We have politicians who think that the dumbing down of the education syllabus to achieve ‘politically expedient’ examination results is an education policy.
We may not know each other’s name. We care not what religion the other practised. We all spoke Malay because it is the language we all understood. Language integrates!
The Malay language made us one. The Malay language allowed us to understand each other. The Malay language was ours to use as and when it was necessary for us to communicate across the racial divide.
No need for 1Malaysia lah!
Any Malay who could speak Mandarin or Tamil got our respect and the same goes for a Chinese being able to speak Tamil and an Indian being able to speak Mandarin. But everybody had to know enough Malay to get by or else they would be looked upon as not playing ball with the others.
Is this not the Malaysia that we old timers remember?
What we needed to learn was English. Damm! We went to school to learn English. That was a chore because it was a foreign language for all of us – a language you need to master for education. But master it we did.
And so Malay was the language for integration and the English language became our language for education, administration, government and business.
And then came May 13, the NEP, Ketuanan Melayu and all the attending ‘must do’ that the government said was needed (so said Umno) to integrate the people into 1Malaysia demi kepentingan negara!
Malay became our official national language.
Fast forward to 2013. The Malay language is still the language of integration minus the politically incorrect nuances and colloquialism that has allowed all the races in Malaysia to embrace it as their own.
But the transition of the Malay language from the language of integration to one of administration, government and education has been, at best inadequate and at worst, it has been the reason for the rapid decline of our proficiency in the English language.
This in spite of what our government said in 1956: “No secondary school pupil shall be at a disadvantage in the matter either of employment or of higher education in Malaya or overseas as long as it is necessary to use the English language for these purposes” (Razak Report, 1956:1 2).
The language question perplexes us. Our multi ethnicity gives vibrancy to our culture. The Malay language defines us. It is our most obvious attribute.
Do they not speak Thai in Thailand, Mexican in Mexico? For our integration, our cohesion and our togetherness as a Nation, Malay is indispensable and we are all agreed on that in fact and in practice.
But the English language is a language of relevance. It is a universal language that is understood by scholars and educated people everywhere.
Yet our mastery of the English language far from being maintained at the standards it has achieved in the past, has now declined at an alarming rate over the years – and have done so to our disadvantage!
The preferred lingua franca
Today pride in our national language is worthless if our children are not sufficiently proficient in the English language to enable them to be educated to the best of their ability globally and our people are unable to use English as a means of communication and do business on the world stage.
When did the English language become a liability to Malaysians? Is not English a politically neutral language to all of us?
Today the Malay language dominates on paper whereas the English language dominates in fact and all attempts to impose the Malay language on all Malaysians have succeeded in law but not in fact.
Just as the attempt by the Indian government to replace the English language with Hindi had failed because of vehement opposition by non-Hindi-speaking groups.
No such dissent is allowed/possible in Malaysia for now because this BN government does not allow dissent.
I would venture a guess that if a referendum was done today on the question of what would be the preferred lingua franca – the preference for English would dominate.
Umno does not see the need to change its own name into a suitable bahasa equivalent. Like they have done in religion, this Umno-led Barisan Nasional government sees a political advantage in championing the use of Malay as the national language but not in the upholding of its principles to make Malay the national language in the manner Umno has decreed it to be so.
We have today jaguh kampung students who have consistently score A’s through their Malay medium education but are unable to compete globally against others because our Education Ministry has failed to equip these students with adequate skills to master the English language at the level expected of them when they are sent overseas by the same government to further their education.
While our student labour under this unnecessary burden, our people are disadvantaged by this government’s preoccupation of using language as a political tool.
A political tool with questionable short term advantages and possibly irrepairable long term harm to the very fabrics that hold our society together.
Over 50 years of irresponsible tinkering with the education of our young by the Education Ministry to embellish superficial gains in examinations results and meet politically selfish goals has certainly now consigned our students to the unenviable tasks of becoming increasingly isolated and unable to compete on a level playing field with other students globally.
This, together with the decline in the use of and proficiency in the English language by Malaysians, augers ill for the future of our ability to acquire information, education and knowledge in a world where all that has to be done through the English language.
Apolitical policies needed
Until we have a government responsible enough to understand that education and the English language must be isolated from racial or political considerations, our country’s future and that of our people will be at the mercy of these politicians.
These are politicians who think that the dumbing down of the syllabus of our schools to achieve ‘politically expedient’ examination results is an education policy.
Politicians who do not understand that education policies take at least a generation to bear fruits and another generation to correct if at fault.
Politicians whose preoccupation with Bahasa Malaysia is because they think that it will make it ‘difficult’ for the non-Malays to be educated, enter government service, do business, acquire knowledge of all things Malaysian and generally put the non-Malays at an advantage over the Malays.
Now it has come to pass that the non-Malays, after putting their children through the Malay medium education system, are as proficient as, if not better, than the Malays who have gone through the same education system.
The abject failure of the Malay language to transcend itself from the language of integration to being Malaysia’s national language is there for all of us to see.
It is not a failure of our people. If our government intends this Malay language to be the national language of this nation, then the responsibility of making the Malay language ready to assume its delegated role must be that of this Barisan Nasional government.
By common consensus, this BN government has failed to do this. The results are there for all of us to see.
We continue with this fallacy that education and language are a function of politics at our own peril. And while we are at it, throw in religion and race into the equation.
We must however be hopeful that there will be change simply because if not the government, then the people are now more aware of this need and doing something about it through their activism in NGO’s and other organisations.
These matters will define our future. Let us not allow political considerations to dictate our educational policies and let us insist that our people remain proficient in the English language so that our ability to interact on the global stage is unimpaired.
CT Ali is a reformist who believes in Pakatan Rakyat’s ideologies. He is a FMT columnist.