Unless we have actually changed our national policy regarding translating all academia into our national language, English remains our gateway to education and knowledge.
We know this much because unlike Japan, France, even Wales, or Indonesia for that matter, we have yet to reach a point where academic, non-fiction reading material is translated to Bahasa Malaysia.
Thus, when Deputy Education Minister Chong Sin Woon asked for suggestions, this one is mine.
Recalibrate our English accreditation levels and exams. Earlier, our SPM level English was attached to the Cambridge O’ Levels, and I am unsure if this is still the case. If it still is, then I applaud the continuing certification, if it is not, bring it back.
The reason we need this back is due to the fact that a sizeable part of our population joins the workforce after completing SPM. Thus, it would help employability should these students be fluent in English, even if they work while waiting for their results to be out before pursuing a degree or STPM.
At the same time, the Malaysian University English Test (MUET) should be immediately replaced with the International English Level Test Standard (IELTS). In fact, even students sitting for the STPM should be given the IELTS exams right away.
This helps on a few levels. Primarily, it will provide students seeking part time employment while studying a certificate showing they are capable enough for employers.
After all, lacking communication and writing skills in English continues to be one of the complaints raised annually in the Jobstreet survey for employers. The IELTS certificate would be valid for two years, but may prove to be costly for students to do so by themselves.
With more and more multinational conglomerates looking for interns, this will reduce the cost of students by gaining employment, show their fluency in English, and even reduce the cost borne by PTPTN in the long run.
The last point, of course, due to the students’ ability to work while studying and reducing these future graduates from being unemployable due to lagging English.
Thirdly, the IELTS would also assist students in local universities apply for better opportunities in academia if they so choose. International universities demand an international English standardised test as part of their prerequisites.
Should these students continue to the postgraduate level, it would also reduce unemployment figures and subsequently, generate new talent in high-skilled labour.
The next problem after that, of course, would be to woo them back. That’s more economic policy and politics, rather than education.
Yet another reason for government to bear the cost of IELTS is also to address the economic inequality for students nationwide in pursuing education. Not all parents can fork out close to RM800 for an English exam, even if their kids have brilliant results.
Also, a government-to-government talk could assist in reducing this cost due to economies of scale, considering the number of university students in our local universities.
This move would end at least one cost barrier in allowing students to pursue their passions.
Now, when it comes to Bahasa Malaysia, there is a need for better market access to readable material. Publishers such as Fixi, Lejen and Thukul Chetak have worked insanely hard in promoting our national language through their publications and subsequently, through translating books from other languages.
But where is the translating assistance from the government? Surely the institute in charge of translations should be able to translate all local non-fiction publications issued out to Bahasa Malaysia, should it be made mandatory and subsidised by this government.
After all, we do have a Deputy Prime Minister who quipped it is even more shameful to not be fluent in Bahasa compared with English after his speech at the United Nations General Assembly recently.
At the same time, if the government is gung-ho over its stance of fortifying the use of Bahasa, why not do so through their own actions?
Have translators at all international conferences and have all ministers speak only in Bahasa Malaysia at these events. It is an international acknowledgement of their own stance on the importance of the national language.