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The education language barrier

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Why are foreign students able to study in institutions of higher learning in Malaysia, when locals, like John Inbaraj, who do not have a credit in Bahasa find themselves unable to register as on-campus students.


I don’t think anybody in Malaysia would deny that the quality of pre-independence education in the country was far, far better than what we have today. The rot actually began after the School Certificate (SC) Examinations for Form Five students was replaced by the Malaysian Certificate of Education (MCE) in 1970.

The SC was conducted by the University of Cambridge Overseas Local Examinations Syndicate while the MCE was conducted by the Ministry of Education, Malaysia.

The main difference between the two exams was the SC required a credit in English for a candidate to obtain Grade One. There was no requirement for even a pass in Bahasa Malaysia. The MCE, on the other hand, required candidates to obtain a credit in Bahasa Malaysia (BM) to obtain a Grade One while English was less important.

Thousands of students failed their exams despite getting straight A’s in many subjects. Many, many Malaysian students then fell by the wayside. Those who dared, hitch-hiked to overseas countries to try their luck abroad for higher studies. (Hitch-hiking was popular in those days). For many, it almost seemed as if the Ministry was used BM as a tool to “keep back” the non-Malays. Why? I will never understand.

Malaysian English was second to none in the world. We had a tremendous advantage over other Asean countries especially after Dr Lim Chong Eu, the then Chief Minister of Penang, lured foreign investments into the country.

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We had a solid foundation in English. Couldn’t our planners have worked to bring Bahasa Malaysia on par with English?

Consider this: Malay-medium schools existed all this time. So did Chinese-medium, Tamil-medium and English-medium schools, then. While the other three non-English-medium school systems remained, and they do so even now, why were English medium schools taken off by the Ministry? I find this puzzle impossible to solve. In the meantime, the elite Malays continued their education in English in the Mara college of higher education while elites also sent their children abroad to English-schools and colleges.

Was BM used as a tool to restrict the non-Malays? Is it a tool still to restrict non-Malays? Why is it that I am unable to register as an on-campus student – whether for an A level or degree – at any accredited institution of study (including private colleges) – just because I do not have a credit in Bahasa (even though I have a pass in Bahasa)?

What if someone in his 60s – say a doctor – now decides to study law in a local university, for whatever reason. Would he be unable to register in any certified local educational institution if he does not have a credit in BM? Can you imagine that?

So the question in my mind is: Who the hell cares what the heck anyone studies in whatever language, so long as it is not something banned by the government (like terrorism)? How does it affect anyone in government or bother the government if the private sector recognises their qualifications and employs them? By all means don’t employ them in the civil service or crony companies!

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Why sabotage them just because they have no credit in Bahasa Malaysia? By the way, aren’t there lecturers in these tertiary institutions who do not have a credit in BM?

A counsellor whom I approached for advice told me of her daughter who obtained straight A’s but failed to obtain a credit in Bahasa Malaysia. Attempts to move upwards proved futile, so overseas education was the recourse. She graduated with flying colours as a doctor and after some specialist education opted to come to Malaysia to serve the country. She was rejected for lack of a credit in BM. A neighbouring country happily absorbed her. She is lost forever to Malaysia for lack of a credit in BM. Well, Talent Corp, over to you!

Chua Soi Lek talks too much! MCA has professed lifelong learning. Do they even know the existence of such a policy? So how does the doctor study law in Malaysia without a credit in Bahasa?

The biggest irony is that thousands of foreigners – from China, Korea, Japan, Russia, Nigeria and Arab countries, to mention a few – are able to study at our so-called education hub without a credit in Bahasa Malaysia. So why this discrimination against Malaysians?

John Inbaraj is an Aliran member based in Penang.

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