10 MARCH 2015
I support the move to make English a must-pass subject in the SPM but I have to agree with Malaysian English Language Teaching Association president Associate Prof Dr Ganakumaran Subramaniam and Sarawak Teachers Union president Mr Jisin Nyud that it is too soon to start implementing this in 2016. The failure rate for English has been increasing, and according to Minister of Welfare, Women and Family Development Datuk Fatimah Abdullah, for Sarawak, the failure rate increased from 19.4 per cent in 2013 to 23.16 percent in 2014. The minister described the results as ‘scary’. It is unrealistic to expect that next year’s results will be much different.
If students throughout the country are struggling with English, then the situation is far more critical in Sarawak, especially in the rural areas where schools lack everything, from infrastructure and equipment to human resources. We appreciate that there are dedicated teachers in these schools but they are struggling with the lack of facilities. The students in these areas are already disadvantaged, and if the requirement for a pass in English is implemented next year, they would be at an even greater disadvantage.
It is good that there is the English Language Teacher Development Programme (ELTDP) with the British Council but more needs to be done to lift the standard of English to what it was before the decline started. Teaching Maths and Science in English will be a good start, but more than that, we need to encourage an English speaking and reading culture among the young, by providing a good supply of books for school libraries. In many rural schools, there are not enough books for the students to read – I was told that each primary school is given RM300 per year to buy books for their library. If this is true, it is a ridiculously low amount, which is totally inadequate. For this reason I have tried my very best to assist by distributing more than 8000 books in English, to some Pre-schools, Kindergartens and all the Primary School in my Constituency of Ba’Kelalan.
The most important factor is a good foundation in English, which must be provided when students are still in primary school. In the 60s and 70s, Radio Sarawak ran an excellent Schools Broadcasting Service which was used by teachers in schools throughout Sarawak as an aid in teaching English. I believe that we can do this again. Internet connection is sadly inadequate in many rural schools, and even television sets and reception may be a problem, but radio broadcasts are easily received throughout Sarawak. Such a programme will be relatively easy to implement, as radios are cheap and readily available. I hope the Minister will look into this suggestion.
In my November 2011 DUN speech, I spoke about the excellent academic performance by the students of SK Ba’ Kelalan. Due to the efforts of the dedicated headmaster and teachers, the school managed to move from a 20+ % passing rate in the UPSR in the 1990s to consistently surpass 90% in the past few years. The school has won many awards including the Commonwealth Education Good Practices Award in 2009 together with SK Lubai in Limbang. This shows that given the sufficient facilities and financial support and with teachers who are determined to succeed, rural schools can outperform urban schools.
At one time, Sarawakians were known for their proficiency in English. Our forefathers who signed the Malaysia Agreement placed such high importance on this that we maintained the right to have English as one of our official languages. This right has never been relinquished and rightly so. I repeat my call for the State to take back the responsibility for the education of our younger generation as it appears that the standard began dropping when the late Rahman Yaakob handed control over to the federal government. We will be able to do much better than the Federal Education Ministry, which has only succeeded in producing 2 or 3 generations of Malaysians with poor English skills.
ADUN N70 Ba’ Kelalan/
Chairman, PKR Sarawak