Monday, June 08, 2009

Compulsory Pass for English in SPM?

This is an open letter written by Mr Philip Yong on whether a pass in English language must be made compulsory at SPM level. I'm publishing it in full.

Open Letter to Deputy Prime Minister and Education Minister Y.A.B. TAN SRI DATO' HAJI MUHYIDDIN BIN MOHD. YASSIN

Dear Tan Sri,

I am writing this letter in regard to your question thrown to the public to discuss. The question on whether a pass in the English language should be made mandatory to pass the Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM).

Before I pursued my higher education at a private institution, for the whole of my schooling life I was enrolled in a local public school. Therefore with my eleven (11) years of experience in public institutions I think I am qualified to give my point of view of this what I would call as a highly significant issue.

Tan Sri,

Whenever I had an English language examination in school, I would score the subject with flying colours and I was indeed very proud of myself. But that was not until I pursued my higher education at a private institution. When I was told that I am required to take the subject in college, I was very reluctant to thinking that my proficiency of the language is above standard. I was furious but had to comply in the end. During my very first lesson, I finally understood why the institution insisted on us taking the subject. In simple words, the standard of English in public schools is definitely not on par with those in private institutions. Therefore, the first thing your Ministry should do is to review the standard of the language taught in public institutions.

In my opinion, I do not think that the English language is hard to master. If we go by the Malay proverb, ‘Melentur buluh biarlah dari rebungnya’ I believe it is achievable. In this state of reality, we should never teach our children to avoid the problem but should instead teach them tackle the problem. If their proficiency of the language is not up to par then their parents or even the government should do something to help improve it and not just lower the standard of language in the public institutions.

I would say that I am fortunate to be born into an English speaking family. If not I seriously think that my proficiency of the language would be much worse than how it is today. Although I agree that this is the role of the parents but the government is also accountable for this issue. Until this very moment, I do not agree that a pass in English should be made mandatory to pass SPM for a matter of fact that the level of English of many Malaysians are still not up to standard even for the very easy SPM. The government should first tackle the root of the problem which again is the proficiency of the English language of the citizens of Malaysia.

My point of view may seem very common but I believe it is what many ordinary Malaysians share. Until today, many of the issues mentioned above have been raised but still no actions were taken. Even if there were actions taken, I do not think those actions were of much help. Let me raise a point that we are a developing country. If as a developing country, our citizen’s proficiency of the English language is not up to par with the developed countries then how will we actually be able to achieve Tun Dr Mahathir’s Vision 2020?

Tan Sri,

Last but not least, I sincerely hope that your ministry will look into these matters seriously. I thank you for your patience in reading this letter. My sincere apology if I had made any mistakes in my above writings. Thank you.


Philip Yong Kee Chung


Anonymous said...


Roy Jaivin said...

My main concern as a teacher is whether we have enough quality teachers to teach English. In rural area (esp In Sarawak & Sabah)there are shortage of English teachers.

Phil said...

Yes that is my concern as well Roy Jaivin. If this is to be implemented soon I cannot imagine how many people will not be able to pass SPM. Let alone english.

Anonymous said...

Dr M was the one who took English away in 1979 as education minister then in 2003/4 as a hero he introduced it back to the education system. So really his vision is quite contradictory considering he was unfavourable to anything to do with imperialistic English.

Anonymous said...

Yup! Dr M was the one who took the English away before ...look at him now.... he is the crusader for English
Another Walter Mitty?
Those who deny the importance of English are in perpetual state of denial!

Anonymous said...

The problem is not English or rather just the English subject!
It has to do with the whole education system. This includes the poorly trained and unsuitable candidates for teaching.
English only appears to be the problem because this is first noticed by the prospective employers or foreign universities.
We should try to improve the standard of education in the country using proper and fair evaluation methods and forgo politics.

Kong said...

First of all, we have to come to an agreement as to what constitute a “pass”. Is it 50 mark out of 100? Or is it 50% of the best student sitting for the test passes? If it is the later, then it does not matter whether this policy is carried out or not. Makes absolutely no different.

