The proponents of English attended the two-hour forum in full force to air their views, voice their concerns and put forth even some sensitive questions to the speakers.
They brought up the need to revert to the system of teaching Science and Maths in English. Questions were also forwarded on initiating English-medium schools which they likened to other vernacular schools in the country.
Questioned on why learning English was regarded by some quarters as challenging and threatening the status and position of Bahasa Malaysia, and the retraining of teachers, many of whom were indifferent and unenthusiastic, were among the topics brought up.
The panelists comprising Malaysian Employers Federation excutive director Shamsudin Bardan, British Council English Language Services Director Sam Ayton, Albukhary International University deputy vice-chancellor Prof Emeritus Dr Omar Farouk Sheikh Ahmad and Talentcorp Corporatin Bhd CEO Johan Merican Mahmood handled the questions with ease and confidence while moderator former deputy director-general of education Datuk Noor Rezan Bapoo Hashim facilitated the enlightening discussion offering her own take on some of the issues put forward.
Below are some of the questions raised by participants and feedback from the panelists.
Why is the Govern-ment’s mind so closed when it comes to English-medium schools? Is it not just another vernacular school? — Datin Noor Azimah Abdul Rahim, chairman of the Parent Action Group for Education.
I have trained foreign students and have seen them progress from having zero English knowledge to having a very good command of English.
What do we have to do to change the attitude of Malaysians? It is the Colonial hangover. There is a perception that if you speak in English, there is something wrong with you. We must change the attitude ... why do we have to be so against English? — Chew Seng Choon, freelance English instructor and trainer.
How do you retrain teachers? There are teachers whose voices and style of teaching can be boring.
They don’t motivate and often kill a student’s enthusiasm and love for the subject. — Rita Tan Siew Lee, retired teacher.
There are 11 official languages in my country, South Africa, yet the language of business and communication is English. We must look at English as a subject, it can complement and need not replace one’s mother tongue. It should be looked purely from a non-political stand. — Debbie Pozzobon, vice-president, Leadership Development, Leaderonomics.
How much money is being spent to train unemployed graduates so that they are confident and competent in their respective skills and in the English language, to rectify the current situation? What can be done to stop the brain drain? — Mark Suresh, entrepreneur from Johor.
Why are grad-uates not gi-ven enough opportunities to use English knowledge and communicate effectively? — Geoff Andrew, Managing Director of Speak4Success Sdn Bhd.
As a former English language teacher, there is a stigma that just because I teach English, I am no longer a Malay, Malaysian or Muslim. That stigma has to go. For Malaysians in Malaysia, our children need to understand and learn English ... if you put them in Japan or Russia, they have to adapt and learn the language there too.
Why can’t we look at the language (English) for its functionality without associating it with race and religion?
Attitudes must change. It must start at home. The mindset of parents must change and need to be retuned. Teachers too need to look at it positively otherwise they will be tainted by political factors and differences.
I remember when I went to an English-medium school, I was never conscious of colour. We ate and played together ... that possibly happened because we were in an English-medium school. When I was teaching, I always stressed on the need to have a broad perspective. If you have a broad perspective of things, you can look at things in a much better way. But if you have a tunnel vision of things ...
Language training is not about the teacher ... the students actually have to engage in the learning process. A child has to learn by doing. When a child engages, learning becomes more effective. There must be that engagement between teachers and students too.
We can have the best policies in the world but it needs to be executed and implemented ... how well it seeps down to the ground is just as important. — Datuk Noor Rezan Bapoo Hashim
The forum is an excellent platform to highlight the need for young people to know and be proficient in English as it does provide greater opportunities.
English proficiency is certainly a key enabler to high-income jobs and better economic opportunities. As for the brain drain issue, it is nothing unique to Malaysia alone as it happens in other countries too. The cost to train unemployed graduates is about RM50mil a year but it needs to be done ... civil society must play its part. — Johan Merican Mahmood
One way is to not so much focus on the teachers’ voice but to let the students use their voice — there is a need to increase student engagement. — Sam Ayton
Employers want employees with good communicative skills in English.
Potential candidates may not even be employed as they do not have the necessary English proficiency. There are training programmes to help unemployed graduates get skills and most of them have managed to find jobs in government-linked-companies after training.
The majority of employers are not keen to use the 1% HRDF (Human Resource Development Fund) levy to train employees in English.
Some employers feel that if their employees are trained in English, they would become more marketable and may look for greener pastures.
But the more enlightened employers will use the 1% HRDF levy to train their staff in English.
However as a rule, most employers do not believe that any type of English language training is necessary. — Shamsudin Bardan