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M. Bakri Musa

Seeing Malaysia My Way

My Photo
Location: Morgan Hill, California, United States

Malaysian-born Bakri Musa writes frequently on issues affecting his native land. His essays have appeared in the Far Eastern Economic Review, Asiaweek, International Herald Tribune, Education Quarterly, SIngapore's Straits Times, and The New Straits Times. His commentary has aired on National Public Radio's Marketplace. His regular column Seeing It My Way appears in Malaysiakini. Bakri is also a regular contributor to th eSun (Malaysia). He has previously written "The Malay Dilemma Revisited: Race Dynamics in Modern Malaysia" as well as "Malaysia in the Era of Globalization," "An Education System Worthy of Malaysia," "Seeing Malaysia My Way," and "With Love, From Malaysia." Bakri's day job (and frequently night time too!) is as a surgeon in private practice in Silicon Valley, California. He and his wife Karen live on a ranch in Morgan Hill. This website is updated twice a week on Sundays and Wednesdays at 5 PM California time.

Thursday, December 07, 2023

Simple But Neccessary Steps To Enhancing English In Schools

 Simple But Necessary Steps To Enhancing English In Schools

M. Bakri Musa


Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim’s announcement on November 23, 2023, the anniversary of his Administration, to improve the standard of English in schools is commendable and much needed. However, he does not need to be reminded that between aspiration and realization is a vast gap, with many traps and obstacles, subtle as well as brazen.


            The rot in Malaysian education has been going on for decades. One does need outside confirmation as with the recently released PISA 2022 figures. As atrocious as those figures are, they are worse for Malays, if only someone cares to analyze the data. Before hiring expensive consultants and setting up fancy “high-level” committees, let me suggest five simple but necessary preliminary steps.


            First, set up English-medium Teachers Training Colleges. This may seem obvious but thus far this escapes those government experts. Enroll trainees directly after their Form Five (based on their SPM projections) and start the program in January. Like Teachers Colleges of yore, these students would be paid, thus attracting bright school leavers. Further, with their subsequent enhanced English proficiency and teaching diploma, they could secure entry as advanced students into good universities in the vast English-speaking world.


            In addition to producing future teachers of English, these colleges should also teach STEM so they could produce future teachers in those subjects.


            Related to that, teach STEM in English. Although the language content in STEM subjects is low (as compared to history or geography) nonetheless there would be double benefits – enhanced STEM competency together with English proficiency. Both command a premium in the marketplace outside of teaching. Consider such supposedly “Malay” words as kotiliden and naterium. Why not stick with the original English or scientific terms? Less confusing when reading scientific literature.


            Second, increase the hours devoted to English. As there are only so many hours in a school day, those devoted to subjects taught in Bahasa must correspondingly be reduced. Anticipate resistance. As Islamic Studies consume a major portion of the national curriculum, why not teach that subject in English as they do here in America. A superior model would be the Aljunid Religious School in Singapore. An even better example would be Church schools in America. Although religion is a minor part of the curriculum, its values are incorporated in the school’s culture. Those schools produce more than their share of the nation’s scientists, engineers, lawyers, and writers. Only a few ended up being in the clergy class.


            Incentivize English-language teachers by giving them extra allowances especially for those teaching in rural schools. Five years hence when those English-language Teachers Colleges are in full swing, wean off those incentives.


            Third, have an English-only week or month where the school assembly and other communications with the students would be in English, emulating earlier National Language week and month of the 1960s.


            Fourth, prioritize. Start with the two extremes, residential schools at one end, and kampung schools the other. The former because that is where the brightest Malay kids are; the latter because of the low level of English at home and in the community.


            Last is more symbolic but no less important. As the problem of lack of English proficiency is most acute among Malays, publicly recognize those who could speak and write in English well. I am surprised that accomplished Malay writers in English like Hanna Alkaf (The Weight of Our SkyQueen of the Tiles, etc.) are not more well known in our community.


            As can be seen, the problem of enhancing English proficiency among Malays is straightforward. The challenge is to find the will to execute it. That would require significant efforts at removing entrenched mental as well as cultural blocks. That in turn calls for steely leadership from the Prime Minister down to the local headmaster and teachers.


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