HOW true is it that the polemic over language(s) to be taught in schools will never end, as reportedly mentioned by Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad in a dialogue session with Malaysians living in Beijing?
His prescription for Malaysians is apparently simple: Learn Malay well and master English because of their importance, not forgetting to learn one other language like Chinese or Tamil.
I believe the PM is deeply concerned about how the proficiency of English in our country has plummeted, and his policy of PPSMI (the teaching and learning of science and mathematics in English) introduced in 2003, aimed at improving the command of the English language among pupils at primary and secondary schools in Malaysia, was regrettably aborted in 2012.
Thankfully, our PM has reminded Malaysians again of the position of English as the global lingua franca. And he has urged government servants recently to improve their competency of English, especially in the borderless world of this digital era.
Hopefully, the current Education Minister in his implementation of the English Language Roadmap via the Dual-Language Programme (DLP) will consider including the compulsory SPM pass in English in the Malaysia Education Blueprint (MEB) 2015-2025.
The SPM compulsory pass in English was supposed to be implemented in 2016, after its announcement by then education minister in 2013. But, apparently for some political reasons, the plan for a compulsory pass was abolished in 2014.
Perhaps it was due to the realistic fear that many rural students were not ready for it then. How-ever, this problem can easily be solved by a two-tier exam paper: the normal SPM English level for urban schools and a lower standard of English exam for rural schools.
The truth is that the stakeholders, employers in particular, certainly welcome a compulsory English SPM pass in view of the lackadaisical attitude of students, especially in rural areas, towards recognising and acknowledging the importance of English in the work- place.
As their peers from independent or private schools and even national schools in towns and cities are putting in more effort to improve their English – many are taking English tuition classes – there is, consequently, an uneven playing field for students in rural regions.
This reinforces my belief that we have to get the message across to every Malaysian student and parent of the importance of English in science, technology (including coding), engineering and medicine (STEM); business and commerce; and sports and the Internet – just to name a few areas.
In this regard, by making SPM English a compulsory pass like Bahasa Malaysia and Sejarah, all the students will invariably accept English as a passport to employment and further studies, besides other opportunities in the globalised digital world where English is extensively used.
As such, our wish is that Malaysians could one day master English (and other languages if possible) to be competitive global economic players in the fourth Industrial Revolution – the automation in manufacturing technologies, the Internet of Things, artificial intelligence, and cloud computing.