Take out politics from English
Posted by page-azimah on December 22 2015 14:48:30
A state of crisis
Friday November 13, 2015
Azrul Mohd Khalib

The problem of deteriorating English language proficiency is prevalent both in urban and rural communities regardless of ethnic background, particularly those of lower income households. The reality is pretty stark. When these kids finish school, they cannot speak or understand English.
Extended News
A state of crisis

Friday November 13, 2015
07:56 AM GMT+8

Azrul Mohd Khalib

Azrul Mohd Khalib is a social activist who works on HIV/AIDS, sexual reproductive health and human rights issues. He unashamedly considers himself a moderate and liberal person who loves reading great books and naughty stories, and running. He can be contacted at azrulmohdkhalib@gmail.com or on Twitter @azrulmohdkhalib

NOVEMBER 13 — ”English does not overshadow any national language. It serves to enhance and complement a person’s capability.”

Have you seen the three videos from Pemandu (the Performance Management and Delivery Unit)? The ones which emphasised the importance of the English language and the poor state of proficiency among Malaysian students? If you haven’t yet, you should. Please take some time off today to view them. Here they are:

Video 1

Video 2

Video 3

For all intents and purposes, with these videos, Pemandu has declared a state of crisis over the deteriorating levels of English language proficiency among our students in school.

If hearing the words of those interviewed is not enough to jerk us from our complacency and give us a sharp kick in the backside, I don’t know what else would.

There are some who would demand to know why we use proficiency in the English language as one of the barometers of national development and progress. Who speak up time and again against the promotion of the language and the need to improve proficiency in order to survive in the real world.

Who market and argue the false premise that increased proficiency in English would result in the marginalisation and eventually elimination of national language.

Who say things like “Kau orang Melayu. Cakaplah Bahasa Melayu” in response to a person trying to speak English.

In 2012, Malay nationalists won a major victory in pressuring the government to make a U-turn on the use of English to teach Mathematics and the Sciences. Nobody asked anyone to betray King and Country but to hear the anti-PPSMI proponents, you would have thought that was the case.

They even argued that the policy violated the Federal Constitution, and was unlawful under the Education Act and the National Language Act. All of which are false premises.

Make no mistake. The abolishment of the PPSMI and the introduction of its replacement MBMMBI (Memartabat Bahasa Melayu dan Memperkukuh Bahasa Inggeris) was a direct result of the government caving in to divisive Malay supremacist politics.

What you hear and see on those videos is the price paid for that surrender.

Some of the secondary school kids interviewed couldn’t even answer a simple question asking their name or share what their favourite subject in school was.

The problem of deteriorating English language proficiency is prevalent both in urban and rural communities regardless of ethnic background, particularly those of lower income households. The reality is pretty stark. When these kids finish school, they cannot speak or understand English.

This is the price that we pay for allowing destructive divisive communal politics to govern something as critical and essential as education. But it isn’t us adults who pay this price but our children.

The kids of the privileged and wealthy, and of those same politicians who are happy to gamble and play dice with the future of the children of others, are often unaffected by these shenanigans. They are often fortunate to be in a multilingual speaking environment whether at home and in school. Some even attend private school here in Malaysia or abroad. Some don’t even go through the Malaysian education system. I don’t blame them or their parents. You want what is best for your children and their future.

I ask the politicians in government: why is it acceptable for you to trade away the future of the kids of this country for your petty political agenda but are reluctant to do so when it affects your own children?

A parent interviewed in the video said, ”if you want your child to do big things, give them the correct tools, give them the correct language so that they can find information and knowledge easier.”

The government’s lack of backbone and commitment to the English language takes away the tools for these children to realise their full potential.

The recent news of more than 1,000 trainee doctors dropping out of medicine due to their frustration at not being able to cope and communicate in a field which is predominantly using English, is not surprising.

That 68 per cent of employers have turned down a potential new hire due to their lack of command or proficiency of the language, is not surprising.

More than 95 per cent of the 54,250 respondents who took part in the Pemandu survey agreed that there is a need for better proficiency and increased exposure to the English language in school.

Let’s not pretend that any of this is surprising. It’s just that our politicians live in a bubble and prefer a reality much different than our own.

Listen to the hopes, dreams and aspirations of the students, their parents and teachers. “Kita nak sama taraf, berdiri sama taraf dengan orang lain dalam segi Bahasa Inggeris,” said a parent with great dignity.

I shed a tear listening to the teacher who said, “Oh my God, please help me. When I enter the school area, I pray... Help me. Help me. I cannot do it alone.”

That is the reality facing many teachers teaching English in our country today. Despite their courageous commitment and steadfast dedication to their students, they often stand alone. They deserve better.

The constant politicisation of the education system has resulted in unsustainable initiatives and half-hearted programmes subject to the whims and fancies of the politicians who helm the Ministry of Education. Already there is talk of slow retreat from the ambitious Malaysia Education Blueprint (2013 — 2025) simply because it was developed and championed under the aegis of former Deputy Prime Minister and Education Minister Tan Sri Muhiyiddin Yassin.

How many more pilot projects or programmes does the Ministry of Education need? How many times does it need to convene roundtable discussions, dialogues, consultations? The professionals and educationalists at the Ministry already know what is needed.

At the end of the videos, Pemandu calls for drastic action to address the deteriorating situation.

An MoU will be signed during Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s upcoming visit to Malaysia which will see hundreds of English teachers from India teaching in rural schools across the country for two years as yet another pilot project. Who knows? Maybe that will do the trick. One thing I do know is that there are no shortcuts to education.

But here’s my suggestion. I call for the appointment of a professional educator as an English Language czar to replace the current Minister of Education and Deputy Minister as the lead to address this crisis. Their lacklustre response to the videos thus far reflects the lack of interest, urgency and moral courage that they have on this issue. Honestly, they just do not inspire confidence.

The czar should be a single point person to oversee all efforts to improve the proficiency of the English language in Malaysian schools. As a professional educator, she or he will be value-driven, guided by principles, passion, commitment to education and a purpose bigger than themselves.

That person will have the full mandate, power and time to make whatever changes and innovations necessary, to introduce drastic measures and bring in the full resources of the government, regardless of political consideration to do what needs to be done to ensure that our children, their parents and most importantly, their teachers get the help and support that they need.

They all deserve better from us.

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

- See more at: http://www.themalaymailonline.com/opinion/azrul-mohd-khalib/article/a-state-of-crisis#sthash.0O0gtIbC.dpuf