I do not support the postponement of English being a mandatory pass for the SPM examination by the Ministry of Education which was announced on Wednesday.
The reason given by the Board of Examination for the postponement is to allow teachers, students and relevant parties more time for preparation.
This baffles me because everything was already in place to strengthen English in schools across the country.
Under the Education Blueprint, steps taken include special training for English language teachers, and having native speakers as teaching assistants.
It sounded like everything was fine and dandy and moving along well. English was being given the importance it deserved in our education system. But not anymore, I guess.
I can’t understand why this is being delayed. As it is, Malaysians are already so far behind because of the lack of proficiency in the lingua franca of the world.
I am very passionate about education and have quite significant experience teaching undergraduates in both public and private universities and colleges.
In the public universities that I have taught in, I would say that roughly 70 percent of the students have not mastered even basic English skills.
And although the medium of education is English, I would have to resort to speaking Bahasa Malaysia for most of the time I lectured just so they would understand.
I have a few problems with this.
Firstly, new information and research material, in most fields, is in English.
And when students do now have the necessary language skills to understand this material, they are at a disadvantage when it comes to their education.
Their world becomes so many times smaller than those with English skills, because their exposure to new information and knowledge is so much more limited.
Yes, one can argue that there are countries and cultures that are weak in English but yet very advanced, such as South Korea and Japan.
But these are countries that have, for decades, been aggressively pursuing their own research and studies that they have become leaders in certain fields of studies.
So much so that people from other countries have no choice but to learn Japanese or Korean in order to gain that knowledge. Has Malaysia achieved that level yet?
Then there is the issue with religion as perceived in Malaysia, particularly Islam (another aspect of life that I am very passionate about).
Malaysians are obsessed with the rituals of the religion such as how much area of the skin touches water during ablution or if the index finger moves too much during prayers.
If you notice, a lot of the local Islamic books in Bahasa Malaysia deal with topics like these.
This is a big difference compared to the rest of the progressive Muslim world, where discussion and debate gravitate towards more significant and holistic issues of the religion.
More effort is spent on having intellectual discourse on issues such as how best to interpret religion in current times.
Interestingly, intellectual Muslim thinkers who are leading the way in this discourse, such as Tariq Ramadan and Ziauddin Sardar, use English as the language of communication.
So for us to advance and develop further as a nation, wouldn’t it be a wiser decision to empower young Malaysians with English skills now, rather than later?