By Scott Ng
You have to admire the Sultan of Johor for his persistence in calling for the restoration of English as the medium of instruction in our schools.
In his latest statement on the issue, he was particularly scathing in his criticism of the politicians in power, who he claimed were in “self-denial” and were playing politics with education. “They talk about nationalism but they too send their children to boarding schools in Australia and the United Kingdom,” he said. That’s an accusation that’s common enough and we all know it’s spot on.
Some of our leaders have claimed that our education system is world class. If that were true, then the rich and the powerful, whose children will go on to shape our nation as the presumptive leaders of the next generation, would send their children to our schools.
The fact that the children of Malaysia’s elite are rarely ever found in our public schools is a sordid testament to what we all know about the state of education in our country but which our authorities would deny.
Indeed, increasing numbers of Malaysians who can afford it are enrolling their children at expensive private schools and at the numerous private colleges across the Klang Valley. The competitive edge given by an English-medium education is considerable, and in this day and age where English proficiency is a rarity, even a rushed introduction to the proper rules of the English language is better than none at all.
You can’t therefore blame Malaysians for accusing our ministers of hypocrisy when they praise the public school system. If the system is so good, why aren’t they giving it the seal of their approval by trusting their children’s future with it?
The Sultan, like many others before him, was probably making the point that the re-introduction of English as the medium of instruction would do much to improve the system because – let’s face it – much of the best learning materials are available only in English.
He pre-empted the arguments against his stand by reminding everyone that having an English-medium education does not mean our cultural roots will be forgotten. As Malaysians, it should be compulsory for us to learn Bahasa Malaysia and perhaps another vernacular of our choice. One of the recognised virtues of Malaysians is that many of them, especially of the older generation, are trilingual. Let’s not deny the younger generation the opportunity to inherit such a virtue.
For the sake of our children’s future, let’s put an end to the imagined dispute between nationalism and progress. – FMT