IT is good that the government welcomes feedback on the Malaysia Education Blueprint 2013-2025 unveiled recently.
Many feel that the core issue of attaining English fluency and other shortcomings have not been addressed effectively, and that changes will be made based on further inputs from the stakeholders and public.
It will be better if the country opts for a dual-language medium of instruction, whereby, at least one more subject is taught in English. Subjects like History, Commerce, Geography, Economics and Moral Studies can be selected to give students exposure to the language.
Studying English as a subject is not enough and students will go through an arithmetic progression rather than a geometric one if more subjects are taught in English.
Science and Mathematics do not have much language content and are tough to teach in English. This is the reason for the purported poor performance of rural pupils, which led to the abolition of the Teaching of Science and Mathematics in English Policy (PPSMI).
PPSMI benefited science stream students more than those in the arts stream. It is generally agreed that arts students who take up law, economics, mass communications or management need a better command of English than science students who pursue medicine, engineering or information technology.
A good choice for a second subject to be taught in English is Moral Studies (compulsory) or History (soon to be made compulsory), as both have a large language and linguistic content.
Once pupils are proficient in English, any subject, including Science and Maths, will become easier to handle.
The blueprint needs to address the core issue that has brought down the entire education system, and that is acquiring English proficiency. All others are side issues.
It is also time to de-couple English from Bahasa Malaysia as whenever the issue of English props up, there is an instant and controversial reaction about the national language.
English must be regarded as a separate issue from Bahasa Malaysia and only if we realise this can English be emphasised in the education system. It is a fallacy to perceive that the greater importance attached to English will be detrimental to Bahasa Malaysia.
The only reason Malaysia needs English is economic because it is the world's 16th largest trading nation. Thousands of Malaysians are involved in commercial transactions in a competitive environment.
It is no point saying that the Germans, Japanese or Koreans do not attach great importance to English. If they do not learn English, it is their problem.
Malaysia had a head start at progress and development after Merdeka because of an English background and good governance.
In an increasingly globalised and commercialised world, even the Europeans, Japanese, Korean and Chinese are becoming proficient in English. Look at the programmes in the Chinese television network CTVN, and witness how much China has caught up in a short time.
Many advantages that Malaysia enjoyed are whittling away and the nation's loss is others' gain.
In the future, there will be big opportunities for English-proficient graduates in multinational companies, Islamic financial institutions and others.
It must also be noted by parties which oppose the use of English that the best intellectual and well-researched books on Islam worldwide are in English, not Arabic, Urdu, Bengali, Turkish or Parsi.
It is time to stop depriving students of the vast reservoir of knowledge and opportunities that come with English proficiency.
The blueprint, which will later become policy, should predominantly focus on the issue of English in the education system, and not on the other easily attainable peripheral objectives, which only serve to distract attention and action on the real need at hand.
The blueprint offers a good chance for a paradigm shift that will benefit the younger generation by giving them the competency and capability to manage the country in a fast-changing world.
M.V. Thomas, Sungai Buloh, Selangor Source: New Straits Times Online Letters to the Editors 26 September 2012