Malay and English, a two-step dance

Published in The Sun 29 October 2012

THE emplacement of Bahasa Malaysia as the national language and medium of instruction in national schools has seen its steady growth as the language of official and academic communication. In this the Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka (DBP) has played an outstanding role in standardising the linguistic structures of the language viz its syntax, morphology, phonetics and phonology, as well as coordinating its vocabulary viz semantics, lexicology and terminology. Through its various divisions, boards and councils, the DBP has ensured that Bahasa Melayu has grown from its role as the lingua franca in pre-independence Malaya to being a veritable modern language with formal systems, structures and rules to govern its use. Malaysians now communicate well formally and informally in the national language.

It is inevitable that the growth of a language, especially one with a large community of users who use the language for different purposes, will produce regional dialects and socio-cultural varieties each with its own registers and conventions. It is thus important to understand the role of the DBP in monitoring the standard variety of Bahasa Malaysia and ensuring that its development upholds the most sound linguistic principles and theories as well as the most urgent national needs and aspirations. Malaysians should feel secure in the knowledge that the national language is now firmly entrenched in the nation’s development. The people must continue to support it as it is poised for a second spurt of growth.

In the second half century of Malaysia’s development when the country is committed to becoming a global player in technology and innovation, commerce and industry, there has to be a firm commitment to a national education system where English, the global language, is positioned as the natural complement to Bahasa Malaysia, the national language. The discourse on education has seen countless cries for the reinstatement of English as a strong second language for Malaysians to acquire knowledge and skills. There’s no doubt that English will equip the nation’s young with better prospects for employment, both locally and internationally. So why are we playing the waiting game?

What the country urgently needs to move forward is a transforming bilingual education system supported by a sound Bilingual Education Philosophy/ Policy that governs teaching and learning in the public schools. To circumvent the continuous bargaining between the country’s three major ethnic groups in their bid to assume linguistic and cultural superiority, the English language must resurface as a peace and pacemaker. Whether they study in the sekolah kebangsaan or sekolah jenis kebangsaan, Malaysian students must be equalised in getting the same access to English.

The most effective way of integrating the various streams entrenched in the national education system is to have a clear philosophy/policy statement on bilingualism where English can be used to unite the schools, teachers and students who are growing further apart as they operate within their own linguistic and cultural silos. If Bahasa Malaysia is positioned as the language which fosters national integration, English can be positioned as the language which promotes national and international networking for pragmatic purposes.

To be seriously implemented on the ground, bilingualism must manifest itself in a clear philosophy/policy statement such as:

“The national education system upholds and promotes bilingualism (Malay and English) in the curriculum of national schools and higher institutions of learning in order to produce students who will acquire knowledge and skills through their mastery of both languages. Malaysians who go through the national education system will enter the employment market with a high level of proficiency in both languages, where Malay will optimise their work and career opportunities at the local level, and English at the global level.”

The teaching and learning of the English language in schools must be structured to produce a higher level of proficiency through the following:

» Transformations in teaching and learning methodologies with the use of computer-aided learning, language labs and tapes to provide opportunities for immersion into the language to circumvent the problem of poor teacher quality.

» Exposure to English in the curriculum must be increased by making English the language of instruction for subjects such as Moral Education and Civics.

» English reading and references should be incorporated for the subjects taught in Malay, Chinese and Tamil to enable teachers and students to operate in both languages.

» Literature/Reading should be formally incorporated into the greater English language curriculum.

In coming up with the Education Blueprint, the government has taken a giant step forward in formulating an expansive set of proposals to transform the national education system. All these must be scrutinised with the greatest care to ensure the resources are properly used to produce the greatest results. If the democratisation of education and the equalising of educational opportunities, facilities and infrastructure for Malaysians is the outstanding battle cry, this must be formalised in a well-stated educational philosophy and policy. It is time for bilingualism to take on this role.


6 Responses to “MALAY & ENGLISH”

  1. 1 Thumb Logic
    October 30, 2012 at 9:57 pm

    Language is only a tool. We must give our children the best tool without making it an ideology.Education is separate issue. You select what you think is the best tool and have an educuation system that is based on quality, equity and unity for all citizens.Every citizen must be able to work through the system and must have the opportunity to occupy the highest office in the land.Only 35 countries have english as the medium of instruction. The rest have other languages as their medium of instruction and are able to give quality education to their citizens based on equity and unity. In the 60s and 70s we had World Calss Schools with students form those institutions being able to gain admission to the best Universities in the world. But today I am afraid that our system of education is bias because only certain groups are able to benefit from it.Until that changes we can shout until the cows come home and we will be running on the spots as we have been since the late 80s..

  2. 2 ninitalk
    October 31, 2012 at 4:41 pm

    I agree with you Thumb Logic that the country’s national education system i.e. the public school system must be democratic and democratised to provide equal educational opportunities for its citizens. Unfortunately, at its very foundation it is divided along ethnic lines – the sekolah kebangsaan having a predominantly Malay population, the sekolah jenis kebangsaan Cina, predominantly Chinese and the sekolah jenis kebangsaan Tamil, predominantly Indian. The basic structure of the Malaysian national education system is ethnocentric with all its accompanying socio- cultural biases.

