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  • Sumisha Naidu, Channel News Asia

Protest against optional English-language instruction at Malaysian schools

KUALA LUMPUR: A group of Malay activists, academics and politicians on Monday (Feb 15) launched a campaign to shut down a plan that would give students at selected schools the option to study specific subjects in English. The Dual Language Programme (DLP) is Malaysia's pilot project aimed at boosting English proficiency in government schools where most subjects are taught in the country’s national language, Bahasa Malaysia. Under the DLP, students at 300 primary and secondary schools across the country will be given the option of taking Science, Mathematics, Information Technology and Communication, and Design and Technology in either English or Malay. But critics fear that under the DLP, English will eventually be made compulsory, echoing a plan in 2007 where it was made mandatory for Math and Science to be taught in English. The Pengajaran dan Pembelajaran Sains dan Matematik Dalam Bahasa Inggeris (PPSMI) programme was abolished after students and teachers struggled to cope with the change, but not before it received backlash from nationalist groups.

"With the launch of the DLP, just like with the PPSMI, the Malay language will be neglected,” said Dr Shahrir Mohd Zain, chairman of the Movement to Abolish PPSMI group. "If the language is neglected, then of course Malay culture is at risk."

However, there are no plans to make the DLP compulsory, according to the Parent Action Group for Education (PAGE), which was involved in the development of the dual language programme. Furthermore, the DLP is still at its pilot stage, involving only about 3 per cent of schools nationwide.

"Before, it was mandatory, but this time we made it optional,” said PAGE member Noor Azimah Abdul Rahim. “We now want parents to have a say in their children's education. We don't want schools and principals to make decisions on behalf of parents, or our children."

Demand for a dual language programme is there. A survey by a government unit in 2015 found that more than 90 per cent of about 190,000 respondents wanted English standards to be improved in local schools.

"The government has admitted there are more than 400,000 unemployed graduates in the country and one of the reasons why they're unemployed or underemployed is because of their English proficiency,” Ms Noor Azimah pointed out.

“So unless the parent is happy with the child being unemployed, then fine, stick to Malay. But I think we have to realise even in ASEAN, the official language is English." Critics of the DLP say they are not opposed to English standards being improved, but disagree that teaching other subjects in English is the way to do so. "You have to actually improve the teaching and learning of English in the subject of English,” said Chemical Engineering professor, Dr Wan Ramli Wan Daud from the National University of Malaysia.

“This is what people do everywhere in the world. Nobody teaches English by teaching another subject in English. And the problem is of course, students have to deal with two subject matters at the same time.”

The protesters say a mass demonstration will be held on March 26 demanding the abolishment of the DLP if the government does not respond to requests to scrap the programme.



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