English as a Compulsory to Pass Subject in SPM – My View

UPDATE: It’s back to BM.

Dr M has a sort-of survey going on at his blog. See it and speak your mind at Che Det.


Here are some views on the issue of whether English should be a compulsory to pass subject in the SPM, from The Star 9 June 2009:

Malaysian English Language Teaching Association president Dr S. Ganakumaran said that before making English compulsory, the Government must upgrade the quality of teaching and learning, as well as the professional skills of teachers.

Parent Action Group for Education chairman Datin Noor Azimah Abd Rahim concurs, saying that it can only be carried out when weaknesses within the teaching profession had been ironed out.

“It is one way for the standard of English to be improved, but the issue of Teaching of Mathematics and Science in English has to be sorted out first,” she said.

Movement for the Abolition of Teaching and Learning Science and Mathematics in English president Datuk Dr Hassan Ahmad disagrees with the idea.

“If a student obtained As in all subjects except English, this means he failed his SPM. He would become a victim of the English Language colonisation,” he said.

Dr Hassan said it would be more sensible for the Government to revamp the teaching of English to ensure all students, particularly those in the rural areas, became proficient in the language.

As The Star reports, Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin wants the public’s feedback on the matter by calling the Education Ministry’s customer service line at 03 – 7723 7070 or by emailing to kpkpm@moe.gov.my.

Here’s my take on the matter: No, English shouldn’t be a compulsory to pass subject in the SPM. Here is my reasoning:

The majority of Malaysian students (and indeed, Malaysians on the whole) suck at English. By forcing them to pass English in SPM before being allowed to move on to the next level of education, we would be hamstringing their otherwise workable results (e.g. excellent maths or technical skills).

Of course, by allowing students to basically ignore English all the way to university, we would be producing citizens who cannot function in the international, English-compulsory stage. And they would be sorely tested if university lectures are held in English.

But does everybody really need a university education? The nation needs plenty of service and technically-skilled personnel, such as mechanics, electricians, locksmiths… All stuff that a tertiary-level egghead like myself cannot do!

And does everyone in Malaysia really need to speak English on par with British or American standards? We need professionals at home too, instead of planning to send out every graduate overseas. Indeed, I bet a fair percentage of local students have no plans at all of venturing outside Malaysia where their reliance on only their mother tongue would be a setback.

And if a worker decides that he or she wants to move on to lucrative international employment, they can start learning English on their own accord (or study harder during school years to ace that SPM exam). Indeed, this is already demonstrated with Mandarin – countless students and professionals are picking it up all on their own, in order to capitalize on the emergence of China as a world player (perhaps the world player). Yet we don’t see the government debating whether or not to make Chinese a compulsory pass subject.

The same goes for other skills often sought out by employers but not formally and compulsorily taught, such as computer literacy, driver’s license, sales skills, sucking up to the boss, etc.

In conclusion, by not making English a prerequisite to an adequately-lit future, we can reach a compromise between having an internationally-capable workforce (those who make individual efforts to learn English, for their own benefit) and not unduly burdening those who only aim to be part of the local workforce (and have no intention at all to ever step out of their local-dialect comfort zones).

Frankly, the level of English required to pass SPM is much higher than that needed for basic communication. Of course, ‘pasar’ English is not going to hammer out a functional resume… But as I keep harping on about, if applicants really want that high paying job in a multinational firm, then they should go out and learn English on their own initiative!

PS. As I’ve said before, English is stupid and hard! But if it weren’t, I wouldn’t have a job…

PPS. This entire post is so not a cynical ploy to increase my employability relative to others. Really.

UPDATE: Apparently, many people (at least the more vocal ones) think the same too.

