English proficiency among Malaysian students is at a “high level” and soaring, so said Higher Education Minister Idris Jusoh on February 13, 2016.
But in the same breath, he said that the ministry’s centralized university unit via its online application portal, had conducted a study on applicants and found that their English was improving.
Which is which? I am confused.
And yet the Star dared to challenge the minister – as if they know best!
In a news article on June 12, 2016, it talked at length about the low level of English proficiency among job seekers, especially if they are seeking employment in the private sector.
The newspaper also quoted statistics from the Malaysian Employers Federation which show that 200,000 graduates in Malaysia were unemployed mainly because of their poor command of English.
“What’s even more frightening is that about 200,000 students graduate from universities every year with a degree but about a quarter end up unemployed annually”
Manpower Malaysia country manager Sam Haggag said employers want people who can communicate well, a trait that is always nearly at the top of the list when screening a job applicant. “It’s the ability to connect with other people and get your ideas across,” he said.
For good measure, Haggag added that it is not just the inability to converse in English, but one where confidence is lacking.
Manpower Group Solutions manager Michele Joseph said that there is a noticeable difference between candidates coming out of government schools, vernaculars schools and private schools. She said: “Those from vernacular schools can speak English but it comes across as very rehearsed”.
Joseph added that when she probes the candidates with the more out-of-the-box questions, they stumble to answer. “They struggle to put phrases and words together.”
Most, she said, will give you an answer that is “a direct translation” from their native language. She said it isn’t just those fresh out of school but also those who have just graduated with degrees who struggle to communicate in English.
“They come out thinking that having a basic command of English is enough but it’s not. We don’t need ‘bombastic’ English but we need those who can actually communicate.”
She noted that the level of English proficiency among job seekers has nosedived over the past five years, contradicting Idris’ assertion.
Manpower Group recruitment hub manager Chrislind Lionel is another recruiter who lamented that she regularly comes across candidates who can’t speak English fluently.
“When it comes to the private sector, their business language is English,” she said, adding that that recruiters often ask more offbeat or less generic questions to gauge the candidate’s language skills as well as ability to think-on-the-run.
“There are plenty of jobs out there but the disconnect happens because of the poor English of the candidates,” she said.
Isn’t it time students, whether in schools and/or universities and colleges are introduced to Toastmasters? We may not be in the business of teaching English – rather we build and bolster communication skills and even better, we nurture self-confidence in a supportive environment. Isn’t that what graduates need more than anything else?
And it is important to take note that insofar, as English is concerned – don’t be like Homer Simpson!