QUICK TAKE: Deputy Education Minister P Kamalanathan continues to toe the political line but is being disingenuous when he says that his ministry has never neglected the importance of a mastery of the English language, for students and teachers.
If our teachers have a poor grasp of the English language, how does he think the students are going to excel?
This is not the fault of the teachers, or the students. The ministry has failed to provide the proper tools for the teachers to teach English.
We are only five years away from "Wawasan 2020" and our mastery of the English language is probably lower than it was five years ago.
We have spent millions of ringgit importing teachers, from England, Australia, America and India, to teach Malaysian students and teachers, but the ministry has failed to tell us if these schemes were successful or not.
Some years ago, we were so ambitious that we announced that we would send our own teachers to teach English, in Oman. So, have we lost our best English teachers to foreign countries? They probably offer better salaries and benefits.
The move to send English speaking teachers abroad, probably came after a 12-man delegation from Oman, visited Malaysia in 2009, to see how the Teaching of Maths and Science in English (PPSMI) was implemented in Malaysia.
The week-long visit prompted Fawzia Al Zadjali, the head of the English Language Curriculum Section in Oman’s Education Ministry, to praise the Malaysian PPSMI.
Fawzia said, "The level of English proficiency among Malaysian students really stands out, and the fun they have in class is very encouraging.
“They are confident and interact freely with their teachers. This indicates your system is working. We hope to achieve the same level of success.”
Fawzia and her delegation had spent the morning observing English and Mathematics lessons, visiting the science and computer labs, monitoring the teaching techniques and the use of multimedia tools, in one Kuala Lumpur school.
The school, which the Omani delegation had praised, was the SK Bukit Damansara. This school is in one of the more affluent parts of Kuala Lumpur, where English is probably used at home, rather more than Malay, Chinese or Indian.
It is also a school, where 'well-meaning' (pushy) parents are not afraid to make their views known, and demand only the best for their children. It is a school where most of the students ooze confidence.
Would the Omani delegation have been as praiseworthy had they been sent to "observe" a school, in ulu Kelantan, like SK Pos Tohoi?
It was recently reported, in The Star, that the careers of 1,000 medical graduates had suffered a hiatus, because of their poor command of English. One wonders, how they were admitted into medical school, in the first place.
Affirmative action policies and lowering the pass-mark, for a certain race, will fail that race, and not help it. Ministers and the wealthy, will continue to school their children in international schools, or overseas. The rakyat is left with bog-standard education for their children.
If Kamalanathan is sincere about improving English proficiency, in the Malaysian education system, he may need to look at the basics and start at the beginning.
He will have to impress upon his political masters that race should not be the determining factor in the selection of students or teachers, of all subjects.