Compulsory pass in English?

From The Malaysian Insider HERE:

Earlier this week, Muhyiddin said he was surprised to find out that English was not a ‘must pass’ subject for the SPM

For someone who has been in the ruling political party for such a long time, and someone who is currently holding such a senior position within the government, I find his “surprise” in finding out that English is NOT a compulsory passing subject a surprise in itself.

However, the crux of the matter is not so much WHY our Education Minister does not know about this, but what he is proposing, which is to make it compulsory for a pass in English in order to obtain the SPM certificate.

According to the same article from above:

[T]he feedback he got the next day from the public, who inundated the ministry’s phone lines, was a firm “no”. Most of the 500 callers rejected such a move.

Valid questions have also been posted:

“Is the government prepared to commit financial resources, teaching manpower, infrastructure, an effective module and ensure a conducive learning environment?”

“We are aware of the limits and boundaries of the government. What will happen if a large group of students fail SPM just because they fail their English paper?”


In a nutshell, I think that making English a compulsory subject to pass in the SPM examination would be a good move. It is my view that English is too important a language to allow our students to do without.

Having said that, there are so many problems and issues that have to be addressed if this policy ever gets passed and implemented.

First off, is the quality of English teachers that we have today. Even in schools located at the heart of the nation, Kuala Lumpur, we have English teachers who are incompetent. I would imagine the situation to be far worse in rural areas.

Second, the syllabus of English lessons in schools. If students in Form One are being taught what ‘plural’ and ‘singular’ mean, and when to use ‘is’ and ‘are’, you know you have a problem. When you have the same syllabus being repeated in Form 3, you know the problem is more serious than it lets on. And trust me, this happens.

Third, and what I think is most crucial, is the kind of attention given to passing examinations.

With the first and second issues being major issues, the third one of having such an emphasis on passing exams only magnifies the first two problems. We now have incompetent teachers teaching only what is necessary for his/her students to pass the exams.

And this problem is also one that is closely related to the proposal made by the Education Minister. If in the end this proposal does get implemented, what guarantee do we have that the standard of English in our schools will improve? How will we know whether the students are really getting better, or whether it is just another case of “teaching and mastering what is necessary to pass”?

There is a whole host of issues to address. Frankly, when teachers say things like:

“They (the students) don’t understand why they are wrong when they say ‘it is very pain’. Students are given marks for using key words,”

it becomes painfully obvious how low our standards have come to be.


So ultimately, is making English a compulsory passing subject a good move?

In a nutshell, it might be. But not without having a re-look at the other issues that come hand-in-hand with it.

Perhaps what the Ministry should be aiming for is to bring up the standard of English being taught in schools today. And to do that, perhaps the Ministry should be looking at the syllabus and the mechanism in which the syllabus is being ‘dispensed’. Perhaps they should also start looking at ways to bring up the standard of our English teachers. And perhaps they should also be looking at how to make education more efficient, and not merely a process of passing endless examinations.


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