I am saying that because of what my teacher friend told me. She said she she has come across student who could barely get 10 marks in their usual school examination passing their SPM mathametic. I have no reason to doubt what she said.

Then there is the problem of the English teacher themselves. Many of the younger ones could hardly master the languages themselves. It is almost like the blind leading the blind.

largest distance learning university said...

I am totally agreed with you.This is a very big problem in the way of education. We should take some necessary action to short out the problems.

Anonymous said...

y kep bringing this issue? We all know english is impt to survive. Just go ahead and ignore the anti english movt. One day they will regret!

Anonymous said...

I think the education system should be four tiered. Pass English and you get to study certain professions that need it. Pass BM and you get to study certain careers. Pass Mandarin and you get to do business with China. Pass Tamil and you get to do business with India. That way you find that students who are good in certain languages are not forced to study languages that they don't need. Not everyone is perfect and achieving SPM passes does not mean a successful adult or a graduate with a job.

Anonymous said...

The poor state of English can be blamed on Dr M who was so anti English that most of the English speakers and teachers either retired, retrenched or emigrated. Of course Dr M then told them if you go don't come back. He wanted more Malaysians to emigrate so that he could import supporters for his agenda, mainly from East Asia. So don't blame the education system, blame Dr M.

Anonymous said...

Actually, I don't see a problem why is it unnecessary to include English as a compulsory pass subject in SPM.

Simple enough, you need certain proficiency of English to progress ahead in your education. STPM and most universities used English in their subjects.

And even you somehow get graduated without learning English, things will be tough. Employers will probably seek employee who are English illiterate. And even jobs like waiter and salesgirl required proficiency in English.

Even though it meant lesser people will get their SPM certificate, so what? SPM are meant as an evaluation method to see whether students are more prepared to the education ahead. If a student didn't get a SPM certificate because of failing English, so be it. Things are not going to change if he get a SPM certificate and sucked in the education ahead because of not knowing English.

Face the music, whether we like it or not, ENglish is going to be the lingua france around the world. It is better to follow the trend of the world rather than against it

Kong said...

PETALING JAYA (June 14, 2009): Public examination certificates should reflect a sufficiently high standard and not be too easy to obtain or they will be worthless, said former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

"If certificates are too easy to get, they will not be valued any more and be useless when seeking jobs or going for further studies," said Mahathir, who said he was disappointed with calls to make it easier for students to qualify to be awarded public examination certificates.

Anonymous said...

tell that to the matrikulasi! You cant compare oranges and apples together. I think it was during his time that matrikulasi sprouted...
Dr M's Dilemma

Anonymous said...

It is ironic that the ministers should be debating over English when meritocracy should be the buzz word. It is ironic that most of their children go to Western universities for their education when they tell the majority to stay local and buy local. It is ironic that they have holiday homes all over Western countries. It is ironic that the debate over English is just an eyewash over the bigger problems of the nation - i.e. high unemployment of graduates even after training and worsening economic woes due to irresponsible management and governance.

highclass said...

More people should increase their attention towards education, especially in developing countries.

moo_t said...

Oh my.

Look at some of the comment, I tell myself, after 50+ years of independent, Malaysia education are totally failure on creating civil society.

Malaysia post-colonisation education is like a sheep farm. Putting a fence, you can easily lead a herd to the destination, whether to the yarn or the butcher house. And the sheep don't even think jump over the fence.

First, what the the PURPOSE of this "One school" things?

integration under one language ? Unity under one ideology?

Oh my goodness. If you still holding those "nationalist" ideology, then there is no chances Malaysia become more competitive in future. After 60 year of WWII, we see EU. EU is an integrate entity that UNDERSTAND the DIFFERENT. What make EU is the UNIVERSAL understanding of common HUMAN VALUE.

The "one" school system is nothing but a repackage colonisation. I bet nobody go UK, Malaysia previous colonisation master and compare their education system with the LEFTOVER they put here.

You will notice the huge different in the conducting method. Colonisation education are mean to train a group of people to SERVE to the master. Forget about the THINKING, colonial master DON'T NEED thinking colony.

Just look at Malaysia education system, from Primary to Secondary, even up to the local University, the method of conduct is nothing more than memorize, practice. Even the R&D thinking part has put us on shame when compare to tiny country like Singapore.

