READING ESL: poor English proficiency

Poor English proficiency in many Malaysian high school graduates;

But why (asks journalist Sonia Ramachandran) is the Minister for Education so surprised?

A link to the original article in theantdaily online news portal and a list of definitions for some of the less common words in the original article have been posted below this summary of the story.

Because English is an international language, and because most material on the internet is in English, English proficiency is a definite advantage if you want access to the world stage. English is not a language that most Malaysians speak at home, and many high school graduates are weak in English. English proficiency in high school students is likely to become even worse as English language classroom time in Malaysian schools is reduced by half. We cannot just blame the students for low English proficiency among high school graduates.

The Parent Action Group for Education (PAGE) says that lower English proficiency is a result of the 2009 policy reversal that changed the teaching language for science and mathematics from English to Malay. The PAGE chairperson says she is surprised that the Minister for Education did not expect lower English proficiency in students as a result of this policy. She also says that university lecturers report that students who graduated from schools which continued teaching science and mathematics in English since 2009 are at an advantage when they attend university.

All schools were able to introduce the national language (Malay) into the math and science classrooms either gradually (over 10 years), or immediately. PAGE claims that school principals who introduced Malay-only instruction immediately did not have a clear vision of the future.

The final decision on the amount of English medium instruction in Malaysian high schools is taken by the school principal, and there is no need for him or her to look for input from students or parents (or teachers!). Science and mathematics take up 20% of the class timetable, and English makes up another 20%. Previously, this meant that 40% of the students’ instruction was in English. The PAGE spokesperson points out that when the science and mathematics classes are taught in Malay, then English-medium instruction drops by half to only 20% of the class time. Cutting English exposure by half is not going to help student proficiency.

The Minister for Education (Hon Mr Muhyiddin) has noted that “something is not right” with English language learning in the high school system, as students should be able to master basic English during their years at school. University, he said, is for up-scaling knowledge and polishing language. The Minister said he did not know what the root cause of the problem was, but he added that the problem could be due to the quality of the teachers and the interest of the students.

The Minister also said that Bahasa Malaysia (Malay) could not be blamed for poor standards of English. The spokesperson for PAGE expressed surprise at the Minister’s explanations, saying if he had done the math, he would see that cutting English lessons in half would lead to a disastrous outcome.

Read the original article in theantdaily here:

Poor English proficiency in many Malaysian high school graduates

Vocabulary list:

BAFFLED (adj) unable to understand or comprehend

LINGUA FRANCA (n) common language or trading language

GOOD STEAD (adj) to be in good stead is to be well and in a good position to take advantage of opportunities

ABOLISHED (v) no longer permitted, not allowed

OPTED (v) chose

BAHASA MALAYSIA (n) Malaysian language (‘bahasa’ is the Malay word for ‘language’)

BATCH (n) a group of something that is produced at the same time E.g. a batch of cookies (the ‘latest batch’ of students to enter the workforce are the most recent graduates)

EXPOSURE (n) contact with something, time spent doing or learning something; ‘exposure to’ English means ‘contact with’ English


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