Devote more time to English language, not Malay, Putrajaya told

A group of pupils in their classroom at one of Malaysia’s many vernacular schools. — Wikimedia Commons pic
A group of pupils in their classroom at one of Malaysia’s many vernacular schools. — Wikimedia Commons pic

KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 18 — Putrajaya needs to focus more of its time and resources to enhance the standard of English in schools rather than the Malay language, a forum on education was told today.

Speakers at the forum organised by The Edge financial daily reasoned that this is because the national scores for the Malay language are already significantly higher than scores in English.

They pointed out that Putrajaya now faces a huge challenge to achieve the 70 per cent credit scorers in the General Certificate of Education O-Level English by 2025, as targeted in the new education blueprint launched last year.

“This by any chance is a massive, massive job. To get a credit in a Cambridge English paper, we need to spend a lot of resources to do this,” said former president of the Federation of Malaysian Manufacturers, Tan Sri Yong Poh Kon.

Yong said the biggest effort would be to increase the percentage of scorers among the Bumiputera community, where currently only 23 per cent scored a credit, according to the latest data in 2010 by the Malaysian Examinations Syndicate.

In comparison, currently 42 per cent of Chinese and 35 per cent among Indian students are scoring credit in the paper, also known as English 1119.

“They need to find time to devote to increase the credit passes in English, and something has got to give. It is not necessary to go from 84 to 90 per cent credit in Malay,” said Yong, who is also the managing director of Royal Selangor International Sdn Bhd.

Yong was referring to a similar target in the Malaysian Education Blueprint 2013-2025 to increase credit scorers in Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia Malay language — the highest certificate for Malaysian secondary schools.

Currently, 84 per cent of Bumiputera students scored a credit, and the blueprint aims to increase it to 90 per cent.

The forum organised by financial daily The Edge today saw its speakers agreeing on the need to increase proficiency of English among Malaysian students, even to the extent of reintroducing English-medium schools.

This followed Malaysia’s dismal results in two international benchmark studies on education last year: the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) and Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS).

In the 2012 edition of PISA, Malaysia was 52nd overall out of the 65 countries, and firmly entrenched in the bottom third of the survey.

Datin Noor Azimah Rahim, an outspoken advocate of English education, claimed that Malaysian schools can choose whether to answer the PISA test in English or Malay, and those which chose the former had scored better.

“The Director-General of Education said that some schools actually scored as well as Shanghai, which was a top performer in the assessment,” said Azimah, who is the chairman of education watchdog Parents’ Action Group for Education (Page).

“I’ve been told that of the top 10 schools which scored close to Shanghai, nine of them answered in English ... And this I’m sure will not be made public because it would be contrary to what the government has prepared for our children.”

Other panelists at today’s forum was the chancellor INTI International University Tan Sri Arshad Ayub, executive director of the Malaysian Employers Federation Shamsuddin Bardan, and Pandan MP Rafizi Ramli.

Critics have accused the government of allowing political interests to creep into decisions on education policy, most notably the decision to abandon of the Policy of Teaching Science and Mathematics in English (PPSMI) in 2010 that is alleged to have been a nod to Malay nationalists.

Parents and education lobbyists said the inconsistencies in education and a refusal to put greater emphasis on English was to blame for the country’s prolonged drop in standards.

Following concerns from parents, Education Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin launched the education blueprint which among others aims to uplift the performance of Malaysian students from their current place in the bottom third of the PISA ranking to the opposite end.