Relegated to a Pekan Rabu economy?


Politically, literary figures championing the teaching of Maths and Science in Bahasa Melayu are themselves well-versed in the English language and have used it to their advantage. Intelligentsia they are and intellectuals they necessarily are not.

Azly Rahman

We are reverting to teaching Maths and Science in Bahasa Melayu. With the eroding emphasis of English Language, are Malays going to only flourish in their Pekan Rabu-type economic enclaves, and being one with their universe of ketuanan Melayu? Since the language of science is still English, will future generation going to be doomed to become consumers of scientific ideologies still orchestrated by the Western industrial powers? Will we continue to see only a class and caste of English speaking Malaysian scientific, economic, political, and cybernetic elite controlling the less-fluent Malay-speaking mass happy with their mastery if understanding Malay-language tabloids? Will literacy in Malaysia only mean one's ability to only read or be interested in reading Malay Language materials? Fundamentally, what will be the long-term consequence of Malay nationalism in this over-glorified but under-reflected world of globalized economies in which the English Language is still king of linguistic pop and multinational corporations still roam the word in search of indentured slaves paid an American dollar a day?

These are difficult questions for any country dealing with the complexity of teaching this or that subject in the English Language. Rather than dwell on the problematique and the semiotic of linguistic turn in the pedagogical complexities of this lingua franca, let us explore these questions and propositions concerning the switch (again) in the teaching of Maths and Science.

1. Educationally, are teachers "not competent" and confident in teaching in English because they are not willing to work hard in improving themselves? Malaysian educational system is partly based on the English schooling system in which the residual effect of English-mediumed school still being felt. The Malaysian environment is an English-language rich environment. Billboards, TV shows, print, digital, and broadcast media are rich in English as well. Code-switching is prevalent. Anglicization of the Malay language happens all the time. With the informal and hidden curriculum of the English language in operation, why are our teachers still incompetent?

We pamper our teachers too much. Our teacher trainers in education faculties need to work harder in instilling the "skills of surviving as a teacher" in their training programs. Radical strategies in teacher training need to be designed; one that will put English language as the center of importance.

2. Economically, our open society has installed landscape of economic domination in the English Language. English-speaking corporations — from Sime Darby way back then to Halliburton way down in Johor — dominates the country. These corporations keep scientific and technical secrets not in Bahasa Melayu, Mandarin, or Tamil but in the English language. High level negotiations on how to best profit from the functional yet limited-English speaking cheap labour Malaysia is offering happens in the English Language, in the boardrooms of hybridized English-sounding cities such as Cyberjaya, nestled in meaning-less installations with names such as "The Multimedia Super Corridor" or "The Iskandar Development Region". Just like the Malay mind being perpetually being colonized by Malay tabloids and junk newspapers, through Malay-only proficient devotees of ketuanan Melayu ideology, the Malaysian economy of the future will be one whose class of people will be controlled by those who owns the means of ideological and corporate capitalist production from abroad; the exploitation facilitated by English speaking modern little brown brothers. We continue to become yes-men and women to international robber barons we install as this or that members of International Advisory Panel of this or that corridor raya.

3. Culturally, we will only prepare our youth with the ability to merely consume fetishes and crumbs of artifacts of the global corporate cultural industry; products that are imitations of a copy of a copy of a copy of cultural artifacts mechanically produced devoid of any sense of authenticity. Hence while Britain got talent and America creates idols through their useless shows, Malaysians, primarily through the Malay-speaking Akademi Fantasi and Malaysian Idol and other copy-cat cultural constructions of the most perfect imitations of fetishes, become clones of low-brow culture. The mastery of English of our previous and current generation of youth is so poor that only the "hedonistic and edutainmenistic" aspect of the English language is mastered and happily embraced, rather that the "humanistic, revolutionary, liberating, and supra-nationalistic" aspect of it. Elsewhere I have written about the need to master the English language so that we will not become slaves to technological domination but become masters of our destiny through our close reading of ideas of from English writers who opposed all form of colonialism. Gandhi, Jomo Kenyatta, Nyerere, and even those who overthrew the British empire found inspiration in writings such as The Magna Carta, Discourse on Inequality, Walden, and Das Kapital.

4. Ideologically, the English language is more progressive than Bahasa Melayu in terms of promoting revolutionary change. Too much emphasis on the artistic and literary aspect of the Malay language may turn the Malays into more close-minded people, given that the Malay language through its complex yet discernible style of addressing, over-glorifying of court language, overemphasis on indirectness of presenting points of view, and overindulgence in maintaining the psycho-narrative Master-slave and oppressive style of speaking and writing — all these are anathema to the egalitarianistic nature of the English language. Sit in any speech presented by a Malay-speaking ADUN and one by say, an American community leader. Compare the style and opening remarks and one can see the way language play manifests itself. While the English language speaker do not waste time on going around making a point, the Malay style will make sure that the audience are put to sleep with a roundabout way of overpraising this or that person, laced with inappropriate jokes at time. Over-indulgence in matters of respect for politicians (however unworthy of respect many should be accorded with) in many an occasion such as in school ceremonies is a mark of the abuse of the Malay language.

5. Politically, literary figures championing the teaching of Maths and Science in Bahasa Melayu are themselves well-versed in the English language and have used it to their advantage. Intelligentsia they are and intellectuals they necessarily are not.

Intelligentsia are not those who have the intelligence in intellectualizing the role of the intelligentsia but those who have been institutionalized by the ideologues who failed to intellectualize their role as implementers of intelligent policies.

By sending a message to the younger generation that the English Language is of lesser importance and one need to take to the streets to do that, the case for encouraging the mastery of this lingua franca is closed. Blind nationalism, confusion of the role of promoter of language, and submission to the will of this and that ideology of ketuanan this or that, and most importantly over-reliance on questionable university-sponsored research findings on the root cause of failure amongst schoolchildren vis-a-viz the teaching of Maths and Science in English — all these become foundations of the straw-man arguments of the Bahasa Melayu nationalists. Their missionary work in discouraging the mastery of a language that will help us struggle against neo-colonialism is preposterous yet pervasive, plunging the proletariat into yet another pool of Prozac-ed people fit to be pawns in this post-industrial game of predatory global politics of production.

Again, as in many analysis of Malay dilemma, Malays are sucked into yet another black hole of dehumanization and intellectual despair — this time through an over-indulgence in their own language that has very little philological, epistemological, and ontological bearing to the language of Science, Mathematics, and Scientific and Technological Application. Our youth will be well-versed in singing English songs they hear from gangsta, punk rock, heavy metal, or even thrash metal and bhagra combined. Their next level of achievement will be sending short messages in broken English and working hard for a slot in Akademi Fantasi and Malaysian Idol — while the Malay Language nationalist celebrate their victory on the streets again, as aging intelligentsia.

In a globalized world, we will prevail as a nation of Pekan Rabus, selling pirated copies of Michael Jackson's Thriller.

While the opinion in the article is mine,
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