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Despite English being a global language of science,commerce and international diplomacy, Malaysia is bent on downgrading it to just an extra language class. The efforts made by the previous forward-looking Prime Minister Dr Mahathir to get the children learn science and mathematics in English has been shot down by the so-called Malay nationalists who are mostly in their sixties and getting ready to stamp their ideology before their final exit in this world stage.

Unfortunately this cry to do away with English was done after the retirement of Mahathir and during the weak tenure (2003-2009) of Abdullah Badawi who could not see the wood for the trees. A leader whose vision was cloudy and lacking in commitment to enhance Malaysia’s global competitiveness. A leader who thought more about his political survival rather than the good for the country. As the current Prime Minister’s mandate is based on the result of the disastrous 12th General election, it is understandable that he could not turn back the policy change made by his weak predecessor without being seen as rashed. He also has to be careful treading on Malay sensitivities which could be politicised by the opposition party particularly by PKR ( People Justice party) led by Anwar Ibrahim, the ex-UMNO disgraced deputy Prime Minister.

English usage in school has become politically sensitive in this Malay-majority country though glaring examples of successful Malays schooled in English prior to 1982 are abundant in all sphere of professional fields. Captains of industries need to be conversant in English to make a presence at the global level. Say what you like, English is vital for international communication and also as a means to gain rapidly expanding knowledge especially in the fields of science,technology and research.

I have seen how English open up educational and international networking in all fields related to advancement in knowledge and practical skills. In the past Malaysians attending international conferences and seminars were sought after to chair meeting, workshops or become a reppartoeur and contribute in the promulgation of policies etcetera. Chairing an international conference has been a highlight of my profession as I strove to put Malaysia on the global map. But I believe now our Malaysian participants, those educated after 1982, are becoming passengers in these meetings as they struggle to express themselves in a language understood by the global community.

Last week Malaysia is still recognised as having high English fluency among the countries in this part of the world but I think this achievement will be a thing of the past once many of those schooled in the English medium of instruction have retired. Some Malaysians then can still use common words in English but they are not likely to be able to converse and express themselves in the language. Without doubt they are not going to be of use much in the private sectors whose companies deal at the international level.

Though many politicians are aware of the significance of English but nobody dares to undo what took place during Abdullah Badawi’s time for fear of being labelled as ignorance on the need to establish a national identity. The politics of English is fraught with egotism and misplaced nationalism. The divide between the wealthy and the poor in this country will widen as the former will be able to ensure their children’s proficiency in English.

Malay language should be encouraged as one that unifies the nation but English should be emphasised for acquisition of knowledge. Children good in English will certainly have an edge over those who are not. The news report in the STAR today testifies to this conclusion. Ignore English at your peril so to speak.

I am re-posting the report below:

Sunday April 10, 2011

TOP JOBS ONLY FOR THOSE WHO KNOW THE LANGUAGE WELL

By Hariati Azizan and lee Yen Mun
sunday@thestar.com.my

PETALING JAYA: It does not matter if you are top of your class or have a string of degrees, that dream job will not be yours unless you can speak and write well in English.

Feedback from local and international employers shows that verbal and written communication skills in English remain the most sought-after attribute in prospective employees.

According to a recent Malaysian Employers Federation (MEF) survey, it is the most important trait employers look for when recruiting graduates.

The MEF Salary Survey for Executives 2010 revealed that 68% of the companies surveyed named communication skills as the top quality required in job applicants, followed by working experience (67%), interpersonal skills (56.2%) and passion and commitment (55.7%).

MEF executive director Shamsuddin Bardan said globalisation had changed the nature of jobs, making communication skills, specifically in English, a valuable asset for today’s worker.

He added that this was an essential criterion even for professions traditionally seen as “backroom” staff such as engineers, technical personnel and scientists. “It is especially so for those working in multinationals and bigger firms,” he said.

“Today, our clients are worldwide. In factories, for instance, engineers are a different breed from the past,” said Shamsuddin.

“Now, they have to be involved in various aspects of business and interact with clients.”

Shamsuddin expressed concern that many local graduates today could not speak or write proper English, saying this was a reason why they faced difficulties getting jobs in the private sector.

Kelly Services (M) Sdn Bhd managing director Melissa Norman concurred, noting that six in 10 graduates who attended its interviews could not communicate effectively in English.

The company is one of the top headhunters in the country.

Norman said it was important to master English as it was widely used among the business community, both in Malaysia and internationally.

The Kelly Global Workforce Index survey released in 2010 listed “communication skills” as one of the top five most desired skills within the corporate sector.

“We have encountered local graduates who are weak in spoken and written English and have limited vocabulary,” said Norman.

“These candidates can only manage to secure jobs in small-medium enterprises and small businesses.”

Various industry and business leaders also warned that the decline in English was affecting Malaysia’s global competitiveness.

Federation of Malaysian Manufacturers President Tan Sri Mustafa Mansur said the young ones who could not communicate in English were unable to negotiate the best deals in business transactions or investments.

“We need to send people out to market our products, negotiate deals or get contracts signed. If they cannot communicate well in English, we will lose out,” he said.

Pemudah co-chair Tan Sri Yong Poh Kon pointed out that, contrary to popular belief, it was important for civil servants to have a good command of English due to a growing borderless world.

“The standard of English also affects the quality of the public sector as civil servants have to interact with international citizens and the business world as well as articulate Malaysia’s stand on issues to the international community. These include negotiations on important agreements such as trade agreements.”

Noting that the quality of English in the country had declined over the last two decades, former Human Resource Minister Tan Sri Fong Chan Onn warned that the country would lose out to its neighbours that did not teach English in schools previously.

“Thailand, Indonesia and China are making efforts to improve their English through their education system,” he noted.

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