Hornbill Unleashed

August 31, 2013

Nurul Izzah and English

educationVisnu Natesan

Nurul Izzah Anwar made a statement criticizing Dr. Mahathir that he wasted RM 8 billion through the Teaching of Mathematics and Science in English (PPSMI) program. Nurul further added that a study conducted by UNESCO stated that technical subjects should be taught in students’ mother tongue. However, the writer strongly disagrees with Nurul’s view on the subject.

The Oxford English Dictionary lists over 250,000 different words not including technical and scientific terms. On a similar note, our Kamus Dewan Fourth Edition has over 49,000 words/entries. The Malay language has many loaned words from Sanskrit, Persian, Tamil, Telugu, Greek, Latin, Portuguese, Dutch and Chinese dialects.

The recent development of the Malay language relies heavily on Arabic words for religious terms and English for technical and scientific terms. However, some of our Malay words have been loaned to English and other languages i.e. orang utan, babirusa, gong, tuak, durian, rambutan and launch (lancha-boat). In comparison, The Institute of Language and Literature’s (Dewan Bahasa Pustaka’s) progress in developing the Malay language is not on par with the English words development by Oxford University Press.

Dewan Bahasa Pustaka does not have the resources or capability to develop the Malay language to be recognized as a lingua franca (working language). On that note, our education system needs to prioritize increasing English Users and English Speakers. The difference between speakers and users are, the speaker can read, write and form sentences in English while the user would only be able to read in English.

In China, it is estimated about 300 million of the population are English users. In comparison to Malaysia, we do not have the data or statistics to analyze the quantum of speakers and users. Judging on the quality of graduates joining the work force, education system and the average Malaysian on the street, we are rest assured our speakers and users’ rate is declining day by day with the fiasco in our education system and the government’s language development programs.

The writer is not certain with UNESCO’s report that technical subjects must be taught in the student’s mother tongue. However, based on Noam Chomsky’s theory of universal grammar (UG), the ability to learn grammar is hard wired to the brain. Chomsky argued that the human brain contains certain rules for organizing language and a common structural basis. Relating to the Malay and English language, the Malay language has borrowed heavily from English and shares the common structural basis in the context of words and the alphabet. On that note, implementing to teach science and mathematics in English at primary school level is achievable.

The aristocrats, politicians and top entrepreneurs are blessed with good education that allowed them to prosper. For example, Ananda Krishnan, Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah and Francis Yeoh went to Victorian Institution (VI). VI is a premier English medium school back in the days. The strong foundation in the English language has certainly influenced their lives. We need 100s of Victoria Institutions, St. John’s, Methodist Boys Schools and the like for the development of our schooling system. The common theme among the cluster schools is the importance of the English language. The cluster schools must be translated to all schools across Malaysia and importance for the English language must be prioritized.

Nurul Izzah, Khairy Jamaluddin, and the influential leaders’ sons and daughters have a strong foundation in the English language. The common trait for their educational background is their schooling days spent in schools that emphasize the English language. The ability to learn the language has helped them in their political or business career. The new breed of leaders should use their educational background to develop the fundamental schooling system that incorporates English language as one of the medium of instruction.

People like Khairy, Nurul, Razizi and the like should come forward and develop a comprehensive blueprint for the Malaysian education system. The leaders have shown their ability to lead, but the failure to nurture young minds will have no meaning for their leadership. Nurturing starts from now when drastic measures are taken to revamp the education system.

The writer challenges the new breed of leaders to create an education system that will benefit the poor Iban, Kadazan, Penan, Orang Asli, Murut, etc. In ten years, we must be able to walk into any rural school in Malaysia and the Iban or Orang Asli children must be able to converse in English. If the new age leaders don’t have the vision, the political careers they are pursuing in the name of the ‘rakyat’ serves no meaning. If the project requires billions in creating an excellent education system, I believe the tax payers will support this mammoth effort.

The ‘rakyat’ dreams someday that Ibanese and Kelantanese would converse fluently in English with confidence. Someday a ten year old Kadazan boy would read an English story book and a paddy farmer’s son in Kedah would write a letter in English to Nurul Izzah and thank her for being a visionary leader. The effort to liberate the poor Malaysian children starts by empowering them with the English language. This indeed is a challenge for the leaders that aspires to lead Malaysia into the knowledge era.

The only difference between us and Singapore is the command of the English language. Lee Kuan Yew understood the importance of English. The English language was absorbed into the development of the country and his vision has produced results. The strong foundation in the English language has attracted American/ European traders, merchants, investors, etc to set up their operations in Singapore. The advantage of having good English has allowed the universities and research institutes to develop their knowledge base in a wide range of fields. We started at the same time, but today Singapore is a developed country but we are still developing. We could learn from our neighbor the power and influence of the English language in developing a country.

The graduates from local universities cannot compete with foreign graduates. The language barrier is limiting them from pursuing a desirable career. Many business organizations in Malaysia emphasize having command of the English language as part of the recruitment criteria. The local graduates are intelligent but because of the language, they can’t compete with the foreign graduates. We can’t blame them because they have no opportunity to master the language from school to university because of the education system.

For Nurul, you are blessed with good English and you could enjoy any Radiohead’s album. You could understand Thom Yorke’s lyrics easily because of the language. Imagine someone that doesn’t have the privilege to learn the language; they will never be able to listen to Radiohead and understand the lyrics of Fake Plastic Tree. Liberate the poor Malaysian and you have a chance to do so.


  1. Nurul’s statement is very general and Chomsky’s are too, and true and in a general sense.

    The example of Ananda Krishnan, Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah and Francis Yeoh sucks. We should never have to worry about these guys. In any case we take care of them well. And they make sure we are taken care of! If you remember, Francis Yeo he is so clever he believes Jesus will pay all our bills. Vincent pays his own, though! So does Kutty. In the same tone, the other two guys probably believe the same!

    The connect between mother tongue and learning is inseparable. Its in the genes. The mundane nature of life and politics is another thing altogether. Granted society spends money or whatever wisely, which we in Malaysia dont, the rakyat has to borrow – both money and language.

    In the region, everything being equal it would be cultural and civilizing if Malay or its related form be used, but since the rakyat here dont own anything they cant. Its that simple! There are some 300 millions people in the Archipelago but they all speak a form of American English. If they could spend RM5.00 on a book imagine how much bizness is generated. Then there are pencils or whatever that’s needed – maybe a tablet each for 70% of the population? But all the rakyat’s money is used to buy weapons and arms and submarines at inflated costs so there goes the money for local and mother tongue language.

    So why dont we just borrow whatever Ananda, or Brunei Sultan or Vincent Tan pleases to lend back to us?

    Comment by melayo-polinesian — August 31, 2013 @ 11:28 PM | Reply

  2. YB Nurul, please refer to your Mum and Dad. I am in the same age group. My mother tongue is Iban. I have studied in English from primary 1 until form six in the 60’s. We had no problems with any technical subjects. I think the UNESCO study that you quoted is flawed or not applicable to us here. You should know better!

    Comment by kocokoco — August 31, 2013 @ 1:29 PM | Reply

  3. Excellent article, bravo!!!II agree with the writer 110%.

    Comment by Geronimo Miller — August 31, 2013 @ 11:41 AM | Reply

  4. The mad dog from Kerala should be immediately put to sleep before it inflict more injuries …. sheeet

    Comment by tigeryk — August 31, 2013 @ 8:38 AM | Reply

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