Vernacular schools and English proficiency are two issues of Malaysian education system that crop up time and again. These topics have been and still are the juice for a cacophony of debates and discussions over the national media. I too have wondered long on these issues and now ready to add another string of complexity to this matter in tangles.
I’m not a fan of vernacular schools, but I accept the freedom of having various strains of education platforms. If the vernacular schools are able to provide quality education and learning experience, let them do their best. However I wish for hybrid national schools.
Most kids seem to grow up speaking their mother tongue at home. So, it’s appropriate that they should start their schooling in the language they already understand. This is the argument that I would use to suggest that national primary schools got to implement multiple mediums of instruction at least for the first and second standards.
In this setup a national primary school will have Malay, Chinese and Tamil stream classes for standard one and two. The learning content however will be in the usual national school format, but teachers will deliver mostly in the mother tongue of the students. This means Chinese and Indian parents will be able to choose the medium of instruction in which their kids will be taught for the first two years of their schooling. Likewise there could be a different set of languages made available for the parents and kids of East Malaysia.
Since the kids will start learning in Malay, standard three onwards, they must receive very focused training in the Malay language during the two years. It must be adequate for them to continue their education in Malay as the medium of instruction. Starting from standard three all classes will follow the standard national school format without any difference.
I believe increase in the number of English classes is not going to be effective in improving a students language proficiency. I also believe that the real language proficiency develops outside the English class where a student attempts to use the language in different situations and for reasons other than the language itself.
I would use this argument to support teaching and learning at least a couple of subjects in English. This has to start in primary schools and continue through out the secondary schools consistently.
We are not Japan or China with very large self sustaining domestic economy. We don’t seem to have the resources or time to translate sources of knowledge which are primarily in English and accumulate and change rapidly. Proficiency in English will prepare and create opportunities for a larger student population to continue to learn, communicate and integrate with the rest of the world as global citizens.