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Media statement by Lim Kit Siang in Kuala Lumpur on Sunday, 6th November 2011: 

When will four MCA Ministers make the formal proposal in Cabinet to make English a compulsory pass subject for SPM?

I welcome the proposal by the MCA President Datuk Seri Dr. Chua Soi Lek to make English a compulsory pass subject for SPM, although it was a decade after I had made such a proposal.

On 18th May 2002, in expressing the DAP's full support for the then Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad's call to Malaysian students to master English as "necessary for communications essential to keep abreast of developments in the technical fields such as engineering and science", I had gone one step further in proposing making pass in English compulsory in SPM, STPM and matriculation.

This is what I said some 10 years ago:

"The government has been talking about the decline of the standard of English language in the past two decades and the urgent need to arrest it, but it had nothing to show for the results.

"There can be no dispute as to the importance of English as a global language in the era of globalisation and information and communications technology. English is the dominant language of commerce, of science, of the skies, of the Internet and of opportunity.

"It is the official language of in more than 75 countries. Although 1.2 billion people speak Chinese as their mother tongue, more than 1.5 billion people speak English as their mother-tongue or use it as a second or foreign language. Plans are afoot for some 300 million people Chinese in China to learn to speak and use English.

"The European Union uses English alongside French at its informal gatherings, even though Europe has more native German and Italian speakers. In Japan, the government had said that the tongue of its onetime enemies should become its second official language to 'achieve world-class excellence'. In Dutch-speaking Netherlands, some government officials recently proposed switching the language of education to English - the language of most reference works.

"Virtually all scientific organizations use English, partly because most relevant literature and terminology is in English and partly because scientists want to spend time on science, not on translation.

The urgent question for Malaysia is not whether English is an important global language which Malaysians must master if we are not to continue to lose our edge of international competitiveness, but what immediate actions to take to arrest the catastrophic decline of the standard of English and to achieve a turnaround to the high standard of English three decades ago."

In my statement of May 2002, I had raised the most fundamental question about the PPSMI (teaching of mathematics and science in English) which was being introduced at the time, viz:

Educationists and parents are legitimately concerned whether with the present low standards in English, Mathematics and Science, without major reforms in the infrastructure of the education system for the teaching and learning of English, the teaching of science and mathematics in English from Standard One would be a cure worse than the disease resulting in further lowering of the standards of Mathematics and Science without any significant increase in English fluency.

"Musa (the then Education Minister Tan Sri Musa Mohamad) should make public all the studies which the Education Ministry had carried out which positively demonstrated that the immediate introduction of the teaching of Mathematics and Science in English from Standard One is the best and most effective method to arrest the decline of the English standard in the schools - as parents are equally concerned about the decision.

"I believe the decision with the most far-reaching effects in generally raising the standard of English in schools is to make a pass in English compulsory for SPM, STPM and matriculation examinations, which should be seriously considered and decided by the Cabinet on Wednesday.

"The Cabinet should also establish an all-party committee to launch a nation-wide campaign to promote the learning and use of English among the people to restore Malaysia's international competitiveness edge lost as a result of the unchecked decline in the standard of English in the past three decades - so that this problem is tackled in a non-partisan manner transcending the pressures of political party competition."

The four MCA Ministers in Cabinet ten years ago never supported the proposal to make English a compulsory pass subject even just for SPM, and the standard of English in the schools and universities had further declined in the past decade with Malaysia losing out to other ASEAN countries like Singapore and the Philippines in terms of English proficiency.

When will the four MCA Ministers raise the proposal to make English a compulsory pass subject for SPM in Cabinet - or is this only a MCA proposal meant for media publicity and not to be pursued seriously in the Education Ministry or Cabinet?

*Lim Kit Siang, DAP Parliamentary Leader & MP for Ipoh TimorTimor



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