertiary education.
The needs of our young people were recognised in 2013, when the Malaysian Education Blueprint (MEB) called for urgent action to enable our students to develop the knowledge and skills to become global citizens of the 21st century. The education ministry set up the ELSQC, with the commission to produce a roadmap to address the problem. The council subsequently developed an integrated, comprehensive and timetabled plan for EL education reform, usually known simply as “the roadmap”.
The roadmap is essentially a 10-year reform plan to improve EL education in Malaysia, with the aim of enabling our young people to develop into effective and proficient EL users. It considers EL education as a continuous learning journey from preschool to university.
Taking into account the existing learning environment and the expected communicative needs of our children, it describes in detail what has to be done to improve teaching and learning at preschool, primary, secondary, post-secondary and university levels, and also in teacher education.
The most substantial change brought about by the roadmap is the adoption of the CEFR, which represents the international standard for describing and measuring language proficiency at each stage of education. The adoption of the CEFR leads to changes in curriculum, teaching and learning, and assessment.
All of these, including teacher education and training, are being aligned to the CEFR. Teachers need to know about the CEFR, and as part of their continuous professional development, they are given CEFR-related training to familiarise them with the CEFR and with appropriate approaches to teaching and learning, and learning materials. Particular attention is being paid to the upskilling of teachers, both in terms of their English proficiency and their knowledge of teaching.
The reform plan also calls for greater student engagement with English outside the classroom as an essential part of the educational experience provided by the school (e.g. the highly immersive programme). This is achieved by means of strategies such as an increase in EL activities and programmes and increased learning time, and by getting members of the community involved informally as stakeholders.
The roadmap sets the target proficiency levels for each stage of education. These targets were established with the help of CEFR experts from Cambridge English, UK, who conducted a baseline study in 2013 to measure the CEFR levels attained by children in our schools at that time. The results enabled us to set realistic targets for 2025.
A follow-up study was conducted in 2017, and some minor adjustments were made. These targets may be revised again upon completion of the reform plan in 2025, depending on how much we have achieved by that time.
In addition to the aspirational CEFR targets for all stages of education, the roadmap includes a timetabled action plan. The plan covers three phases in line with the MEB, and is currently being implemented and monitored.
Since producing the roadmap in 2015, the ELSQC has been monitoring the implementation of the plan, taking into account ministry actions, participating in many of the training sessions, attending evaluation meetings, and participating in discussions with CEFR experts, in addition to providing advice, feedback and recommendations as required.
Zuraidah Mohd Don is chair of the English Language Standards and Quality Council. Mardziah Hayati Abdullah is a council member.
The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.