ENGLISH will not be made a compulsory pass in the Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM) examination from 2016 as earlier planned.
An immediate reaction would be to say, “Here we go again. Another flip-flop decision.”
But if we look at the bigger picture, the decision to postpone its implementation has its merits.
When we have a national-based education system where every student – no matter where he resides – has to sit for the same public examination, we must be aware that the playing field is never level.
Given that the students have the same hours of exposure to English per week, it is the children from the urban areas, where the use of and exposure to English goes beyond the classroom, who have an edge over their rural counterparts.
English proficiency can only be mastered through regular usage and it can be a real challenge, even for the best English language teachers, to bring the students up to mark when they have to struggle with time and resources.
It is not a surprise, therefore, that the National Union of Teaching Profession and the Malaysian English Language Teaching Association have come out in support of the decision.
These are the people on the ground who know the limitations in our current situation.
And we must also not detract from the motive behind the policy in the first place, which is to create genuine competency in the English language for all our students at source so that they are better prepared for tertiary education and the real world upon graduation.
If we see English only as a must-pass subject, the teaching methodology will change, and both teachers and students will do anything just to get that pass.
Be that as it may, let us also not give the impression that when there are hurdles too difficult to cross, our option is to just walk away in the other direction.
We must do all we can to help our students master English. This is not an impossible task. Let us not forget that there was a time in our nation’s history when good English was prevalent everywhere, whether in the towns or the villages.
Students who started primary schooling in a rural school were not as disadvantaged then because they would be sent to the best English-medium school for their secondary education.
Many of our leaders, top civil servants and corporate titans hail from that generation. But what is unfair is that they can now afford to send their children to private or international schools, or even overseas, for the best exposure to English.
This is why there does not seem to be any urgency to make sure that all our schools are capable of producing students similar to them.
Making English compulsory is a step in the right direction, but it must go beyond that. Those who teach must inspire their students to not only do well in the SPM examination but to also have a love for the language.
If they need a bit more time to make this happen, let us grant them that. But let’s not make the delay last too long.The STAR Home > Opinion > Columnists The Star Says Sunday August 23, 2015 MYT 12:00:00 AM