FORM Six student Intan* (not her real name) dreams of entering the legal profession one day.
However, the 18-year-old is worried that her English language skills may not be up to par for entry to local universities.
“I got a B for English in the Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM), and I can understand the language – but I still don’t feel confident enough to speak it.
“I’m always self-conscious about getting the grammar wrong, or mispronouncing words.
“I’ve been trying to improve my language, but sometimes my friends make fun of me for wanting to speak in English,” said the Kuala Lumpur native.
Intan added that while she has been trying to grasp the language by reading more books in English, the process has been slow.
“Before this, my teachers taught me to get through the examinations by memorising essays, so I thought it was enough to get by.
“It’s my Form Six teacher who’s been really pushing me to do better, by making us do presentations and coaching me personally.
“But I don’t know if I will score well enough in the Malaysian University English Test (Muet) to study law if the entry and graduation requirements are raised,” she said.
Intan is one of the students concerned about honing her English language skills fast enough to meet the new entry requirements for public tertiary institutions next year.
When tabling the Budget 2015, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak announced that minimum Muet band required to enter public universities will be raised based on students’ field of study.
Carried out by the Malaysian Examinations Council, Muet scores students’ skills in reading, writing, speaking and listening from Band One (lowest) to Band Six (highest).
Currently, students need to achieve at least a Band 1 in Muet to enrol in public universities.
From next year onwards, students who wish to pursue courses in the arts and social sciences will need at least a Band 2 in Muet, while those who want to take up science, technology, engineering or mathematics (STEM) courses require a minimum of Band 3.
Meanwhile, a Band 4 score will be the minimum requirement for programmes in medicine and law.
Students will also need to achieve a certain Muet band to graduate, namely at least a Band 3 for arts and social sciences courses; Band 4 for STEM courses; and Band 5 for courses in medicine and law.
Saying that graduates’ English proficiency skills needed to be enhanced, Najib also urged private institutions to implement the same requirements.
Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin on Wednesday explained that for the first year of implementation, universities will be given leeway to take in students who fulfil the general admission requirements.
However, such students will still be required to improve their English proficiency during their university study; so while a student may be admitted with just a Band 1 in Muet, he would still need to graduate with an equal or higher band than the required level.
Muhyiddin, who is also the Education Minister, added that while initiatives were being taken to extend the same requirements to private tertiary institutions in the future, the ministry wished to ensure that private institutions were prepared for such a measure.
As it stands, some public universities have already enforced similar measures; Universiti Malaya (UM) for instance, requires students to complete and pass two English modules in either reading, writing, presentation or communication and speaking.
K Ratna, who is a second-year student at UM, said students should seize any opportunitiy to expand their skill sets.
“Instead of seeing it (the language requirement) as a burden, students should make use of this opportunity to better themselves so they can stand out in job interviews.
“I suppose I’m lucky that my university is providing these sort of extra classes,” she said.
Form Six student Angeline Fong agreed, saying that said the new requirements will spur students to buck up.
“It’s definitely a good move as our graduates really do need to speak better English. This will be a motivation for university students to improve their English,” she said.
Other students however, pointed out that efforts to raise English proficiency should start at the school level.
Medical student Shaik Ashraf said the Muet requirement for incoming medical students was “unrealistic and almost unnecessary” as English is not the first language for many Malaysians.
“From experience, doctors mainly converse with their patients in Bahasa Malaysia anyway.
“This (measure) will add to the heavy workload we already have.
“If students don’t converse in English from the time they are in primary or secondary school, how can we expect them to be suddenly good in the language when they start their tertiary studies?” he said, adding that the move was not a quick-fix for increased English proficiency among students.
Sashi Subakaran, who is pursuing a degree in English, said that universities should increase the use of the language on campus first before such a policy is implemented.
“I don’t have a problem with it, but not everyone comes from an English-speaking background like I do.
“Students need to be exposed to the language first.
“It is unfair to penalise good students just because they are weak in a language,” he said.
As for Intan, her main aim now is to work even harder to secure a place at university for a course of her choice.
“With the little time I have, I don’t see a point in just complaining,” she said.
“I’m lucky enough to have my teachers help me, so I just have to do what I can.
“Who knows, maybe by next year, I’ll be speaking as fluently as a Mat Salleh!” The STAR Gome News Opinion 19/10/2014