Friday, July 10, 2009

You Got Speaking English Ah?

The Cabinet has just announced that the teaching of Mathematics and Science in Malaysian schools will now revert to Malay (for the national-type schools, or the respective vernacular language, in the case of Chinese or Tamil schools), instead of staying the course, and teaching these subjects in English. Let me say that I am not at all surprised with this decision because you and I know this decision has everything to do with politics. Needless to say, English language mastery has gone downhill to a stage where many young Malaysians cannot string sentences in proper English, nor can they speak the language with even a modest degree of confidence. English-language newspapers continue to carry stories of parents’ concerns about this policy reversal, but besides parents, who really cares? But I am also painfully aware that there are parents who are indifferent or just simply unconcerned. Maybe, PTAs should take the lead and mobilize public opinion to tell the Government in no uncertain terms that this is a regressive policy. After all, PTAs promote parent involvement in school communities. Look at the U.S., where the Parent Teacher Association is a very influential nationwide organization with state and local affiliates throughout the country, advocating the teaching agenda on behalf of students and schools. Anyway, grassroots politics is something new in this country – so I am not even hopeful.

And today, the New Straits Times highlighted this report that the Malaysian Employers Federation (MEF) had conducted a survey in 1999 among its members where 43.6% of the respondents said they had staff with problems in written and communication skills. In 2003, another MEF survey indicated that the problem had deteriorated with 54% of the respondents complaining of the same (July 10, p 4).

In this same report, a survey among 3,000 employers, more than a year ago revealed that 56% of those polled said the main stumbling block when hiring fresh graduates was their poor command of English. In contrast, only 0.7% cited poor command of Malay as difficulty in hiring (ibid).

Presently, as an academic tasked with teaching undergraduate students, I am embarrassed to admit that we Malaysians have really hit the skids insofar as English proficiency is concerned. Only a countable minority can still hold their heads up high with regard to their command of English – but the rest had better buck up or else, when they graduate, getting jobs can be not only effortful but worse, elusive! Why? Simply because in the workplace, English reigns supreme!

Today, I took a group of my MKT222 Principles of Retailing class to Sunway Pyramid for their class project. Thankfully, Ke Xin (who’s doing her internship at the A&P department there) was on hand to provide our students with invaluable insights into the mall’s retailing doctrine. An interesting afternoon.

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