    If we look at the mushrooming of facilities for private education we quickly come to the conclusion that there is no fairness or equality in education in this country. Societies everywhere are greatly unequal, certain groups and classes having better opportunities than others. The most deprived are those in the remote area who have no access to basic infrastructure.

    However, unlike you I do not think we should sit back and wait for the cows to come home. Its for us to go out and look for them and bring them to greener pastures. In other words if you think there are serious imbalances point them out and suggest ways of correcting them. For instance long-distance learning via radio is successful in third world countries. The use of language tapes has educated thousands of children in India.

    That is the purpose of getting feedback from the people and putting them into the Education Blueprint to be administered for the next 15 years. It doesn’t help to be forever cynical or negative and to blame past policies. It’s for you Thumb Logic to come up with some brilliant suggestions for educational transformation. Who knows your ideas are really good and can be translated into a policy or at least a teaching methodology to help Malaysians get a better education.

    Come on TL, share some of your ideas as NT has done!

  3. 3 Thumb Logic
    November 2, 2012 at 9:38 pm

    I find it a bit difficult to share your optimism because when it comes to implementation of all policies, government is guided by the New Economic Policy.

  4. November 3, 2012 at 4:38 am

    Isn’t having hope and being optimistic the driving force in our lives TL? If we have made a mistake don’t we want to correct it and move on? If this is what we do in our personal life, why can’t we do the same in the life of the nation? Isn’t this what change and transformation entail?

    Of course it’s easier to be armchair critics and point out the faults of other people including our leaders and policy makers. Of course we can forever point fingers and revel in our own inertia and cynicism. But if we are sincere in wanting to build a better society where all are equal under the Malaysian sun, we have to do something about it don’t we?

    But there are still so many basic inequalities out there that have to be tackled. It’s for you to tackle too TL if not with your sweat and tears, at least with your ideas.

    Salams and PEACE

  5. November 3, 2012 at 4:06 pm

    I agree with you. But our problem is that those who are in a position to make the changes feel that there is no need to because they do not believe that mistakes have been made. In a sense they may be right because their starting point is different and objectives are different. Education in a sense is like bringing up your child. If you begin on the principle of ownership and control you will end up dissapointed because the child will not be what you want him or her to be. So what do you do. In the infant and early years you try to provide the facilities that will allow you child to have a healthy growth. Then from the age of 5 to 7 you begin to introduce them to early learning. From 7 to 14 you try to guide them, and exercise care and control giving them the best tools and a feeling that they are equal to the the other children in the family.This gives them the confidence that they can be wahtever they want to be. If you find a child is slow then you pay more attention to him or her. But once they are in Form 4 and above it becomes more and more difficult to dictate. The child must feel its worth and more importantly must be made to understand that he or she will treated fairly and be rewarded accordingly by the examination system. The parents must show a certain level of intergrety and fairness in their handling of their children but at the same time giving them the the room to be whatever they want to be. Once they go into university they are on their own and have to compete for grades with other students without fear or favour. After all that you hope they will be able to stand on their own two feet. Now if you tell this to our people who are responsible for education in this country they will tell you, yes we provide all of the above for the children who go to government schools. But unfortunately the truth lies somewhere between what the students experience and what the people responsible for education say they are providing.

    Now you talk about private schools. They are costly and most of the working people who are living within their means cannot afford to send their children there. And frankly I am surprised that we are allowing private schools , below university level, based on a medium of instruction that is different from government schools. Such an approach clearly undermines the education system and put its credibilty under severe stress, particularly in our quest for unity and equity. Add to that the tution business and all incentives to build a quality education system is undermined.

    Hence, even before you can talk about an Education Blue Print you must get the basics right. I am all for social inequalities being addressed provided that over 55 years they will become less and less of an issue. But in our case these inequalities are still an issue meaning they have not been addressed adequately and therefore policies to address them will continue for sometime to come. Clearly in the Internet Age time is not on our side.

  6. November 13, 2012 at 6:14 am

    To equalise disparities in life takes forever and a day because God did not make humans equal. Trying out and implementing equalising measures in education must therefore continue unabated. We may not get it 100% right but we will continue to adapt and change as society changes.

    The Association of Voices of Peace, Conscience and Reason after almost a year of liaising with the MOE and Pejabat Pelajaran Daerah have finally managed to get approval for the PCORE English in Harmony Camp (Kem Jalinan Bahasa Inggeris). Through the 5 week Saturday camp we are pursuing the two-fold objectives of promoting (1) communication in English (2) integration among the SK and SJK students.

    Our pilot programme at the Sekolah Wawasan Complex in USJ 15 was very well received by the schools and the Year 5 students who responded so well to the fun English communcation and the intermingling with their peers from the other schools/ backgrounds. PCORE will continue with the programme and spread the peace and harmony.

    TL – you may think our efforts are mundane but at least we are trying to equalise the inequalities in language education. We see the HUGE potential in the methods we use as the students develop confidence and communicate in English.

    This is what I mean – if we sit around mulling over life’s inequalities we achieve nothing. If we do something about it we achieve results however small. In the same spirit PCORE supports what the government is trying to do by embarking on education transformation.

    TL – do send your ideas and recommendations to be officially incorporated. Salams and PEACE

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