Monday, 20 May 2013

Right, bring back English schools would be a smart move for Malaysians


Bring back English schools

It is unhealthy for race relations when the student population in Chinese schools is 99.9% Chinese, Tamil schools is 100% Indian and national schools, dubbed Malay schools, is 80% to 90% Malay.

SERIOUSLY, the government should allow the use of English as a medium of instruction in schools again. If there are Chinese and Tamil primary schools alongside national schools, there is no reason for Malaysians not to have other options.

At present, the other option for better English proficiency is in private schools, which allocate more time for the teaching of English despite following the national school syllabus. However, it is an expensive option that only a few can afford.

Why should the right of Malaysians to study in English-medium schools be enjoyed only by those who can afford to study at international schools?

There are many good reasons for English-medium schools to be reintroduced, chief of which must surely be the language's neutral status whereby no one can claim ownership to it.

Older Malaysians who went to English-medium schools can testify that it was in such an environment that they made many friends of all ethnic backgrounds.

The English schools, as they were popularly referred to, were neutral grounds and were real cultural melting pots.

Friendship cultivated at primary school level among Malaysians of different races and religions would always be strong and deep. Our current primary school system basically does not provide such opportunities for our young ones to mix.

We do get to mix with one another later on in life, but working relationships that are untested or superficial are not true friendships.

Older Malaysians can narrate long stories of how they used to sleep over at their friends' homes, eating with their friends' families and parents of their friends treating them like their own children. These friendships continued even after they went to university, entered working life, and got married.

These are the kinds of friends who would be part of the wedding entourage, either on the side of the bride or bridegroom.

I am now 52 years old. I believe I was among the last batch of Malaysians who had the privilege of being taught in English.

While some may dismiss what I have said as elitist or an attempt to glorify English at the expense of the national language, let me set the record straight. In Form 6, I opted to study Malay Literature and sat for the exam in Upper Six, which was then called Higher School Certificate and is the equivalent of the STPM today. It was also the entrance exam into local universities. I also studied Islamic History.

During my first year at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, I also chose Malay Letters as one of my three majors. At UKM, it is also compulsory to pass the Islamic Civilisation course, which was a basic course on Islam. I have also amassed a huge collection of books on Islam in my private library, and the works of Malay artists like Yusuf Ghani and Ismail Latiff continue to inspire me.

I dare say many of our politicians and leaders of so-called non-governmental organisations, who loudly make statements with racial overtones, do not even have such credentials.

But the point I am making is that more and more Chinese parents are sending their children to Chinese primary schools because they believe the standard of teaching and discipline in these schools is better. For the same reason, the number of Malay students at such schools has also increased.

But most Malay parents send their children to national schools where they form the bulk of the student population. Over the years, the national schools have been seen by many Chinese as becoming more religious in nature.

It's a Catch 22 situation. If the Chinese are shunning national schools, then the students in these schools would be predominantly Malay.

The Federal Constitution guarantees the position of Chinese and Tamil schools. No politician, whether in Barisan Nasional or Pakatan Rakyat, would dare to make any statement against these vernacular schools.

But the reality is that it is unhealthy when the student population in Chinese schools is 99.9% Chinese, Tamil schools is 100% Indian and national schools, dubbed Malay schools, is 80% to 90% Malay!

It is meaningless to talk about 1Malaysia when our children have no friends of other races in their formative years! Many Malaysians in their 30s and 40s now are already in this situation.

Just ask Malaysians at random how many real friends of other races, not colleagues, customers or bosses, they have. Be honest.

Is it any wonder then that the Malays are incredulous when they see Chinese Malaysians who can't speak Bahasa Malaysia well or even refuse to speak Bahasa among themselves?

The Chinese, on the other hand, still wonder why some Malay quarters continue to ask what else the Chinese want when they find that some policies are working against them and make them feel discriminated.

This is happening because race relations have taken a beating. The various races are not talking or trying to understand one another. Each side only sees its own viewpoint without appreciating that in a complex and plural society like ours, no one group can have its way completely.

