Sunday, July 9, 2017


7 JULY 2017

I was happy to receive the circular 2 weeks ago from the Ministry of Education, Science and Technological Research encouraging elected representatives to assist in measures to improve the level of proficiency in the English language in schools within our constituencies. This commendable initiative deserves the support of all elected representatives.

I have spoken about this issue a few times in DUN asking the government to take measures to improve the standard of English in schools, but never received any satisfactory reply from the government. It is therefore encouraging that the Minister is now addressing this matter and showing his concern that the level of English proficiency be raised. Although it is regrettable that he has indicated there will be no budget allocation to the elected representatives, I hope that some allocations can be made to the schools for this purpose.

When I was a primary school student in Long Semadoh, there was already a practice of speaking English in school. If a student was caught speaking Lun Bawang, he or she was rewarded with a clothes-peg on the earlobe. He or she then had to find someone else who was speaking Lun Bawang and transfer the peg to that student. I am not saying that this should be implemented – it is merely an example of the initiative shown by the teachers to encourage the speaking of English.

It must be recognised at the outset that for this initiative to work, the principals, teachers and PIBGs must be involved and committed. A good case-study would be the Ba’ Kelalan Primary School, which together with SK Ulu Lubai, was declared co-champion in ‘Commonwealth Education Good Practices’ in 2009. The story of SK Ba’ Kelalan is documented by a Fulbright volunteer teacher called Blair Daly [see] - other schools can learn from their experiences and adapt some of their practices to suit their needs. I think that once there is commitment and determination in all parties involved, implementation will be easier. Attitudes and mind-sets play a key role here.

At the same time, the Ministry must ensure that teachers are proficient in the English language especially as they are the ones who have a major role to play in this initiative. Those who are less fluent must be encouraged to take steps to improve themselves and the Ministry should provide the means for them to do so. On a much broader vision and long-term plan to ensure English eventually become a main ‘lingua-franca’, I proposed to the Government some practical steps, including reintroducing the teaching of English by radio broadcasts (this will ensure consistency and accuracy), rehiring retired English teachers and inviting volunteer English teachers from the Peace Corps or Fulbright programme, as requested by some parent groups in my constituency. I hope these proposals will be considered seriously by the Ministry and implemented.

On my part, ever since I was elected in 2011, I have regularly distributed English language storybooks to the schools in my constituency, with the assistance of some supporters. The total number of books distributed is estimated to be around 10,000. I have been extremely gratified by the response – in some boarding schools, there is a specified reading hour each day when all the students gather at the reading corner to read. The importance of reading cannot be overemphasised, and I would say that it is equally important as speaking English. Books are where we learn our vocabulary and where we are exposed to ideas and learning.

The horizon is expanded for those who have a good grasp of the English language, and we must all do our part to ensure that our younger generation are given all the help to acquire such proficiency.

Baru Bian
ADUN N81’ Bakelelan / Chairman, KEADILAN Sarawak

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