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Thursday, July 9, 2009

The First Bungle – Jaga Bahasa Biar Jahanam Bangsa

By Syed Akbar Ali
In one of my Four Wheel Drive trips into the jungle some years ago, we stopped at a place called Cheneh in Terengganu. I remember a makcik at a roadside stall made some nice ayam goreng. My good friend Juhaidi was with me and also my two boys.
Cheneh was (and maybe still is) a typical rural backwater. The folks did not seem to know if they were coming or they were going. There was Astro but I think the favorite show was ‘Tom Tom Bak’. But I did recall saying aloud that someday I hope that the folks in Cheneh would watch CNN, BBC and CBS and that we could just drive up and ask the makcik in Cheneh ‘Whats on CNN today?’ But I think that’s not going to happen at all.
Tuan Tuan dan Puan Puan, our Prime Minister Dato Najib has made his first bungle – and within the first 100 days too. No Sirs, it is a major bungle. You have bungled big time.
Lets manage this “crisis in the making” now. First of all please stop from saying anything more about the switch from English to Malay. The more things you say, the more “face saving” devices you will need for you to swallow your pride before you can undo this mistake. But this mistake must be undone.
I just happened to be with Tun Dr Mahathir Mohammad yesterday Thursday July 9th 09 slightly after noon when the news came in that the Cabinet had decided to flip flop over the language issue.
Firstly Tun Dr Mahathir raised a simple but valid point. The main reason quoted by Tan Sri Muhyuddin to favor the switch to Malay was that the rural Malay kids were doing poorly in Maths and Science (which are taught in English) compared to the urban kids. But what about exam scores for the rural kids in all other subjects which are taught in the Malay language? Dr Mahathir said no one showed him the statistics for that. Why?
If you say that English is the reason why the rural kids are doing so poorly in Maths and Science, then by your logic the rural kids should be scoring the same as or better than the urban kids in other subjects that are taught in Malay? By your logic rural kids should be doing better than the urban kids in Sejarah, Geografi, Kemahiran Hidup, Bahasa Malaysia and other Malay language subjects.
But we know that rural kids generally score lower than urban kids in most subjects (except maybe Agama). And language has got nothing to do with it. Rural kids are usually found in lower income households, their parents are usually less educated, they have less achievement goals and so forth. That is why you call them ‘children from rural areas’. They are poor people and they are underachievers.
So this comparison with rural kids and urban kids is not fully accurate (Tun Dr Mahathir used another word which I need not repeat here).
Let me give you some street feedback. At least one Internet based employment agency has instructions from its clients to completely ignore any job applicants who are graduates from UITM (University ITM). As we know UITM graduates are all Malays. They say the quality of the graduates is low and their English is bad.. They are unemployable. This is what I heard.
Another preference by another employer – a Multi National Corporation - in the job market is to take in job applicants who are graduates of IPTA (private universities) who have done twinning programs. This means their English is good and they are more marketable. Again this means Malays with poor English skills are not preferred. Bottom of the line.
And here is some news from Cyberjaya. We opened up Cyberjaya and gave foreign investors much benefits and incentives to open business there. Among the foreign investments in Cyberjaya are ‘Call Centers’. Well some ‘Call Centers’ in Cyberjaya take in Indians as a first choice for employment. They feel that generally Indians speak better English. Second choice are Chinese. Finally they will look at Malays as the last choice but rarely. Even with the emphasis on English the past six years, the Malays cannot speak enough English to get a job answering telephones in Call Centers in Cyberjaya.
We cannot shut them down or arrest them under the ISA for practising such discrimination. They come here for business. We must provide them the tools necessary to run their businesses well. We are not doing the job.
To Dato Najib and Tan Sri Muhyuddin Yassin, why are you doing this? Who agrees with you? Who are you afraid of? Takkan UMNO Johor is so powerful to frighten Muhyuddin?
Last nite I met a Deputy Minister and a well known “ultra Malay” ex-newspaper editor. The Deputy Minister said it was a bad decision to switch back to Malay. The ‘ultra Malay’ ex-editor was visibly upset and said “I have no comments. I don’t want to say anything.” I think he did not agree with the switch at all.
Another well known “ultra-ultra” Malay defender of all things Malay (if I just mention his job you will know who he is) said the switch to Malay was ‘satu langkah ke belakang’.
A Tan Sri from Kelantan said in English “this is a giant leap backward for the Malays”.