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40 Responses to “English as a Compulsory to Pass Subject in SPM – My View”

  1. kweky Says:

    the curent recession has really opened up a lot of doubts regarding the influence of western systems in our daily lives…. the western education, the western mindsets towards a healthy life, western system in doing business and so forth….

    let’s talk about education first, a decade ago, a degree from taiwan was considered a lower class degree in comparison to a western degree. an engineer graduated from a taiwan U will be paid slightly lower in comparison to an engineer graduated with an american or UK degree…. the scenario have changed significantly over the recent years and the employers are now looking forward to employ more graduates of eastern education system.

    what’s the difference???

    the main difference is practicality.

    when it comes to business, the easterners still adopt very conservative methods in doing business. an american customer used to tell me. “never let money go stagnant. make use of the money and make more money out of it.” as for easteners like us, we always believe in “saving some for the rainy days”. what happened in US and Europe in this current recession have established confirmations that the diferences in the mindsets have put the once so strong western civilisation into chaos.

    in my opinion, the western civilisations will soon fall, with or without the crouching tiger (india) and hidden dragon(china) in the market, the western civilisations will slowly but surely diminish, (diminishing in terms of its strength, influence, and capability) and due to this, will english still be this important???

    in the near future, another five years or so, china alone will be the biggest buyer and seller. they will be the next economical giant that will change the global market forever. with china in full force, the market will be made so competitive that every single attribute of human skills will be put to test.

    will mandarin come in to replace english as the next top international language??? i seriously think so. will western education system be able to remain its relevance and conformity???? i don’t think so.

    so, dude, make a wise step.. learn mandarin first. appreciate the culture and see how it goes. just stop debating about the importance of the english language. it will make no diference in the very near future.

  2. oneworldmaybenot Says:

    Hey, I was thinking the same thing…..let English standard go down the drain so it will increase our employability hehehe.

    kweky, I’m afraid we won’t see China rival USA in the near future, not within 50 years at least. By then we will all be dead

  3. 12345 Says:

    They are learning english in perak

  4. siti eshah othman Says:

    saya setuju wajib lulus subjek bahasa inggeris,tetapi ppsmi hendaklah di kembalikan kebahasa malaysia kembali.sebab ini dua matlamat yang berbeza.anak melayu tak akan bodoh seperti di ucapkan oleh dr m,dan negara tak akan hancur..janganlah cuba mencampuri urusan kerajaan lagi.contohilah TUN ABDULLAH AHMAD BADAWI.Bagilah peluang kabinet baru mentadbir dangan kerajaan sekarang.Mereka pun tahu kehendak rakyat.Itu konsep 1 malaysia.

  5. raintree Says:

    kekekeke konsep 1 malaysia janganlah cuba mencampuri urusan kerajaan lagi..kaki susuk semua

  6. Adifferentvoice Says:

    Two 55yr old men in conversation in a stock broker’s, Tue. A: how would making a pass compulsory help? B: aiya, where got standard anyway? If your parents speak English at home, you got advantage lo. A: yea, and got Eng tuition even more lucky. B: not everyone got money for tuition. A: no la, not everyone got interest in English, money not reli a problem.

  7. Barisan No Hope Says:

    Can pass kah?

    The oppositions don’t even want our children to master English lah, how to pass?


  8. wits0 Says:

    LKS can also drop his specs ; he isn’t infallible in all things.

  9. ruyom Says:

    I hope everyone studies this carefully crafted article by Awang Selamat (Utusan), one of the best apologists and spin doctors Umno has to offer us, and reflect on the cynicism, hypocrisy and corruption that opportunists hope might appeal to backwards feudal mentalities so beloved of those who walk the corridors of power in Putrajaya.

    Let us examine the Awang Selamat article.

    When Awang Selamat writes the malays have been betrayed, then he is keeping very good company indeed. Adolf Hitler repeatedly wrote the Germans have been betrayed by the minority Jews. Karadzan Milosevic repeatedly said the Serbians have been betrayed by the minority Bosnians.

    Robert Mugabe repeatedly said the Zimbabweans have been betrayed by the foreign West. The BJP regularly say that the Hindus have been betrayed by the minority Muslims.

    Nevertheless I am certain that the Malays nowadays are not as uninformed as Awang Selamat and his political masters in Umno would like to believe.

    The fact is, Malaysia is fast becoming another basket case country – and the most important thing if you can’t fix the problem or won’t fix the problem is that – Umno can still make sure they win the next elections by fixing the blame.

    There is rampant theft by Umno elites, wholesale corruption by Umno cronies whereby the rich and connected malays are entitled to rob the poor and everybody else under the guise of social justice via the NEP, Umno nepotism in the leadership selection process, a fixed judiciary by Umno, a fixed police by Umno and a fixed electoral commissions by Umno.

