Some fellows get credit for being conservative when they are only stupid – Journalist Frank Hubbard
Mr Hubbard might have been thinking about Malaysia when he voiced the thought. But as Napoleon observed: “In politics stupidity isn’t a handicap.”
Take Hadi Awang’s latest outburst. The Pas’ leader, whose exact function in government remains unclear, recently likened advocates of the English language to people “trapped in a colonial mindset.”
No one could ever accuse the fire-and-brimstone politician of being on nodding terms with the language. He probably takes pride in his avowed “nationalism,” a proven inability to get around Enid Blyton.
Two of the biggest advocates for English in Malaysia are Dr Mahathir and Rafidah Aziz, people even Hadi would hesitate to label as pro-colonial or less than patriotic.
Indeed, the recent government push for Bahasa Malaysia at the expense of English is folly of the highest order.
Let us be blunt. Why do the Malays constitute the bulk of unemployed graduates in the country? It’s because they are only fluent in Bahasa Malaysia, which makes then only capable of getting a government job. The Chinese don’t have a problem as they are generally proficient in Mandarin which is a marketable skill.
The policy will only hurt the poorer Malay population because well-off Malays generally ensure their children are proficient in English.
Indeed, the children of ministers and well-off Malays are almost always educated abroad because they are loath to allow their children to be sent to government schools or universities. They know only too well its suspect quality.
It is a tragedy of the highest order that our nation has descended to this. People of my generation, of all races, had a superb education because government schools had capable faculty. My English teacher in high school didn’t even have a degree but he was Kirby-trained and equipped all of us more than adequately.
Indeed, the two Chinese schools in Seremban were in danger of dying out altogether in the 1960s and 70s as more and more Chinese parents began to send their kids to the “English” schools of King George V and St Paul’s Institution because of their supposedly better faculty.
The Chinese schools only bounced back after the government instituted the shift to Bahasa Malaysia. It is a fact that even Dr Mahathir has admitted with some chagrin.
The irony of it all is that Malaysia deliberately shot itself in the foot. Singapore, on the other hand, never changed its education policies and so remains a centre of educational excellence.
The average English teacher of today is woefully inept in comparison to his Kirby-trained counterpart of the 1960s. This situation will only get worse over time as less and less skilled university faculty replace the present lot.
Globally, English is the most widely spoken language in the world with over 1.4 billion users. Native English speakers only number 345 million. Standout indicator: the easiest job to get in China is as an English teacher.
English is the language of diplomacy and despite our PM’s insistence, the language of Asean.
The light of the language is slowly but surely flickering out in Malaysia. Do not let it be extinguished through benighted policy.