Hishammuddin: Improvements to be made to English in schools

Okay, after one month of blogging here about current politics in Malaysia, Hishammuddin has finally started to open his mouth again. In case anyone out there is in the dark about who this is, he’s the current Education Minister of Malaysia, also current UMNO Youth Chief (he said he’s going to let the post go though..). And, sad to add, this youth leader, and Minister who’s in charge of building the nation’s future, is the same person who wielded a keris during an UMNO meeting some time back, saying something about the Malay supremacy, and that the Chinese had better be careful, if not then a May 13 1969 might repeat itself.

*** Here, I admit that I’m biased, and please, don’t take my word for it. If anyone wants clarification, then perhaps you could google for his exact words. But I doubt there would be any to find though.. (total wipe out?)

Anyway, since he’s the Education Minister, of course he’s talking about the education system in Malaysia. And in particular, the mastery of the English language of our youth, starting from Primary 1. In 2003, the Ministry changed the syllabus for the Science and Maths subjects to be taught in English, starting from Primary 1, Secondary 1, and Lower Sixth Form. I attended Lower Six in 2004, so I was basically part of the system.

I had nothing much against the changing of the language in which Science and Maths were being taught in, because English was never quite a problem for me. But for many of my other friends, who either went to SJK’s, SRJK’s, and SMK’s, Form Six was living hell. Try imagine, you’ve learnt everything you know in the Malay language, and suddenly, all the terms were changed to English.

Pembakaran became combustion.
Pendidihan became boiling.
And these are the easier terms to understand. What about the scientific terms? And maths?

It was so bad, and the teachers, having taught in BM for so many years, they just couldn’t cope with the change that was so sudden. From my experience, they actually prepared Powerpoint slides, with texts copied straight from the text books, and read straight off the presentations. Once, when the power went down, the teacher actually said that she couldn’t do any teaching, and we were allowed a free period! And then, because the Ministry knew of this problem, they gave us a choice of answering out STPM papers in either English or Malay. They even had the questions asked in both languages.

So much for successful implementation.

It’s been 3 years since I’ve completed my STPM, and I’m not sure if there have been any improvements to the system. But enough about myself, and my education. Let’s get some real news here.


Decision on teaching of Science and Maths in English after results of UPSR exam

PUTRAJAYA: A decision on whether Science and Mathematics will continue to be taught in English will be made after the UPSR results are released at the end of the year.

Education Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Tun Hussein said pupils who would sit for the examination in September were the pioneer batch who started studying both subjects in English from Year One in 2003.

“We have to wait for the UPSR results to be released before any decision can be made. We need to be rational and make a decision based on facts and not on emotions or assumptions,” he told reporters after chairing his ministry’s post-Cabinet meeting.

On another matter, Hishammuddin said he agreed with Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak’s statement on the diminishing command of the English Language among Malaysians, particularly those in rural areas.

Full article here.


English curriculum to be revamped – Hishammuddin

PUTRAJAYA, April 18 (Bernama) — The Education Ministry is looking into radical measures to strengthen the command of English among students, including revamping the curriculum.

Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Tun Hussein said today the measures included a more comprehensive teacher training programme and introducing English literature as a subject as early as during primary school.

Hishammuddin said the move to revamp the English curriculum was made because of the importance of English in a globalised world as stated by Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak recently.

“Poor command of English will hold us back as 75 percent of telex messages, 80 per cent of computer data, most satellite communication, and 5,000 newspapers or more than half the newspapers in the world are in English.”

“The process (to strengthen English usage) is going on according to the programmes. However, I feel that the ministry has to do more because the focus is on English and there are no compromises on this.”

Full article here.


Courses for teachers may go English

PUTRAJAYA: Training programmes for teachers at colleges and universities may use the English language as the medium of instruction.

The Education Ministry is also considering revamping the school curriculum and introducing English Literature to enhance English proficiency among students and teachers.

Its minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein said radical and bold steps needed to be adopted to enhance the mastery of the language, especially among primary schoolchildren.

He said it was agreed at a post-cabinet meeting that the curriculum should be revamped quickly.

“Changes to the curriculum must be consistent so that students have no restrictions or problems in improving their English.

“However, this needs to be studied by the experts but to me, personally, I want to see our primary schoolchildren have a fair command of the language. This is not impossible as even at the primary level, our children are able to understand Bahasa Malaysia, Tamil and Arabic well,” he said after chairing his ministry’s post-cabinet meeting yesterday.

Full article here.


