The discussion on English-medium schools (EMS) is back by popular demand among Johoreans, according to a Yusof Ishak Institute of Singapore (ISEAS) survey. Johor wants what Singapore has: graduates who are more competent in English, and more internationally employable. Indeed, EMS appears to be associated with quality education, and Singapore has benefited tremendously by sticking to that policy.
The Sultan of Johor and the Raja Permaisuri are ardent supporters and advocates of the establishment of EMS. Johoreans are known to send busloads of children across the causeway to take advantage of the school system there.
It is also evident that some of the progressive Umno cabinet ministers have been vocal and seem to be fervent supporters of the EMS. We hope that they will take it further by debating this in Parliament, and reviewing the previous research conducted and recommendations outlined by Pemandu and the National Economic Council.
EMS will be the pinnacle of liberalisation in education for the national school system. The market demands for it, and parents who wish to have their children enrolled at such schools can do so without having to fork out huge amounts of money. This would provide a level playing field and equitability between the private and national school systems in Malaysia.
G25 supports the establishment of the EMS as an alternative stream under the national school system. English is a language for acquiring knowledge. We are in support of initiatives that will help in the growth of the economy and improve the well-being of Malaysians.
Competency in English is necessary in this age of digitalisation and high-tech industries as the country moves towards the need for a skills-intensive, higher productivity workforce. High-tech industries and a digital economy are essential for achieving the government’s objective of increasing wage levels for the bottom 40% of the population, and thereby reducing income inequality.
The government intends to raise the share of wages to 40% of GDP compared to the current 30%. However, in order to achieve this, it must give high priority to developing an English-educated workforce.
Malaysia is a trading nation. Having a workforce with a high proficiency in English is a sure way to increase our global competitiveness and enable us to take advantage of the global economy and bring foreign investments into the country.
To push for the country’s economic growth, Malaysia needs to reclaim and re-establish itself as a bilingual country with Bahasa Malaysia as the national language and English as a strong second language, as it was meant to be.
This can be achieved based on evidence from the best education systems in the world. Finland prides itself as a bilingual country where Finnish and Swedish are its official languages. Its national curriculum supports the learning of its two official languages and a third language.
Finland’s education success is based on ensuring that everyone has equal opportunities to study. They focus on support and guidance, assisting those who may need more support to meet the expected benchmark. On top of that, their teachers are selected from the best and brightest, and they are highly trained for the profession.
Using Finland as an example, we need to look into our teacher training and ensure that it follows a proven model, methodology and pedagogy of teaching. The Yayasan Amir Trust school methodology has its fair share of success in our national schools. Perhaps it could be adopted at teacher training institutions.
Improvements and achievements to transform the Malaysian education system in order to achieve the quality education it so desires lies within the governance of the system. We must ensure that only the best and suitable people remain in the administration of the education system, and that things are not done in a half-baked manner through the cascading system which has been proven to break down.
We need to learn from past mistakes and ensure that the implementation of English-medium schools follows a model with a proven track record.