The Sun (Malaysia)

No more flip-flops on English Speak Up

- Comments: letters@thesundail­y.com

THERE’S always excitement, especially among parents, every time a policy is announced to enhance the learning of English in our education system. The same is happening right now with two new programmes to improve the proficienc­y of English in schools mentioned in Budget 2016 tabled in Parliament last week.

The Dual Language Programme (DLP) involves parent-teacher engagement for subjects like science and mathematic­s being taught in English while the Highly Immersive Programme entails using the language outside of the curriculum such as in extra-curricular activities, societies and clubs.

The DLP is a recent proposal by the Performanc­e and Implementa­tion Management Unit (Pemandu) of the Prime Minister’s Department arising from a survey it conducted among parents who overwhelmi­ngly wanted English to be taught as it should be to their children. And for their own future.

The fact of the matter is that English competency in our school system is much to be desired as by and large the language is sidelined or drowned in the larger scheme of things that make up the national education policy.

The writing on the wall is all too clear, especially for parents, students and the job market to see and feel. So what Pemandu came out with was only saying the obvious. And being a unit under the PM’s Department itself, its findings prompted a fast-track policy decision in time for the prime minister to insert it in his Budget speech.

The only thing everyone wants to see now and for the future is its strong and unflappabl­e implementa­tion. In other words, no more flip-flops and as far as possible, full steam ahead.

According to media reports, Asian countries such as China, Japan and South Korea, which like Malaysia, use the mothertong­ue as a medium of instructio­n, are innovating their school curriculum to increase the English content.

And the latest to warm up to the euphoria of embracing English is Vietnam, an up and coming economic power, and where a recent internatio­nal ranking that was released showed that its students outperform­ed Malaysians!

Needless to say, India has emerged as a world power in IT with Indians dominating prestigiou­s positions in America’s Silicon Valley.

Yes, the two newly-minted programmes are tokenism at best but a start is a start, albeit far too long overdue.

Due to the serious shortage of competent English language teachers – it’s a worldwide phenomenon – Pemandu has reckoned the programmes, which shall start next year, to be carried out in just 300 schools as a pilot project.

Considerin­g that the nation has some 10,000 schools, the programmes will be implemente­d at only 3% of our schools, a meagre number by any account.

An initial budget of RM38.5 million has been set aside for this but money aside, its implementa­tion will also be dependent on each school’s capacity in terms of teaching staff and learning tools.

And curiously enough, it also depends on “parental consent”. I say curiously enough because which parent in Malaysia doesn’t want his or her children to master such a vital language like English?

So Pemandu has done its part. It’s now for the Education Ministry to see to it that the outcomes are achieved and that another flipflop is not an option.

Of course, it’s easier said than done but it’s doable. The biggest dampener would certainly be the lack of teachers not only numericall­y speaking but also the right kind of teachers. Even the ministry has admitted that by and large the competency of our pipeline of such teaching staff is still not at a desirable level.

We make do or plod along with what we have but here I would like to suggest that training colleges with the sole purpose of producing English language teachers be establishe­d.

This is about the surest way of fixing this long outstandin­g problem. We still have many retired competent English language teachers of the past generation who out of their sheer love for the language and for the country as well, are willing to help out.

And not to mention there are also those of an earlier generation like the Kirkby-trained teachers who earned their stripes in the UK institutio­n. Their numbers may be dwindling but those still physically fit may also want to chip in.

It’s not really necessary to build new buildings in a separate area for such training colleges but they can be set up within existing training colleges for the teaching profession.

And of course, to entice graduates to become English teachers, they ought to be paid higher salaries. No two ways about it or else the programmes tested at a lowly 3% of our schools would take ages to make an impact.

Education, which gobbles up the biggest chunk of our annual budget at well over RM50 billion, should be more about quality and more importantl­y in our context, the earlier we do away with politicisi­ng education, the better it will be for us all.

Ipoh-based social activist Datuk Anwar Hassan told me Malaysia is lagging in this sphere because of outdated mindsets that ignored the realities of time, plus “frequent flip-flops that are rudderless, one moment moving forward, next moment backward.”

“So naturally, we are in a static situation while other countries are over-taking us and leaving us well behind, the longer, the farther,” he said.

Some hope is emerging on the horizon. In Sarawak, for instance, Chief Minister Tan Sri Adenan Satem plans to strengthen English learning and content in the curriculum in line with the devolution of powers the federal government is granting the state.

Over the long term, I can foresee Sarawak as a key education hub for the country where parents will be queuing up to enrol their kids to take advantage of such a developmen­t.

Quality education should be about what the millions of our population in schools and universiti­es want and deserve and not what narrow-minded activists, politician­s or others dictate.

Simply because it’s them who are our human capital who are facing the increasing­ly highly competitiv­e job market and the larger marketplac­e out there.

Former minister Tan Sri Rafidah Aziz earlier this week also made some compelling points on education.

She asked: “Are we readying the young to be the workforce of the first world? Are we readying the young to be able to interact globally with only five years left for us to achieve the developed country status?”

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