WOU hosts forum on 'Future of English in Malaysian schools'

Over 60 people, including teachers, parents, students, and Education Ministry officials, attended a public forum on the ‘Future of English in Malaysian Schools’ at the Kuala Lumpur Regional Office to discuss whether a pass in English should be made compulsory for SPM.

The half-day forum was organised by WOU’s Centre for Professional Development and Continuing Education (PACE) and the School of Education, Languages and Communications (SELC) to compile public feedback, and forward to the Deputy Prime Minister and Education Ministry officials.

The panelists were Prof Dr Hyacinth Gaudart of University Malaya, Prof Dr John Arul Phillips of Asia E University, Assoc Prof Dr. Saidatul Anwar Zainal Abidin of Universiti Teknologi Mara (UiTM), and Dr Lee Boon Hua from the Ministry’s Curriculum Development Division.

(From left to right) Dr Lee, Dr Edwin and Prof John Phillips.

(From left to right) Dr Lee, Dr Edwin and Prof John Phillips.

They attributed the decline in the standard of English in schools to the long established policy on the medium of instruction in educational institutions. The relegation of English to that of a second language in the education system and mixed messages about the importance of English have contributed to the deterioration in the standard of English among Malaysian students.

Prof Gaudart talked about the misconception that the human brain could only absorb one language and that if a second language was learnt, it would always be at the cost of losing the first language. Research has shown that bilingualism and multilingualism was not beyond the capacity of the human brain.

Prof Saidatul shared about UiTM’s attempt to use English as the main medium of instruction, but faced difficulties as 60% of its students come from rural schools and are not that competent in English to follow a course at the tertiary level. Even for students studying fine arts, English was important because most of the books on subjects like aesthetics and the concepts of art and design are in English.

Dr Lee and Assoc Prof Dr Saidatul seated in front (2nd and 3rd from right).

Dr Lee and Assoc Prof Dr Saidatul seated in front (2nd and 3rd from right).

Prof John Philips spoke of the difficulty of adopting a policy of translation due to the high cost involved, and the vast amount of knowledge and information published annually and the periodic revision of books essential for education. He felt translation would not be able to keep pace with the frequent revision of books.

Dr. Lee said that the Ministry was already attending to the problems related to the teaching of English through a revised curriculum for primary schools.

The question of making English compulsory was not dealt with directly by any of the speakers perhaps because they all felt that there other areas to look into to improve the standards in English. SELC dean Assoc Prof Dr Edwin Vethamani remarked during the panel discussion that he doubted if standards in a subject could be improved by merely requiring a compulsory pass.