It’s time for us to stop the rot


(The Star) – Five push one equals four.

Mix A with B, then disturb the solution.

Don’t get it? Replace “push” (tolak) with “subtract” and “disturb” (kacau) with “stir”.

That’s how far English has deteriorated in schools. And that is just scratching the surface.

Hence, the Deputy Prime Minister’s recent call for solutions to the poor mastery of English among students despite 13 years of learning it in school is a cry after the hearts of many.

It’s been the perennial lament of parents, institutions of learning, employers – and teachers.

We have all seen, heard and suffered the decline of English proficiency for years now, three decades to be precise – after the switching of the medium of instruction from Bahasa Malaysia to English.

Countless proposals, blueprints and programmes, including flip-flop policies, have been implemented to rectify the problem but the malignancy seems to have spread far and wide.

Is it too late to get our act together and put our money where our mouth is?

Is the Government – and politicians – willing to put our children’s English proficiency ahead of our insecurity about our national language Bahasa Malaysia and mother tongue?

We must strive to keep politics out of the classroom, though we know it is easier said than done.

We need proficient teachers to build the students’ language foundation at primary level and develop it further at secondary level.

Unfortunately, we have a huge cohort of English teachers who themselves need lessons, what more teach.

Are they to blame?

No, they are the products of our policy change and the adoption of the Communi-cative English syllabus which stresses that it’s fine as long as the “meaning comes through”.

We need to keep and reward teachers who are skilled and can make the difference so that the vicious cycle doesn’t keep repeating.

The rot has to stop or our low proficiency students will continue to beget low proficiency teachers.

Singapore, on the other hand, works to attract some of its best brains into the teaching profession by paying them competitive salaries and keeping them through incentives like fast track promotions, leadership allowances, performance-based bonus and work attachments.

As for our exam-oriented society, our students need to be challenged. Make it compulsory to pass English to obtain the SPM certificate – as is the case for Bahasa Malaysia – and they’ll flock to tuition centres for extra classes.

It works with Bahasa, it’ll work with English.

Students in rural schools who do not see the economic value of English in securing jobs or fear using the language need to be tackled differently.

Unfortunately, the Government has largely adopted a one size fits all policy, which holds back the high achievers to prevent the gap from growing too wide between them and the laggards.

The PPSMI is a case in point.

Give autonomy to schools to teach the subjects in English if their teachers are proficient and the students capable.

Why make everyone learn Maths and Science in Bahasa to keep the rural schools on the same page?

Be innovative, allow bilingualism for as long as it takes for schools to find their respective levels.

There is no need to rush the weak, but instead, let the proficient move forward, not backwards.

Perhaps, the Government should consider holding a referendum on whether we should bring back English-medium schools – a place where unity thrived. Let parents and other stakeholders have a bigger say in their children’s education.

Be less prescriptive, allow schools to decide if there should be more contact time or teaching periods for English in the timetable.

Send the best teachers to schools where they are sorely needed, instead of assigning three Guru Cemerlang for English to a premier school!

There are many factors that contribute to our low proficiency but we should stop using piecemeal measures.

It’s time to get down to the serious business of making our schoolchildren masters of the English language.