The Parent Action Group for Education (PAGE) applauds the youth who appreciate the importance of English and want to make an impact on improving the proficiency of schoolchildren in the language.
We met a few outstanding young people at a recent town hall forum titled “TN50x: Teaching English in Malaysia, Challenges and Solutions”, which was hosted by the office of Umno Youth deputy chief Khairul Azwan Harun. The event was organised by Teach For Malaysia (TFM) and moderated by TN50 ambassador and TFM co-founder Dzameer Dzulkifli. And it was appropriately held at RUANG, a hip place in Subang Jaya.
The premise for the forum was that English proficiency is important for our future as it provides job opportunities for our youth and is a passport for Malaysians looking beyond our borders. The questions that needed to be answered were: How can we improve proficiency in English in Malaysia? What are the issues out there? What are our best strategies going forward?
The forum intended to discuss the issues hampering English proficiency in Malaysia and find solutions to the challenges in the education system. The youth took to the stage, one after another, detailing the immense efforts put in by every social enterprise and non-governmental organisation they are affiliated with, and the sense of fulfilment felt when these came to fruition.
Nurul Ashiqin Shamsuri, founder of Project Fearless, is fearless. She has a Bachelor of Legal Studies (Hons) degree from Universiti Teknologi MARA and a Master’s in International Business Law from Vrije Universite in Amsterdam. The English language has taken her far and wide and opened many doors to her; she has worked in Greece, China, Southeast Asia and the Middle East, and also for the UN in Geneva. Nurul believes Malaysians have great ideas if only they can be articulated clearly.
Charis Ding, co-founder of MyReaders, is a TFM alumna with a BA in English from Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia. She believes in engaging the community through a comprehensive reading intervention programme that is designed to take students from illiteracy to literacy in 27 weeks. It is an after-school programme with volunteers or student peers acting as reading tutors.
Chong Zhi Xiong is a partner at Chumbaka, a social business startup that aims to reignite a child’s inborn passion to learn. He is a TFM alumni and has a Master of Engineering in Materials with Nuclear Engineering from Imperial College London. Chong inspires students to create through technology — from coding and programming to electronics and 3D printing — through an after-school programme called Maker that now involves 15 schools. As students learn terminology and make presentations of their inventions, which are often in the English language, they become fluent speakers.
Nafis Nazri, the founder of TalentBase, has a BSc in Management from Universiti Putra Malaysia. He admits that the social stigma attached to English speakers is very real and believes that one way to curb it is to go down to the ground and help erase it.
Danutcha Singh of SOLS 24/7 provides as its core programme free English, IT and motivational classes at community centres mainly to fight poverty. The organisation has trained 30,310 students and won numerous awards for its efforts.
We celebrate these exemplary individuals who want to contribute to society in more ways than one. Yet taking a step back, the common denominator is that the current education system, in as far as the teaching of English is concerned, has broken down and needs immediate resuscitation. While there is no such thing as an overnight success, we need to persevere and not give up hope. However, on hindsight, even if we tried this approach for a hundred years, we would only be touching the tip of the iceberg.
PAGE wishes to provide an answer to this problem: Address the teacher sector by reintroducing English-medium schools via the transformation of a few existing national schools, perhaps starting in Sabah, Sarawak and Johor — states that have the political will to do so. All the Ministry of Education needs to do is make an exemption under the Education Act 1970.
The carrot to entice prospective teachers is to offer them a pre-selected degree in English in England, similar to how our teachers used to be trained at Kirkby and Brinsford Lodge. The difference now is for these prospective teachers to live with families where their universities are located or with landlords, if need be a Muslim family for Muslim teachers, to ensure complete immersion in the language.
Gradually, their number will grow and be adequate enough to last for the long term. While bringing in native speakers in the past was a noble effort, it was expensive and unsustainable.
So, let us begin with the states with zero resistance to English-medium schools, pushing aside politics and sentimentalism.
Datin Noor Azimah Abdul Rahim is the chairman of Parent Action Group for Education Malaysia, which is an educational lobby group that serves as a channel between concerned parents, the Ministry of Education and other educational stakeholders