I READ a report which states that more than 57 countries use the English language as their official language. In countries like Malaysia, the widespread usage of this language can be attributed to the period of British colonisation.
The pioneering missionaries who set foot on our soil started the mission schools where the medium of instruction was English.
Thus, many Malaysians, after being schooled in the English medium, spoke the language fluently, wrote cohesively, possessed good communication capabilities and were much sought after by employers, both locally and overseas.
It was the good command of the English language that enabled many of our students to gain easy acceptance into prestigious foreign universities, especially in the United States and the United Kingdom.
Now, the results of some of the English language examinations conducted by the Education Ministry are not internationally accepted as the yardstick to attest to the language competency of a prospective undergraduate student applying to study in a foreign university.
Even prestigious foreign universities, with branch campuses in Malaysia, require prospective undergraduate students to show proof of language competency by making them sit for an international English language examination.
Every year, many students pay hefty fees to register and sit for foreign English language examinations. If the ministry is able to conduct an internationally accepted English language examination, this would be beneficial to the nation as well as all students.
One possibility would be for the ministry to collaborate with established international English language assessment organisations to initiate changes to the present mode of assessment of the English language at the school level to meet international standards.
This may involve a revamp of the curriculum and examination specifications. But it would be a gainful endeavour as students would leave school with an internationally accepted English language certificate.
Prospective undergraduate students, even with the highest grade in the English language subject in the Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia examination, usually need to undertake a preparatory language course prior to embarking on their undergraduate studies simply because they do not have an internationally recognised English language certificate to prove their proficiency.
Another benefit of taking an internationally recognised English language examination is it would save time and students would have one less examination to worry about to be taken separately to prove their English language competency level before gaining admission into the university of their choice, either locally or abroad.
The Malaysian University Entrance Test (MUET), conducted by the Malaysian Examination Council, is accepted by local universities and some universities in Singapore as proof of one's English language competency.
The examination is held in March, July and November.
A viable solution could be an attempt to establish collaboration between the ministry and the governing body which conducts either the International English Language Testing System (IELTS), an international standardised test of English language proficiency, or the internationally accredited examination Test Of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL), which evaluates the understanding and usage of a candidate's English language proficiency in an academic setting. The ministry would benefit greatly if this collaboration results in MUET becoming internationally recognised.
Another alternative is for these reputable examinations (IELTS and TOEFL) to be conducted in collaboration with the Examination Council of Malaysia and implemented in schools, matriculation and foundation courses.
This would provide an avenue for students to sit these examinations or while enrolled in matriculation and foundation course centres rather than registering and taking the examinations separately just before applying to a foreign university.
This collaboration can also be seen as a cost-cutting measure for all prospective students who need to show proof of acceptable English language proficiency when applying to foreign universities overseas or their local branch campuses.
Malaysia should think outside the box and gain international recognition in all examinations conducted by the ministry.
N. Darmarajah, Universiti Teknologi Mara, Shah Alam, Selangor | email@example.com News Straits Times Online 03 October 2012