To be honest, I quite like the idea of having English as the main language in Malaysia. Or at the very least, make it a widely used language. Make it a language that everyone in Malaysia can master. And it’s true that since English is the International language at the moment, a good command of English can put Malaysians in good stead.

But seriously, what happened to BM? Be it Bahasa Malaysia or Bahasa Melayu, is it not still our national language? Does good command of BM mean nothing?

I’m overseas. And when I tell people that I’m Malaysian, they say, “Ape kabaa?”, albeit with really weird accents. This shows something significant. It shows that people know our language. It shows that people relate BM to Malaysia. And it’s something that we as Malaysians should be proud of.

The Malay language is what makes us Malaysian, or is it not the case anymore? I mean, look around. Talk to the really old people who sit at kopitiams everyday. You’ll realise that they can’t understand a word of English, be they Indians or Chinese or Malays or any other ethnic group. But all of them speak at least a little bit of Malay. That’s the language that’s universal to them. They can speak to any person of any other colour, and they know that they’ll be understood. Sure, it’s broken Malay. But it’s still Malay.

To the Chinese community, knowing how to speak the Chinese language is, or maybe was, of great importance. I never studied Mandarin, but I felt like I had to, not because it’s becoming a big language, and not because China is becoming a force to beckon with. It was basically because I felt that as a Chinese, it’s the basic requirement.

Does the same logic not apply to being Malaysian?

What good does it do if students speak Shakespearean English, when they can’t even write proper karangan‘s in Malay? What good does it do if Malaysians can speak to the whole wide world, if they cannot communicate with the people back home?

Even now, command of Malay language is poor. And this is not only amongst the non-Malays. The Malays themselves are deteriorating in their command of the language. They don’t use proper grammar, they mix their words with English words, Cantonese words, and all other languages that they managed to pick a few words from along the way.

Language is the most fundamental thing, the most important medium that people use to communicate. With Malay not being emphasised, it’s no wonder why Malays stick to Malays, Chinese to Chinese, and Indians to Indians. It’s not because we hate each other, or that we don’t recognise them as friends. It’s basically because we have no way to communicate. Words get lost. Meanings get wrongly interpreted. Racial rifts are, whether we like it or not, geared on by the seperation of languages.

Going back to the issue at hand (I seem to be digressing a lot on this issue, but what else would you expect from someone fresh out of the system? I’m a concerned person, after all). Hishammuddin is correct in saying that this year’s UPSR results will show whether the move to change the Science and Maths subjects to English was successful. But what happened to the SPM students? The Form Six students? Surely, their take on it would be as important?

And I’m somewhat curious, what kind of criteria are they going to base their results on? Whether the students fared well in the subjects? Whether these students fared better in these two subjects compared to the other subjects? Or perhaps, compare them with the results of UPSR students from 6 years back? How will they know if the change was any good?

Good command in English does not just come with teaching Maths and Science in English. The major change has to come from the English language itself. If the command of English in itself was good, then it wouldn’t really matter whether Science and Maths were taught in Malay or English or Mandarin or Tamil. Because everyone would understand the terms if they were written in English.

Words like “boiling” and “combustion” should be learnt outside of Science, and not just in Science. Why, does combustion and boiling not happen outside of the Science labs? If the teaching of the English language itself was satisfactory, then this wouldn’t be a problem.

Introducing English Literature, is another thing. If, again, English is not brought up to standard, then the Ministry should just forget about English literature. How could these students understand it anyway? They don’t even understand everday English, let alone the flowery interpretions and multiple-meaning words.

And, if the Ministry thinks that English Literature is important, then what of Malay Literature? Malay folklore?

My younger brother was in this new education system for 5 years in Primary school before leaving the country 2 years ago. And he doesn’t know who Puteri Gunung Ledang is.

How can a Malaysian not know who Puteri Gunung Ledang is? And then, he doesn’t know Lagenda Mahsuri. In fact, I don’t think he knows any Malay folklores at all.

This is the kind of student that is being promoted by the Education Ministry at the moment. He was quite “westernised” even before moving to the west. And is this what the Education Ministry is gearing towards?


I think I’ll leave it here, I’m becoming too long-winded.

PS: Notice how Hishammuddin is supporting “101%” what Najib said? He said it in all the reports. How’s that for individuality?

One Comment on “Hishammuddin: Improvements to be made to English in schools”

  1. […] Michelle Yoon Mei Su writes a lengthy post at I Am Malaysian, her blog. I found it to be a good read and analogous. Her post is here. […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s