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Stem the tide of frustration over education

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We must harness our people’s talent and use them fully to propel the nation forward to achieve its noble goals, says Tih Seong Pin.

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I refer to the Aliran Monthly Vol.33 No.8 cover story ‘Malaysia’s Education System in Crisis?’ and as a patriotic and forward-looking Malaysian, I would like to respond in two areas.

English is now the third most spoken language worldwide (after Chinese and Hindi) with some 400m speakers. Due to its widespread use in many sectors, it is now the most widely learned second language in the world. Many students across the world are required to learn and master English, both spoken and written. A working knowledge of English is a must for anyone to excel in any field.

Since the phasing out of English as a medium of instruction in the Malaysian education system beginning in the 1970s and with  English being relegated to a second language in our schools, the standard of the language has plunged. Consequently, English has become the weaker language of most Malaysians – which is detrimental to national interest in the long term.

Many local graduates are unable to find employment in the private sector due to their poor command of English – which is not their  fault as they are the product of the national education system. It pains me to see so many young Malaysians both in the private and public sectors struggling even to communicate in simple language. How do we expect them to represent the country on international assignments?

The government has realised the seriousness of the decline in English among our students by making English a compulsory subject to pass in the SPM examination, starting from 2016. This is something to be lauded. But as students only study and learn English as a single subject, more must be done by the government, parents, and the community to boost its learning, especially spoken English. Many students struggle to communicate in English due to limited opportunities, the environment, their mindset and a lack of self-confidence.

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Being knowledgeable and competent in English, besides our own mother tongue and the national language, is vital in today’s globalised and competitive world. Fail to master English and we will be left behind; this is the reality we have to accept. Therefore, the government urgently needs to bring back English-medium schools in the country to arrest the total decline of English in Malaysia and start producing students who are well-versed in the language to meet the needs of the country.

Another equally important issue is the question of the official recognition of The Unified Examination Certificate (UEC), which was first established in 1975 by the Association of Chinese School Teachers and Trustees (Dong Jiao Zong). This is a standardised exam taken by all students of all 60 Chinese independent secondary schools in Malaysia. These independent schools are supported by students’ fees and donations by the public (mainly the Chinese Malaysian community). These students also sit for the SPM as private students.

At present, the UEC is recognised as an entrance qualification by many educational institutions in the UK, US, Taiwan, Macau, Hong Kong, Singapore and most local private colleges. But strangely and sadly, after 39 years, the Malaysian government has not yet officially recognised the UEC for entry into local public universities. This has created much frustration and unhappiness among the Chinese community.

Along with mission and English schools, Chinese education has been around in this country for a long time, way before Merdeka. They have played an important and meaningful role in nation-building.

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There is no reason for the government not to recognise the UEC. For the ultimate good and prosperity of the nation, the authorities must view the UEC solely from the education and labour point of view and come up with a positive announcement soon.

Otherwise, we would continue to lose many talented, bright and capable students to other countries like Taiwan and Singapore. With just six years left beforee we attain Vision 2020 in turning Malaysia into a fully developed and high-income country, we cannot afford to lose any more talent. We must harness our people’s talent and use them fully to propel the nation forward to achieve its noble goals.

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