    Why should Umno leaders fix the problem when they are getting richer by the minute via corruption, cronyism and nepotism?

    Awang Selamat like other Utusan hacks have been hired to do the job for Umno – make sure Umno can fix the blame onto the non-Malays via a good dose of racist rhetoric, scare mongering, hate mongering, bigotry and ethnic xenophobia – straight from the serious and weighty editorial section of Utusan.

    They all have been victims – the minority Bosnian Muslims in the former Yugoslavia, minority Jews in Nazi Germany, minority Muslims in BJP India, minority whites in Zimbabwe and of course, the minority non-Malays in Malaysia.

    There are no prizes for guessing who is being prepared for the role of the fall guy, scapegoat and bogeyman by Umno in Malaysia – it is Hindraf, the Bar Council, Bersih, DAP, PAS and PKR.

    Adolf Hitler, Karadzan Milosevic, Robert Mugabe, BJP and Umno gangs all have one thing in common – they became obscenely powerful, filthy rich while their countrymen suffered, starved and died for it.

    All the while their leaders shouted – traitor this and traitor that – as if the louder they shouted the more easily their lies could be believed.

    Luckily there are a lot of Malay-Muslims in Malaysia who think for themselves, and not swallow everything Utusan tells them to. How stupid do Umno spin doctors think the rakyat have become?

    As for rich Umno elites getting contracts and scholarships, and poor bright non-Malay students not even getting a place in our higher institutes of learning, this is Umno version of social justice – what a joke, what a travesty, what a monstrous lie.

    The fact is Umno cannot make enough money to support their mansions, exotic cars, and wives without stealing from you and me – so Umno version of social justice will always be Umno steals from everybody – you should know by now Umno loves stealing from the poor because the poor are just such easy targets – Malays, Chinese, and Indians – semua di makan oleh Umno – sedapnya!

    Awang Selamat appears aggrieved that today generation of Malay Muslim leaders might actually believe in freedom, equality and fraternity. He might be upset that some Malay Muslim leaders are trying to preach goodwill and compassion to everyone – regardless of race or creed.

    I suppose this is a shocking betrayal of Umno apartheid policies where in Malaysia today you can be threatened, mollycoddled, scapegoat-ed or jailed strictly on the basis of your ethnic origins.

    As a word of caution, I am sure the boys at Utusan will mix it up for their readers – sound conciliatory at some times and then sound racist xenophobic at other times – because even the most stupid people will be able to see through their ploy.

    So recently when Muhyiddin ostensibly tells Utusan off in public for being too racist, what he actually means is this – You Utusan hacks are fooling nobody so please change tactics for now – later when the climate is more conducive, then you can try being racist again!

    Whether the average Malay thinks Awang Selamat is talking sense or nonsense, it is immaterial to me as I have already emigrated to a country where they insist on equal citizenship, equal opportunity, inter racial solidarity, freedom of speech, rule of law, and freedom of religion – and they insist you get it for free.

    Although I love my place of birth, and I am used to racial and religious idiocy from people like Awang Selamat, I see no good reason why my children should have to put up with the same institutionalised racism in a rapidly declining Third World basket case like Umno apartheid Malaysia.

    In future, it won’t really matter if the next generation become university graduates or not because the Malaysian public universities will be so rotten that the degrees will be just worthless pieces of paper. What future will the kids have then?

    The fate of Malaysia will always be in the hands of the malays. I hope they will choose wisely but then again, it is way too late for me and my family, because I am busy creating a life for myself abroad.

    With people like Awang Selamat to lead the way for Umno, in spite of the pain of separation from old friends and family in Malaysia, and loneliness I feel abroad, I smile to myself every time I read Utusan, because I definitely know I made the right decision leaving for a country abroad that actually has a future.

  10. kweky Says:

    dear ruyom, i agree wholeheartedly with you. god bless us all!!

  11. Adifferentvoice Says:

    I think kweky meant “God save us all”.

  12. heyimjason Says:

    I don’t know as much as Malaysia (or most other countries) as I’d like.. but I’ve never quite understood why any foreign language would be a requirement to ANY school system.

    I think if a student wants to learn another language, they should be able to sign up for one – absolutely.

