THE organisers of the Bantah DLP Coalition have vowed that the protests against the programme, which gives schools the option to teach some subjects in English, will not stop and will continue, even if the majority of parents support the government’s effort to improve proficiency in the language.
I am certain that if a referendum was held on the DLP, the majority would vote in favour of it. The reason is quite obvious. English has become part of our lives and is second nature to us.
Like Jawaharlal Nehru, the first prime minister of India, who said he often dreamt in English, most Malaysians, including our political elite, use this language in meetings, at the dinner table and in family conversations.
Whatever nationalistic views they may have of the national language, they know in their hearts that the country cannot afford to lag behind in this universal language of science and technology, trade and finance, and above all, of daily communication with the world. Whether we like it or not, English is the passport to a better life.
Malaysian parents are aware that their children must have a good command of English to find jobs of their choice, in or outside Malaysia. In the past, the government was the main employer and Malay parents took it for granted that their children would join the civil service.
With the rapid development that has restructured the country’s economy to become more industrialised and service-oriented, together with rising standards of living, the urbanisation of the population and the sophistication of the rising middle class, the main source of job creation has shifted to the private sector, and the main preference for employment is with business corporations.
This trend will continue, as the government and the public sector downsize on new recruitment as part of fiscal reforms to achieve a balanced budget and reduce the public debt.
Our youths cannot expect government jobs to be easily available like before and, therefore, have to depend more on private sector companies for employment.
Malaysian corporations, including government-linked companies, financial institutions and professional firms, are turning more regional and global now, and like multinational corporations, they are looking for school leavers and graduates who have the potential to be trained for higher skills and to be socially mobile so that they can be easily deployed to work in different roles and locations including overseas.
One of the qualities that will give job applicants an advantage in meeting these requirements from employers is their command of English and their educational background.
This requirement will become even more critical as the financial and high-tech service industries grow to dominate the economic structure.
These high-value industries are driven not by machines but by human resources, and the skill sets required will definitely include proficiency in English, so that the employees can be self-reliant and creative in using modern technology to produce high standards of research and analysis on time.
As an example of the major changes in the employment market, the shared services industry in Malaysia is rapidly growing to become part of the global value chain of financial institutions and large corporations in their cross- border businesses.
There are small and medium sized firms in Malaysia taking advantage of the globalised nature of production by specialising in supplying technology-based services to the big manufacturing, financial and professional firms in world business centres in advanced countries.
The shift towards such high-tech business means that our youths must have the technical and language skills to be able to get employed in these new exciting jobs.
It will be a sad day for social justice in the job market if those recruited by the big corporations, multinational companies and the emerging high-tech sector are children of the elite who had the money to send their children to private schools or give them extra tuition at home, while children from less well-off families get no chance to compete for the high-paying jobs in the private sector because they were deprived of the opportunity to learn English. This will not be in line with the concept of the inclusive economic policy enunciated in the 11th Malaysia Plan, 2016-2020. Inclusivity in the government’s economic planning document means that all must have equal chances, be they in the urban or rural areas.
The people welcome DLP because it is in line with the concept of inclusivity.
DLP provides an opportunity for our schools to teach in English, the selected subjects that they feel meet the wishes of the parents.
It is a constructive way of giving autonomy to schools to provide the education that their stakeholders want. It is also a realistic way of meeting the expectations of parents as well as employers for better command of English among jobseekers.
But, above all, it provides the most practical way of bringing more English into the classroom without changing the basic structure of the national education system.
We have to learn to live with compromises and cannot afford to be dogmatic, especially on an issue like education.
Although DLP does not cover all schools because it is left to individual schools to make their choice whether to adopt it, the programme is nevertheless a good start towards providing a level-playing field for all children to get the same educational opportunity to develop into productive workers when they leave school or university.