The vernacular school are not much better than the national school system in method of conduct.

HOWEVER, because of the alternate language, we have group of people with DIFFERENT language viewpoint that is NECESSARY in the age of globalisation.

While Malaysia rural people limit by the regionalism view due to government controlled media, those who learn different language SEE MORE through another language view.

Take mandarin as example, even the local mandarin newspaper limited view, the mandarin reader also better view from material from mandarin world such as Taiwan, China ROC, Hong Kong, mandarin writer around the world. It is a emerge country experience.

While for English reader, they are NOT limited to local English media. And this is true that Indian people can always assess what happen in India view angle.

And back to the "one school" Malay
medium of conduct and colonisation method of conduct. Honestly, in my opinion, the global view material in Malay language are pretty limited. Unless Malays people willing to abolish the invisible fence enacted by UMNO, Malay cannot go far without enrichment from Bahasa Indonesia, an culture with at 200 millions population.

Sometimes I feel bad for REAL Malay scholar like Azly Rahman, Farish Noor. They have been demonised by feudalism Malays as betrayal because of their liberate view, that will shaken feudalism Malays interest when more Malay awaken/liberate from the master-slave colonisation mindet.

IMHO, the one school system idea is rubbish. Malaysia imminent education problem is NOT about language of conduct. When the substances of one school system are re-enact COLONISATION method of teaching, it will NEVER help the national integration.

And my conclusion :
STOP F*CKING Malaysia education with OBSOLETED method. Liberate the education, let REAL educationist rather than political-education worker control Malaysia education.

If Malaysia REFUSE to fix the system in next 10 years. After 20 years, Malaysia will follow Philippines foot step.

Kong said...

While English is undoubtedly very important and useful, it is not absolutely vital to success. For example, the Japanese have very poor command of English but see where they are today? Then there is the French, the German, the Russian, the Chinese....

IMO, the No.1 reason for success is attitude. Once you have the right attitude, you will do whatever you have to do or learn whatever thing you needed to learn to become successful, automatically and without the need for someone to tell you to do so.

Unfortunately, Malaysian tends to lack this vital quality. If not, why is there so much discussion on this subject?

Anonymous said...

Problem number 1. Attitude of people needs to be adjusted when learning anything, in this case English. Problem 2. The recruitment of teachers should be closely monitored. In fact, the students in university who are so called B.A, English or B.A. Eng Lit, should be truly qualified. (I know of many cases whereby students can't even speak english are offered BA English or worse BA Eng LIt). All these stem from one thing, the Education System. SRP was scrapped and replaced by PMR. Then one need not pass PMR and can go on to form 4 and sit for SPM. Some don't even sit for their PMR, yet they still get to go into Form 4. Schools are turned into baby-sitting facilities. Teachers are no longer respected as a large number of them are truly NOT qualified to be teachers. Those who are, always feel bad as they know they are qualified but those who aren't give the teaching profession a bad name. Should English be made compulsory then for SPM? Yes, it is a cruel jarring wake-up call but we have to start somewhere. If we need a huge big jolt, so be it. Bahasa Melayu will always be the national language. To be afraid of learning English and afraid that one will loose one's identity if one learns it, that is being ridiculous and narrow-minded.

jem said...

they are forever creating excuses for the things they can't do just because they are afraid to fail.
most teachers in schools can't even speak english.

Anonymous said...

lol. i think the letter is not relevant to the matter at hand. the writer's opinion on the subject is based solely on his own personal account. as such, it's gravity is analogical to a love letter exchange between lovers. :P

the only statement of worth is ..
'passing english should not be made compulsory..'

the funniest assertion would be ..
"In my opinion, I do not think that the English language is hard to master"
he has not mastered the language so he confidently concluded its difficulty.

the rest is pretty much like the public buzz.

i scored english but the thought of taking it at the university invites contempt.

measurement of performance is open to debate.
(yeah.. yawn.. who doesnt know this?)

upscale the standard of the students before making it compulsory.

why r u using the letter as the catalyst of this discussion? is it based on emotional ground as well?