    But if a student has no plans to ever really use the language, or move to any country that primarily speaks said language, it sort of seems like a waste of time and energy.

    I (very briefly) attended a deep-south, backwards-ass school that required a foreign language course. Having only French and Spanish available, I opted for Spanish, as it’s a fairly easy language for an English speaking person to learn. However, after a week or so, I realized that I’d never be using Spanish, and I was upset that I was required to learn it.

    I wanted to learn other languages (Latin and German) – but didn’t feel it was fair that I HAD to learn another language. I stopped doing my work (especially after I realized the loads of this useless homework was taking time away from my other courses, as well as daily time to myself). I would have flunked if I hadn’t raised hell with the administrators and explained my argument several times over.

    I suppose that doesn’t matter – but I suppose blog comments don’t have to. 😛

  13. Scott Thong Says:

    It gets more complicated than that heyimjason… In Malaysia, the official national language is Malay. But there are lots of students who never learn it well enough to pass an exam. The reason? Like you said, they have no plans to ever really use the language, and hope they can one day move to another country where that language will never be used!

    This is actually practical when many of them have good English or Mandarin in a world dominated by America and China, and Singapore is just across the causeway. What to do then?

  14. heyimjason Says:

    I suppose it boils down to tradition vs practicality. Tough choice. Either will benefit in some way. My gut instinct would be to go for tradition (pride, patriotism, values, whatever you’d like to call it). But if they simply don’t use their own language enough to even pass exams, perhaps change is in order.

    I dunno.. touchy subject, I’d think. I think without being in that situation, I couldn’t really formulate a strong opinion. I didn’t know that they didn’t actually learn their national language that well.

    Then again, Singapore seems to be functioning quite well without using their ancestral languages. I’ll have to read more into the history of Singapore. I know it was once largely used by the British (if I remember correctly), but I’d assume the natives were Asian and didn’t speak English to begin with.

  15. Jamie Says:

    The natives spoke Malay and when the Chinese immigrants came over, their dialect + mandarin. Those who came from India spoke English.

    Singapore is pushing the use of Mandarin like crazy, even more so than the use of good English. It knows that China will definitely be THE world player in the years to come – how could it not, with it’s resources, rising financial clout and slowly but surely, cutting edge research?

    Even the top universities in Europe are kowtowing to the rich Chinese whom they want to attract to study in their universities. Even the high and mighty Oxbridge duo are not immune to this.

    Mandarin is definitely going to be A dominant language in the future. I don’t forsee it being THE dominant language, because English will still be very important, followed by Spanish.

  16. Adifferentvoice Says:

    If a pass in English were compulsory, 190,000 would not get an SPM cert.

  17. kweky Says:

    i’m not trying to stir up issues but,….. i use malay only when i go to the mamak to get a teh tarek and a roti chanai.

    practicality or tradition… i choose neither. is tradition so important??? is practicality so important???? i believe in survival… our forefathers were survivors. send them anywhere, they will still make it through given time… despite discriminations, environment, kulitification and so on. the essence of survival is not just being practical,, or traditional. it’s how fast we are being aware and react to such changes and make a move to adapt to it. even a great amount of chinese can get A for spm…. so, why can’t the rest get an A for other languages instead of just their mother tongue.

    practicality or tradition??? neither. these people are still reluctant to change!!! that’s the real problem.

  18. kweky Says:

    i rephrase my sentence….. i mean even a great amount of chinese students can get an A for malay, so why can’t the rest get an A for other languages instead of just their mother tongue…………

    scott, i’ve never heard you talking to your father and mother in malay before…. did you pass your malay in spm????

  19. Scott Thong Says:


  20. Simon Thong Says:

    We spoke English at home. tho Scott’s ma and I spoke Hakka and Cantonese to each other. We’re bananas, yellow outside and white inside.

  21. kweky Says:

    yes.. and the point is, some people like scott and myself, we don\’t speak BM at home. we did get a pass. an apple to an apple, if some other people do not use english at home, does that mean they are 100% to fail their english exam in SPM???

    so, ready for a change???

  22. hutchrun Says:

    HA-MIH SU?

  23. hutchrun Says:

    Even a priest needs high tech to communicate with God!

