In the rollercoaster ride of “To English or not to English?”, the Malaysian government seem to be leaning on the side of prioritizing the English Language again. Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin announced on September 6 that like Bahasa Malaysia, English will be made a mandatory passing subject for Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM) students starting from 2016. Students who fail English will not be awarded full certificates. However, they will be given a chance to re-sit the paper in the following year.
Teaching of Math and Science in English
The subject of whether to put and emphasis on the English Language have been a heavily debated one for many years. In 2003, previous Prime Minister Tun Mahathir implemented a government policy to mandate teaching Science and Mathematics in English. The policy, “Pelajaran dan Pembelajaran Sains dan Math dalam Bahasa Inggeris (PPSMI)” was received with mixed responses from the public. The change in medium of instruction for these two subjects was done in order to keep Malaysian students abreast with the development in science and technology, which are mostly recorded in the English Language. This has directly resulted in an increase in English proficiency of Malaysian students as showed in the Education First (EF) English Proficiency Index.
Teaching of Math and Science in
English Bahasa Malaysia
However, PPSMI was revoked in 2009 and the medium of instruction was returned to Bahasa Malaysia. The reversal of Teaching of Math and Science in English was done in stages, since PPSMI was attributed to being the cause of the widening gap between rural and urban students. Students in rural areas have poor English proficiency, causing their results in Maths and Science to drop.
Muhyiddin explained in a statement in July 2008 (while announcing the decision of the cabinet to revert to Bahasa Malaysia for English and Science) that “only 19.2% of secondary teachers and 9.96% of primary teachers were sufficiently proficient in English”. The lack of teachers with the necessary language skills was further encumbered by the lack of students with the necessary language skills to understand the subject. Many teachers admitted to using Bahasa Malaysia to explain theories for the two subjects when communication breakdown occurred.
In addition, the implementation of PPSMI was not done with sufficient preparation. The textbook and multimedia courseware provided by the Ministry were inadequate. In addition, the multimedia material provided were in English. This became a problem with students who were not well versed in the language.
Good English = Better Chance of Getting A Job
A survey by jobstreet.com found that 55.8% of companies faced a problem with poor command of English in hiring fresh graduates. Employers value the ability to speak and write in English well. However, more and more graduates are unable to hold a conversation in English. Malaysian Employers Federation secretary Datuk Shamsudin Bardan said that he was disappointed with the government’s decision to cancel PPSMI. “The inability to converse and understand English (among young school leavers) is a constant complaint among out members,” he said. He believes that having good English Language skills will increase the employability of the graduates.
According to Muhyiddin, “English will be given emphasis and as announced earlier this year, it will be made a compulsory passing subject for SPM students by 2016… To realize this, the ministry is currently in the process of increasing contact hours between teachers and students in classes to ensure a deeper immersion in the English language for the students.” The increase in contact hours mentioned translates to the possibility of an increase of one or two hours of schooling hours in vernacular schools.
The teachers are more prepared this time in comparison to the implementation of PPSMI as they will have to undergo Cambridge Placement Test (CPT) in addition to being trained by the British Council in said language. The Education Ministry had started training 61,000 English teachers.
The emphasis on having students with strong command in English is important, seeing as most higher education classes will be held in English. The preferred language of delivery for many subjects is in English since most books and materials available are in the stated language. In addition, most employers would want graduates who are skilled in not only their profession, but also capable of good communication skills in both Bahasa Malaysia and English.
Education Ministry Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin will be addressing the matter in more detail soon. Hopefully this will be a more permanent and more successful policy compared to the short-lived English for Maths and Science policy in 2004.
In the meantime, here are some great apps and websites to help you (or your kids) get better in English!
1. Apps from the British Council
The LearnEnglishGrammar app is available for both Apple and Android phones with lots of interactive grammar practice and tests for users to improve their grammar. There are four levels for learners to gradually move onto, with more than 40 free grammar practice questions. There are some in app purchases that gives users access to more questions if they exhaust all the free samples.
The British Council also released several other apps to help with learning English. The Listening Apps available is particularly useful for those who learn better through auditory lessons.
You can have a look at all the other apps released by the British Council here!
If apps aren’t your thing though, the British Council have various online resources available for you to explore, including “Listen & Watch”, “IELTS Exam Practice”, “Writing for a Purpose”, “Grammar” and numerous other sources.
Another great site to improve your English vocabulary is Freerice.com
For each answer you get right, Freerice.com donates 10 grain of rice through the World Food Programme to help end hunger. Started in October 7, 2007, Freerice.com have helped donate 101,109,542,466 grains of rice. It is the world’s largest humanitarian agency fighting hunger worldwide. Be a part of this noble cause while improving your English vocabulary! Be sure to turn off your adblock when you’re visiting the site though, since the sponsored banners displayed on correct answers pay for the rice donated (cheating!)
3. Word Dynamo
Word Dynamo is a fun interactive site for learning English. There are English vocabulary games for users to test their vocabulary and there are notes for users to refer to before trying out a test!
English is undeniably a crucial language to learn and be fluent in, no matter your current English proficiency level, there is still always room for improvement!
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