Quality of English still ‘an issue”

(Bernama) – Malaysia is on par or ahead of some of the regional countries in terms of investment in education.

However, the quality of its undergraduates in having a good command of English, still remains an issue.

Marie Aimee Tourres, a senior research fellow at the Department of Development Studies, Universiti Malaya, said it was crucial for graduates to have a good command of English to ensure they would be able to compete effectively, in the global job market.

Nevertheless, “in terms of education spending, Malaysia is comparable to some countries in the region based on the percentage spent over its gross domestic product (GDP) growth,” she told Bernama in an interview here.

She said Malaysia was actually spending more vis-à-vis other countries.

In the 2012 Budget, RM13.6 billion was allocated to the social sector, including education and training, health, welfare, housing and community development.

Tourres said there was also a lot of focus given for training and re-training for graduates, which was important to continuously upgrade skilled and knowledge workers in the country.

However, the quality of undergraduates remains an issue in Malaysia, since the students find it difficult to grasp the English language.

“Language is definitely an issue,” she said, citing a recent publication by the World Bank entitled , “The Road to Academic Excellence”, which was a study on what contributes to a world-class research university.

The study compared Universiti Malaya (UM) and National University of Singapore (NUS) in a chapter entitled “The National University of Singapore and the University of Malaya: Common Roots and Different Paths”.

In the report, it was stated that as NUS kept pace with the demands of a growing economy that sought to become competitive internationally, with English continuing as the language of instruction and research, UM began to focus inward as proficiency in English declined in favour of the national language.

The publication, which is based on a study conducted by two scholars, Philip Altbach and Jamil Salmi, also stated that because UM taught courses predominantly in the national language, it had much more limited internationalisation of programme, academic staff and student body.

International standard

“This generation will have to face international standard and competition in terms of job market, as part of globalisation,” said Tourres.

She cited Pakistan as an example, where she gives lectures.

“In Pakistan, although the people speak different dialects, next to the Urdu language, their English is better than our graduates,” she pointed out.

It made them more marketable in the competitive global environment, she noted.

“The immediate result of their English capacity is that you can find many Pakistanis who work for international organisations such as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund,” said Tourres.

She believed that even if Malaysia gave more focus in English, the national language and culture could still prosper, provided that teaching was made interesting.

“More English in school will not deter Malay, Indian and Chinese culture per se. We should not mix the issue of a command of good language and the preservation of national heritage,” she said.

As for the distribution of the book voucher worth RM200 to all Malaysian students in public and private local institutions of higher learning, matriculation as well as Form 6 students nationwide, she believed that it should be monitored to ensure that it served the purpose.

This assistance is expected to benefit 1.3 million students with an allocation of RM260 million.

“That is a lot of money. Probably, it could have been done based on meritocracy to ensure that it is properly utilised,” said Tourres, pointing out that there were risks of students re-selling the voucher, especially when the new targeted generation lacked the reading habit and preferred to go online to search for their study materials.