July 1st, 2015

School system neither here nor there

IN his letter, Dr Chandra Muzaffar, a highly respected scholar, wrote, “English-medium schools not the answer to all our ills” (NST, June 26),

Sometimes, an illiterate person or school dropout can come up with a fantastic idea that can change the fate of a nation. In the Malay legendary story Singapura Dilanggar Todak, a small boy by the name of Hang Nadim advised the sultan on how to save Singapore from a swordfish attack. However, he was killed by jealous palace officials for his brilliant idea.

Likewise, we have to look at English-medium schools from a wider context. The fact that parents have called for its reintroduction as an option means there is justification why they want it.

The mushrooming of private international schools, which cater to the hunger for English education, is indicative of the peoples’ frustration at not having an English-medium government school.

So, if English-medium schools are really “not the answer to our ills”, then why do the very same policymakers send their children to English schools? Are English schools meant only for the elite while the rest get crumbs? Had Chandra not gone to an English school, would he have been able to write and argue in flawless English?

That being the case, then why deny the present generation of an English school experience? If we are serious about Bahasa Malaysia, then make sure everything is in the national language, — the way they do in Japan, Indonesia, France, Russia, Argentina, etc.

We shouldn’t allow the private sector to use English and penalise those who are weak in English when they seek a job. Even government entities, such as the Foreign Ministry, International Trade and Industry Ministry, Matrade, Bank Negara, etc., should use Bahasa Malaysia.

If we are proud of Bahasa Malaysia, which is reflective of our identity, then we should not practise double standards. Statistics by the National Economic Action Council (MTEN) that have gone viral show many graduates, in particular, the Malays, are unemployed, not because they are choosy, but because they are weak in English.

Despite having excellent academic results, they are unable to express themselves clearly and logically in job interviews. Most are the product of Sekolah Kebangsaan.

Granted that English is not the sole reason for a nation’s progress, where Chandra cited the Philippines “which uses English widely within and without its education system ... where, for decades the Philippines has been burdened with abject poverty, huge social disparities and widespread corruption”.

We cannot put all cases in one basket. What is the difference between Malaysia and the Philippines? The answer is very simple; the success of a nation is the function of leadership. We have a very good administrative, education, economic and political system left by the British.

We have able leaders and a credible civil service that fine-tuned them from the day we gained independence. Until today, corruption is not endemic in this country as the institution of government is well-placed to check it.

English-speaking countries like the Philippines and many other developing countries are far behind Malaysia due to a number of reasons, as was well argued in Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson’s book, Why Nations Fail (Crown Business, 2012).

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak should make it mandatory reading for cabinet ministers. The state of our education system is creating a situation of neither here nor there.

The products of the system are not good in Bahasa Malaysia and English. In the past, those who went to Malay-medium schools were good in Bahasa Malaysia, while those who went to English-medium schools were good in English.

This is not the case today. The present generation is weak in English. Isn’t that a loss to the nation in terms of knowledge? If Chandra does not make a big fuss when dealing with government officers who said, “This is a cannot”, then, I suppose English-medium schools is not an issue Hassan Talib, Gombak, Selangor NST Letters to the Editor 30 Jun 2015