Media Statement by Lim Kit Siang in Ipoh on Sunday, 21st June 2009:
Let the Cabinet decide at its next meeting to make English a compulsory pass subject for SPM, STPM and matriculation to end and reverse the unchecked decline of English standard in the country in the past three decades
One of the greatest failures of the past two premiership of Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad (for 22 years) and Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi (Tun Abdullah) was their failure to enhance the country’s international competitiveness by ending and reversing the unchecked decline of English standards in the country and to ensure that Malaysian students master English as “necessary for communication and essential to keep abreast of developments in the technical fields such as engineering and science”.
Globally English is so widely spoken, it has often been referred to as a "world language", the lingua franca of the modern era. While English is not an official language in most countries, it is currently the language most often taught as a second language around the world to the extent that it has ceased to be the exclusive cultural property of "native English speakers", but a language that is absorbing aspects of cultures worldwide as it continues to grow.
It is a sorry spectacle in the past three decades to see the headlong decline of English standards in Malaysia, which was once the envy of other countries, undermining Malaysia’s economic prosperity and wellbeing in cripplying our international competiveness in the era of globalization.
The new Education Minister, Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, who is also Deputy Prime Minister, shocked himself and the nation when he revealed early this month that he had not known that English is not a “must pass” subject for SPM and calls for public feedback on the matter.
Where was Muhyiddin all these decades when he was climbing up the Umno political greasepole that he knows nothing about the grave problem of the decline of English in Malaysian schools and universities and that English is not a compulsory pass subject for SPM?
Malaysians can only worry about the future of education under such a Minister for Education!
Seven years ago, I had specifically proposed that English should be made a compulsory pass subject for SPM, STPM and matriculation examinations, as it would have the most far-reaching effects in generally raising the standard of English in schools.
This was when Mahathir asked Malaysians for their feedback as to whether they want a re-introduction of the English medium school system to arrest the decline of the standard of English, after he found to his horror during a trip to the United States that with Bahasa Malaysia, Malaysians were unable to interact with foreigners internationally in a way which was productive.
I had at the time called on the Cabinet to 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 few decades - so that this problem was tackled in a non-partisan manner transcending the pressures of political party competition.
However, all these suggestions came to naught.
The Cabinet at its next meeting should take the bold and long-overdue decision to make English a compulsory pass subject for SPM, STPM and matriculation courses, supported by the necessary infrastructure to improve the learning and teaching of English in the schools.
For a start, for the first five years in making SPM a compulsory pass subject, students who fail English and therefore fail the whole SPM examination should be required to only repeat the single subject of English to entitle them to a SPM pass, unlike the present ruling requiring the student to repeat the entire SPM examination, including subjects they had passed.
*Lim Kit Siang, DAP Parliamentary leader & MP for Ipoh Timor