A compulsory pass in English was a pre-requisite before getting a full certificate in SPM. In my school days, you must get a credit in English before you can get Grade 1. When you fail your English, you fail your senior Cambridge ‘O’ level exam. There is no argument and you have no choice. In those days, we have to study English grammar.
When Bahasa Melayu was made Bahasa Malaysia and it became the official language of the country, the pendulum swung to the other end where English was neglected. You are viewed with suspicion if you speak English. The focus was on Bahasa Malaysia to the total neglect of the English language. By the late 80s, the standard of English dropped dramatically. The ultra-nationalists make it fashionable that a true Malaysian need only know how to speak Bahasa Malaysia and mother tongue. English suddenly became a foreign language. Today, even a university graduate cannot string a proper sentence in English. Hence, we say they speak England and not English.
English is an international language. It is a language of Law, Commerce, IT, Science and Technology. Hence, studying English can help rather than hinder a person’s competitiveness. Even in China and Japan, the focus by the government is the study of the English language. Malaysians cannot be a monolingual race whereby the Malays speak Bahasa Melayu, Chinese in Mandarin and Indians speak Tamil while we are poor in other languages. As a trading nation that is very dependent on export market, this will be a disaster. Language is a tool for communication and interaction. It is through this tool that we establish a better understanding and relationship.
Having a pass in English for the SPM certificate is an excellent idea. Of course there are problems in its implementation. There is this urban and rural divide problem, the lack of English teachers and the lack of relevant English teaching materials. However, we have to make a start somewhere. If we let this problem hinder us from making a decision, then we will be too late. Progress in the world like time and tide waits for no man including Malaysians. We can spend our time arguing while the world progresses.
Implement it and resolve the bottleneck as we progress along. In the early stages, we do not raise the standards of the English since we are aware of the many bottlenecks and handicaps confronting the students. After 3-5 years of implementation, we gradually raise the standards of English so that we are at par with Singapore as the benchmark. We don’t want Malaysia graduates to speak Tarzan English. Often, because of poor language command, a young graduate or young professional become reclusive and shy away from interaction and expressing their opinion. This will not do the nation proud if we want to be competitive. Personally, I will convey this idea of implementing a pass in English for SPM to Tan Sri Muhyiddin and gradually increasing the standards of English so that those handicapped by the lack of teachers and the teaching infrastructure will not be penalized.