Flip-flopping on the Dual Language Programme
The Ministry of Education (MoE) needs to be reminded of the importance of the Dual Language Programme (DLP), especially how and why it was conceived. Ministers and directors-general come and go, but parents stay.
It was in early 2015 that the National Economic Action Council, chaired by the then prime minister, demanded a radical approach to enhancing English proficiency, having witnessed the damaging effects of poor language skills on youth seeking employment. Immediately, the Education and SRI (Strategic Reform Initiative) Human Capital Development programme of Pemandu (Performance Measurement and Delivery Unit) under the Prime Minister’s Office, now corporatised, was assigned to explore and recommend that desperately needed radical approach.
An English lab was set up and close to 100 stakeholders were invited to participate in finding that radical angle. High-ranking officials from MoE, state education departments, district education offices, industry players, including representatives from the Federation of Malaysian Manufacturers and Malaysian Employers Federation, the British Council, the corporate sector, heads of colleges, university professors, associations, societies, think tanks, scholarship foundations, non-governmental organisations and advocacy groups, such as the Parent Action Group for Education (PAGE) Malaysia, rigorously engaged for four solid weeks, brainstormed, armed with massive amounts of data, to consolidate ideas into a concise and workable plan.
In the search for alternatives, all stakeholders unanimously agreed that it was pointless to extend the number of hours for the English language. Other subjects such as art, music, physical education and history were considered but, in the end, we settled for science and mathematics as records showed that these teachers had the largest number who minored in the English language.
On June 11, 2015, the then director-general of education, in announcing the DLP to the public, aptly called it “a defining moment” in the history of the MoE.
It started with a bang in both primary and secondary schools. A total of 300 schools were selected for the pilot project. The response was overwhelming and schools, including vernacular ones, offered to be a part of the project. Annually, the number of DLP schools would swell and parents were happy. However, it went quiet for a while when the focus was to ensure that there would be an adequate number of secondary schools and classes to accommodate the students coming from feeder primary schools. As the new academic year began, parents and students found this preparation had not been done,in a blatant disregard of written parental consent, which is a precondition for the schools to offer DLP classes.
The onus is on MoE to ensure that every student who has started with the DLP must finish with it. The convenient excuse, always, is that teachers are not ready. This too was the excuse given by MoE when the Teaching of Science and Mathematics in English (PPSMI) initiative was abolished. So when will teachers ever be ready? Resorting to this excuse is detrimental to the progress of the nation as English is the language of knowledge for information technology, artificial intelligence, augmented reality, the Industrial Revolution 4.0 and the digital economy, which will be 25% of GDP by 2025.
Interestingly, the just released Malaysia 2023 Salary Guide, compiled by Jobstore, gives an indication of the best paying sectors, which demand proficiency in the English language. The sectors are IT, banking and financial services, manufacturing and engineering, finance and accounting, pharmaceuticals and biotechnology, property and construction, sales and marketing and supply chain and logistics, which all require science and mathematics in the English language to be taught in schools to ensure a strong foundation. International headhunters Michael Page, Hays, Robert Walters, Persolkelly, Randstad and Jobstreet, among others, followed suit with their own impressive salary guides.
The National Education Advisory Council (2018-2020), of which I was a member, was assured that all science and mathematics trainee teachers were being taught to teach these subjects in both Bahasa Melayu (BM) and English, ensuring that teachers are language-ready at any point in time. This was the game changer, coupled with the post-Covid utilisation of devices and updated subject content.
Incidentally, the recent Pentaksiran Kemasukan Sekolah Khusus (PKSK) for entry into residential schools under MoE also disregarded the DLP. Students who attended DLP classes were confronted with science and mathematics questions in BM. According to a student who sat for it, of 100 questions asked, a mere five assessed the English language.
Similarly, parents were aghast when Mara, under the Ministry of Rural and Regional Development, when testing for enrolment into its Mara Junior Science College (MRSM) schools, assessed science and mathematics in BM in its Ujian Kecenderungan Kemasukan MRSM (UKKM), an unexplainable error that it has vowed will not be repeated. MRSM schools offer the International General Certificate of Secondary Education (IGCSE), unlike schools under MoE.
The MoE should not be afraid to publicise the status of the DLP. It should be made known how many more schools are affected by the lack of classes, especially where parents are not vocal or may not have an avenue to speak, more often than not already being silenced by school principals. Parents would like to know its challenges and solutions to ensure the uninterrupted continuity of the programme.
The PPSMI was a major flip-flop by MoE. Don’t let the DLP be another.