We have churned out bigots in our schools. It also doesn't help that the various races are only watching channels in their own languages on Astro. The only time they probably watch the same channel is when an English Premier League football match is on.

If we are serious about restoring the standard of English in schools and improving race relations in this country, bring back the English-medium schools. Let Malaysians choose.

On the Beat by WONG CHUN WAI

Yes, bring back English schools

I AGREE with Wong Chun Wai’s views as expressed in his On The Beat column to “Bring back English schools”.

It is timely for our Prime Minister and his new Cabinet to seriously consider bringing back English-medium schools to help foster racial unity among Malaysians.

Racial unity begins in the most formative years of our children, which is the time when they are in primary and secondary schools.

This is the time when they can easily relate to one another as true friends without even thinking of race, religion or social background.

I am 51 years old and a practising Buddhist. I was educated in a mission school, the St Xavier’s Institution in Penang, of which I am very proud of until today.

During our formative years, we had many close friends of all races. We played games together with the Malays and Indians after school, and usually ended up enjoying their families’ home-cooked food and hospitality.

It was during such moments that we not only appreciated the spicy curry dishes, but we also learned about their cultures.

These fond memories and happy moments with classmates like Mohd Farid, Mohd Salmi, Razak, Ismail Manaf, Chandran, Ravi, Richard Clarence and many others are still vivid in my mind.

But my own children, who are now in their teens, are not able to share similar moments.

Another good reason to bring back English-medium schools must surely be to improve our command of the language, both written and oral.

Many of our local university graduates have a very poor command of the language.

As a human resource practitioner for more than 15 years, I have met many of these fresh graduates who cannot speak properly, or even complete a conversation in English during interviews.

They prefer to speak either in Bahasa Malaysia or Mandarin because they did not grow up in an environment where they could use English more frequently.

It appears to me that those who go to government schools are greatly disadvantaged in this respect when compared to their peers who go to private or international schools.

In my time, we have no choice but to speak in English, as that was our common language in school.

Bringing these schools back will also give us a global competitive edge and help the nation in its economic transformation programme.

By MICHAEL HEAH Penang

English-medium schools seen as right move 

 
The Penang Free School is the first English School in Malaysia that was started in 1816 (It's still around!). As the population grows, more schools were built ranging from the Straits Settlement of Penang, Perak, Selangor, Malacca and Singapore. This has benefitted the urban people as they received education from these English schools.

PETALING JAYA: Bringing back English-medium schools as an option would be a smart move, say many groups.

Sarawak Teachers Union president William Ghani Bina said English is a global language.

“If we want our children to be global citizens, there are no two ways about it,” said Bina when commenting on The Star executive director and group chief editor Datuk Seri Wong Chun Wai's On the Beat column on bringing back English-medium schools.

In his column yesterday, Wong said that the Government should allow the use of English as a medium of instruction in schools again.

Wong added that if there are Chinese and Tamil primary schools alongside national schools, there is no reason for Malaysians not to have other options.

At present, he said the other option for better English proficiency is in private schools, which allocate more time for the teaching of English despite following the national school syllabus.

Parent Action Group for Education (PAGE) Malaysia chairman Datin Noor Azimah Abdul Rahim said English is the language of knowledge.

“As our students are not being taught in English, what we see is a loss of opportunity to acquire knowledge,” she said.

Microsoft Malaysia Legal and Corporate Affairs director Jasmine Belum said English is the language of business and technology.

“We want to make sure that Malaysians are proficient so that they are not at a competitive disadvantage,” she added.

Malaysian English Language Teaching Association (Melta) president Dr Ganakumaran Subramaniam agreed, saying that English-medium schools does not mean converting to a non-Malaysian curriculum.

“We also need to remember that if English is the medium only at international schools, then we are polarising our students further.

“There needs to be equal opportunity,” he added.

StarEducate columnist Mallika Vasugi said the neutrality of the English language also acts as a binding agent.
“What we see now in secondary schools is that different races tend to remain separate, based on their language.

“But what we also see is that those who mix around the most are the ones who speak English,” said Mallika who is also an English language teacher.

By LUWITA HANA RANDHAWA educate@thestar.com.my