  24. BB Says:

    i really don’t get what all this brouhaha over english is all about….let them all fail english and stick to their BM, who cares? as long as it ain’t my kid, who gives a damn if they end up as IWK’s pengutip sampah when they grow up?

  25. oneworldmaybenot Says:

    wow this english thingy is hot button issue. Agree with BB

  26. liberal brains Says:

    Muslims everywhere have found “The True Furqan” a fake and this so called Quran opposes many Islamic beliefs. In one of its ayats it describes having more than one wife as fornication, divorce being non-permissible and it uses a new system for the sharing out of the will, opposing the current one. It states that Jihad is HARAAM. This book even goes as far as attacking Allah, Subhanahu WA Tahala! The two American printing companies; “Omega 2001” and “Wine Press” are involved in the publishing of “The True Furqan.” We must stop the distribution of this book. The book can also be found at: http://www.islam-exposed.org
    This site should be shutdown.

    Allahu Akbar!

  27. Simon Thong Says:

    Hey, fella, we’re talking about English here..

  28. Scott Thong Says:

    Heh heh, agent provocateur much? 🙂

  29. Scott Thong Says:

    I got C6 for Pendidikan Moral.

  30. kweky Says:

    i failed my pendidikan moral.. scott, i guess that’s why i have problems understanding business ethics…

  31. oneworldmaybenot Says:

    Huh? there’s exam for moral studies? Must be after my time. Guess I’m immoral then

  32. Simon Thong Says:

    If you failed Moral Studies, or didn’t get an A, it simply means that you did not accept what the Govt through the Ministry of Education tried to drill into you. Or you REFUSED to conform to all that queer ethical thinking. Some decided to beat the exams board at their own game by telling them what they wanted to know, thus getting A1..Moral Studies is propaganda, and quite immoral..

  33. kweky Says:

    thanks for the support, uncle thong…. now, i will pray i don’t fail my business ethics

  34. oneworldmaybenot Says:

    Actually, this is good. Now they can spend less of my tax money training Maths & Science teachers to teach in English & text books in English. But not so good is they gonna spend more tax payers money to train or import English language teachers. Sorry lah personal interest here as a hot blooded conservative who hates taxes.

  35. Scott Thong Says:

    I. If Obama had had his way, the US would have pulled out all troops before the terrorists had been broken and the country stabilized. If Obama and Biden had had their way, the country would have been split into three ethnic areas. Recall what President Flip Flop and Take Credit himself said:

    Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama said Thursday the United States cannot use its military to solve humanitarian problems and that preventing a potential genocide in Iraq isn’t a good enough reason to keep U.S. forces there.Liberal bastion USA Today

    II. This point of view ignores several factors. One, that dictatorships need an outside threat (real or perceived) to distract the populace from internal problems – note how the Iranian government continued to demonize the US as a meddler even though Obama did not raise the slightest upset peep over the slaughter of Iranian protesters, and quickly switched to Britain as being behind the protests instead. Two, that Zawahiri’s brand of Al Qaeda views all secular government as fundamentally evil, including secular Islamic states. Three, that the underlying philosophy of many of these jihadis is that everyone not within their belief system must be killed, American or not.

    III. I deal with it, but I also am thankful for America’s meddling in other parts of the world – Vietnam for instance. Frankly, US occupation and war crimes are a honeymoon compared to an imposed Communist dictatorship. And frankly, US troops are far safer to have as your ‘occupiers’ than UN troops as your ‘peacekeepers’. But I guess that having the entire world raping your populace is acceptable. They voted on it, it’s democratic and legal!

    IV. I’ll give you Poland’s missile shield not being effective against mass Soviet launches, and raise Obama not even thinking missile defense works at all – except when his own Hawaii is threatened by short range, primitive missiles, of course! – and treating Gordon Brown and the English Queen as riff raff while bowing deeply to the Saudis.

    That’s a snarky, too-much-free-time, religious fundie neocon’s take on politics.

  36. Oscilloscope : Says:

    i would like to learn more about the english language specially the english grammar :

  37. Simon Thong Says:

    # water liew Says:
    October 30, 10 at 10:06 am

    well…really took me some times reading all the post above. just wanted to say “mat ikhwan” and “chinaiswherewebelong” are the same person!

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