Will that flickering flame ever shine more brightly?
by Peter Sibon and Phyllis Wong. Posted on October 13, 2013, Sunday
THE Education Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin has said it again — that the use of Bahasa Malaysia should be expanded on a larger scale at institutions of higher learning.
His statement comes at a time when the nation is beginning to see a glint of light on higher learning institutions putting on more emphasis on the use English; when private colleges and universities are gaining foreign recognition with the use of English in teaching as evidenced by the sizeable number of foreign students and when renowned universities are setting up campuses in Malaysia,
The Minister justified his statement by saying Malaysia could learn from China, Japan and Korea which are giving high priority to the use of their national language while mastering other languages in developing their respective countries.
However, by comparing Malaysia to Japan, Korea and China, Muhyiddin has failed to realise that these countries have fully developed their languages and that many academic journals and papers — be it literature, science, medical or technical — are also readily available in their respective languages.
In stark contrast, there is a miserable lack of academic papers and journals written in BM in Malaysia. So how will our students be able to compete globally when they cannot read or thoroughly understand all these papers written and presented in English?
On the international stage, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak has admitted Malaysia has lost some of its international competitiveness.
“We invest heavily on education and have decided to focus on the learning of science and mathematics,” he told the recent Asia-Pacific Economic Corporation CEO Forum.
“We also realise that to compete internationally, our people must master the English language because when we switched to a fully Bahasa Malaysia education system in the 1970’s, we lost some of our international competitiveness,” he stressed.
Similarly, former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad revealed at the 12th Asian University Presidents Forum that 333 graduates of higher learning institutions were called for an information technology job interview but “only seven were recruited as the rest did not have a strong command of English.”
He pointed out that some even requested that the questions during the interview, which was conducted in English, be translated to Bahasa Malaysia.
Dr Mahathir lamented that the decision to revert to Bahasa Malaysia was politically motivated following protests from Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka in 2008 but it failed to translate into support in the recent polls.
Undoubtedly, English, as a medium of instruction, has become more than just about its effectiveness as it has been politicised to the extent that all kinds of claims have been thrown into the mix.
These include threats to national unity, the position of Bahasa Malaysia as well as the erosion of mother tongue, culture and education.
Are we not involving politics in education?
Are our leaders using the issue education to consolidate their positions in their party by playing to the gallery — or a select group of people?
Batu Lintang assemblyman See Chee How raised a salient point when he said: “It’s clearly political propaganda to woo the Umno delegates ahead of the party assembly.
“It’s political rhetoric because such a rear-ward proposition has not been included in the National Education Blueprint 2013-2025.
“But for as long as racial politics dominates and Umno remains the backbone of the federal government, we will continue to be entertained with such unintelligent propositions.”
Making the call to “free our universities,” See said: “It’s the duty of all Malaysians to stop the rot in our education standard by vociferously and forcibly rejecting political rhetoric and interference which inhibit academic freedom.”
Are we making another U-turn with our education system? Are we taking a few steps backwards again?
Senior Minister and Minister of Land Development Tan Sri Datuk Amar Dr James Jemut Masing said: “It’s critical for us to move forward with the rest of the developed nations as English is the lingua franca of the world.
“Its importance and practicality should supersede national pride for learning our own mother tongue.
It’s regrettable that Malaysians are putting the study of English in the back burner.
“As such, I think our young people will be at a distinct disadvantage in the world of technology and IT in the future.”
Malaysians are apprehensive over the continuous decline in our education standards at the tertiary level.
To reinforce this point, See (Chee How) said according to the Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) survey, released in September, Universiti Malaya is the only Malaysian university to be placed among the top 200 in the global ranking — but even so, it has dropped from 156 in 2012 to 167 this year.
“The problem is amplified when we look at it through the global perspective. As it was with the global ranking of our universities, the country’s competency and competitiveness levels will suffer further blows when the acquisition of knowledge through learning is restricted by the academic deficiency of studying in Bahasa Malaysia,” he noted.
Social activist Dato Peter Minos, expressing support for English-medium schools, said: “Up till 1971, we of the older generation studied in English and despite everything – such as the lack of resources — we came out speaking and writing well in English.
“If English schools had worked in the past, there is every reason for them to be working today. “
Minos said the world was scrambling to master English, pointing out that being proficient in a foreign language like English does not make one any less patriotic.
“Much of the modern knowledge and information is in English. The language is used globally in commerce and industry, science and technology, arts and agriculture, politics and diplomacy. We simply cannot run away from English much as we need Bahasa Malaysia as the language of unity and domestic communication.”
Minos called for the return of English and the mastering of the language for the good of our children and nation.
The saving grace is that Muhyiddin’s suggestion to go backwards and use BM as medium of instruction has not received open support from the other BN component parties
See opined: “On the contrary, even former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad has pointed out that there should be more emphasis on English to improve the ranking of our universities among their peers.
“Tun Dr Mahathir, declared by an independent poll company — Merdeka Centre — to be the most popular Umno leader at present, further warned that the poor grasp of English among students will adversely affect their future.”
Although See did not foresee the implementation of BM as the medium of instruction in all our higher learning institutions, he cautioned: “It can fuel the zealous racist fundamentalists to press for bigoted education policies and programmes which will further hinder the academic learning and development of our future generations and further blunt the competitiveness of our country in the global community.”
We definitely owe it to our children and the generations to come by securing their future well-being and competitiveness in the global community with an education system that is attuned to the realities and demands of the present world.
Towards this end, See said it was opportune for Malaysians to voice out and tell the government to be serious about our children’s education and the future well-being of our nation and state.
“The government must revisit the basis and essence of university which is derived from the Latin “universitas” meaning “a community of teachers and scholars,” a colourless and stateless commune pursuing academic advancement and excellence in full academic freedom.
“Only by doing so and by all Malaysians demanding a non-partisan national effort to free our universities, will our younger and future generations be able to acquire the necessary and quality knowledge, skills and training to ensure that we will be competent and competitive in the global community,” he added.
But can we achieve fame from the flutters of the flickering flame? You decide.