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 email@example.com.
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.