The ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute of Singapore found in a recent survey that 82% of Johoreans hailing from various ethnic backgrounds hoped to bring back English-medium schools.
Not only Johor, the same survey if conducted elsewhere in the country will also turn in similar results.
Notably, the survey discovered that most of the rural Malays who used to be against English-medium education in the past were now supportive of the idea of bringing back English schools. This shows that Malaysians irrespective of race have come to realize the importance of English language in lifting our global competitiveness.
We used to have large numbers of exceptional English schools before the 1970s, and Malaysians spoke among the best English in the region.
Unfortunately, due to elevated Malay nationalism post-May 13 and a shift in political climate, the government had to substitute English with Bahasa Malaysia as the medium of teaching at all government schools. Since then the standard of English in the country has been declining gradually.
Our English education infrastructure and superior language proficiency had to give way to the political needs of some.
Due to the inadequacy of English curriculum at national schools, many parents have to send their children to international schools, including many middle-income parents who have to tighten their belts just to save enough to afford the exorbitant tuition fees of these schools.
Statistics show that there are over a hundred international schools with a combined enrolment in excess of 60,000 in this country, attesting to the vast popularity of these schools among our well-to-do families.
We can deduce that many Malaysians yearn to see the return of English-medium schools. The government has introduced various programs to boost English proficiency at schools, proving that the government indeed has plans to lift the standard of English among Malaysians. Re-introduction of English schools is therefore seen as a viable solution.
We already have a multi-stream education policy in the country, bringing back English schools will provide Malaysians with another excellent option.
Sure enough there are many details we need to attend to. First and foremost the Education Act must be amended in order to accommodate English as an alternative medium of teaching at government schools. The existing curriculum and examination formats must also be revised and a decision has to be made as to the level from which English will be adopted as the medium of teaching.
Since the abolition of English schools, the standard of English in this country has plummeted over the decades. We need large numbers of qualified teachers if we were to bring back English-medium schools, while existing teachers will have to undergo re-training to better equip them for the change.
Meanwhile, the creation of a conducive environment for the learning of English is of utmost importance, too.
In short, there are many things that need to be taken into consideration — from legislation to the essential infrastructure and software — to ensure the success of the new policy.
While parents and children have an additional option, the government needs to set its sights on the global stage and map out a workable strategy to bring back English-medium schools to meet the requirement of Malaysians.