I FIND it strange that some Malay intellectuals I met are against the idea of championing the English language over Bahasa Malaysia.
They look at me with disdain and ask why I am not proud of Bahasa Malaysia and where my identity as a Malay is.
I feel sad that these are the same people who lament the Malays’ weakness in English. I am really confused over their ambivalent stand. And they are not simple kampung folks but people who have PhDs from American universities.
It makes me wonder what is in their mind. Can’t they see that being proficient in English does not make one less Malay or less patriotic?
They keep harping on that English is just a tool for communication and that one does not need to go to English medium schools to learn the language. To them, it is all about having the right attitude.
And they ignore the fact that even with the right attitude, it requires a Herculean effort to master English if one attends Sekolah Kebangsaan where the English environment is missing.
How selfish and naive can they be when globalisation requires one to be proficient in English? Perhaps they are the exception with their high IQ, which makes becoming proficient in English easy for them despite studying in Malay schools in the 60s.
We have to think and care for the average and below average students who have difficulty mastering the English language. There are many out there who are unemployed or under employed due to their weakness in English. And many of them come from poor families where the role model for English at home is absent.
This country is unique in its history and we cannot compare with other countries where their national language reigns supreme and is highly regarded. While we would like to see Bahasa Malaysia as the lingua franca in all forms of communication in government and the private sector, the reality on the ground is different.
The education system itself is now creating two classes of citizens. The “haves” send their children for English education in the private sector while the “have nots” send theirs to sekolah kebangsaan. An uneven playing field is being created with the “have nots” having to struggle when they enter the employment market.
Why can’t we be honest with ourselves and accept that many schoolchildren suffer in silence when attending English lessons at sekolah kebangsaan? And the poor teacher, who is well trained to teach English, in many instances has to teach English in Bahasa Malaysia to make the students understand, interested and enjoy the lessons.
Given this sad situation, can we blame the students for being weak in English when they go for job interviews or to further their studies abroad?
No Malay would abandon their language as it is their cultural identity. No matter how Westernised they want to be, they cannot ignore the fact that they are born Malay which they will carry to their graves.
And when they go back to their kampung for their Hari Raya, they speak Malay despite speaking English at home in some elite area or at the golf club.
Let us be pragmatic. Let us have pity on the young boys and girls who have difficulty reading English newspapers, Enid Blyton, Shakespeare, Dandy and Beano comics, books, etc. Let us not close their window of knowledge by denying and belittling them for glorifying the English language.
The Education Ministry has done all it can to help the students become proficient in English. And they know it is a Herculean task and one that is not smooth sailing as English is now taught as a subject.
Even the American Peace Corps and British Councils were roped in to do the impossible - address the declining standard of English among our students.
Can we blame the Education Ministry for not being successful in their efforts when some Malay intellectuals feel that priority must be given to the enhancement of Bahasa Malaysia?
Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad once asked: “What do the Malays want?”
When asked what he failed to do in his 22 years as Prime Minister, he answered curtly, “I have failed to open up the Malay mind.”
When I was in school preparing for MCE/Senior Cambridge, I enjoyed reading Shakespeare and also Sastera Melayu. Hassan Talib Gombak Selangor The STAR Home News Opinion Letters 31 Mar 2015