In the present world, the English language is a ‘life giving’ language. The amount of new knowledge and new information that comes out in the English language is astounding. No one can translate all the new knowledge and information that comes out in English EACH and EVERY DAY. It is impossible. We have to master this language. There is no other way.
Then we have the ‘tidak masuk akal’ ideas. Tan Sri Muhyuddin says after the switch back to Malay, he still wants to upgrade the teaching of English in the rural schools. He wants to employ about 1000 native English speakers to teach English in rural schools. By native speaker I do not know if he is referring to Mrs Naidu from Brickfields or if he wants to employ real Mat Sallehs from outside the country.
Mrs Naidu the retired English teacher will gladly teach English to our children for RM3000 per month. But we will have to pay the Mat Sallehs RM15,000 a month or more before they will come to work here.
But if that is a good idea then why not employ 1000 Mat Sallehs at RM15000 a month to teach Maths and Science in English in the rural schools?
Because according to Tan Sri Muhyuddin, it is not the school children in the rural schools who are to be faulted. The real culprits are the teachers. Muhyuddin let the cat out of the bag. Here is what Muhyuddin said (from the Press):
“It was based on empirical studies and other specialist reviews,” he said. Based on studies conducted in 2008, he said, the ministry found that only a small percentage of teachers fully used English to teach the two subjects. “On average, the percentage of those using English during Mathematics and Science periods was around 53% to 58%,” he said, adding that only a small number of teachers were proficient. Muhyiddin said studies carried out by local universities found that students’ mastery level of English during the entire policy was around 3% while the level among rural students was low.”
So don’t push the blame on the rural students lah.
It is the teachers who were malas to teach in English. And there are other reasons why some Malay teachers do not use English. Among them are religious reasons because some people believe that speaking English may lead to you ‘jadi kristian’.
Even in the towns (including Kuala Lumpur) it is also considered “showing off” if Malay people speak English. So there are other quite illogical reasons why Malay teachers are shy to speak and teach in English. Don’t just blame it (and quite wrongly too) on the rural school children. That is not correct.
And even if what Tan Sri Muhyuddin is saying is indeed true, why burden the urban kids and dim their chances at a better future just because the rural kids are having problems with English?
Urban kids are usually the children of parents who are more educated, who work in offices, run businesses and generally earn a higher income and enjoy a better standard of living. The rural folks are usually much poorer than the urban folks.
That is why we have to make sure that the rural folks get the same or better opportunities to get out of the poverty cycle and move up in life so that they too can enjoy a standard of living like the urban people. A good education and the ability to converse in English is definitely one way up.
But what this policy reversal has done is to lower the entire national average. Instead of moving the rural people up the ladder, we are now moving moving the urban folks down to the level of the rural people. We are lowering the averages. Hang tak payah jadi pandai macam aku, biar aku jadi bodoh macam hang !
We are nailing the Malays inside the language cocoon. We are also creating a “non English understanding rural poor” versus an “English speaking urban elite” divide. The Malays who cannot speak English will be left further and further behind.
The English speaking urban folks (Malays, Chinese and Indians) will move light years ahead of the non English speaking folks. There will most definitely be an English speaking elite in the country. More problems will arise.
Then we have also allowed International Schools in the country to be opened to all Malaysians. We also have foreign universities like Nottingham and Monash. We are basically denying many Malays from qualifying to enter these universities and international schools. They can go to UITM and become more ‘cocoon infested’ and unemployable.
But very, very few kids make it to university or college in the first place. Only 2% to 3% of the population goes to university anyway. The large bulk of our young kids will become school leavers (SPM or PMR) with no employable skills, no knowledge of “life giving” English. Their future is doomed.
Akhir sekali saya nampak peluang hidup bagi budak Melayu dari kampong menjadi lagi tipis. Siapa yang ada tanah getah, mungkin akan kerja potong getah saja di kampong. Kalau tak ada tanah getah, depa akan berhijrah ke Bandar dan pekan untuk mencari kerja sebagai office boy, messenger dan peon.
They may even think that office boy, messenger and peon are three different careers.
Please reverse this policy. It is a very big mistake.
Syed Akbar Ali is a businessman, property developer, author, company director, newspaper columnist, NEAC economic consultant and banker.
Related article from Chedet.

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