THE Government’s proposal to make a pass in the English language compulsory for all public university graduates has generated much interest. And rightly so.
But it is also telling that the Government has not set an implementation date, other than to state that the policy has been approved in principle and that the matter would be discussed at length soon.
We can expect the debate to be vigorous because there will be the usual parties who believe that any attempt to put English on a higher plane, even for very essential and practical reasons, can run counter to national interests.
The fact of the matter is that the English language has taken a back seat for too long ever since English-medium schools were abolished in the early 1970s.
Which is why the standard of English, both spoken and written, has gone down progressively through these years.
There was a time when Malaysians were deemed to be automatically proficient in the language but we have now reached a stage where even our best students have to take English proficiency tests to gain admittance into foreign universities.
Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, who is also the Education Minister, is correct to point out that the employability of graduates is linked to their ability to communicate in English.
This is an issue that not only affects the private sector, including the multinationals, but also the public sector.
Our civil servants, especially those who serve in the diplomatic and international trade arenas, know all too well that the world out there is English-centric.
We can look at China as an example where English was once a valuable commodity reserved for the privileged few.
Today, all over China, schools and universities offer English courses, alongside the thousands of training centres that specialise in teaching English to children and adults.
The business of learning and teaching English in China is huge, with one estimate putting the number of its citizens studying English at more than 300 million.
In the case of Malaysia, our numbers are only a small fraction of that, yet we seem to be struggling with piece-meal efforts to boost our proficiency in the language.
We know all too well that even those who get a distinction in English at the SPM level are not really proficient unless they come from an environment where there is regular use of the language, at home or among their friends.
Some may ask whether getting students to gain a compulsory pass in the English language at the university stage before they can get their degrees may be a little too late.
Well, it is always better to be late than never – which is why this policy deserves our fullest support.
The late William Raspberry was a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for TheWashington Post with fiercely independent views on education, poverty, crime and race.
He was the first black journalist to make inroads into the mainstream media and was most aware of how proficiency in English was the passport to a better life.He said, “Good English, well spoken and well written will open more doors than a college degree ... Bad English will slam doors you don’t even know exist.” Home > Opinion > Columnists The Star Says Sunday September 7, 2014 MYT 12:00:00 AM