The hot topic in Malaysia over the past few weeks is on whether schools should continue to teach Math and Science in English.
Everyone has something to say. Not just the politicians.
I can relate two stories around this topic:
- My sister is one of the many students that have benefited from this policy. She was part of the first batch in 2003, and was also part of the first batch to switch from Bahasa Malaysia to English as first year students in their secondary education. There was obviously a learning curve in getting used to the new terms. But fast forward to where she is today – a successful scholar at the University of Chicago, majoring in Economics. I recall a chat we had where she found that she was glad she could understand the various math and scientific concepts in her A-Levels programme.
- I work at DiGi, which is part of the Telenor group out of Norway. Almost all of our business correspondence is conducted in English, including documentation. We work with colleagues in 12 different countries, and English is a key enabler in communicating. An individual’s ability to move up his or her career within this international group is highly dependent on the level of proficiency in English.
But this debate on policies is beyond just getting our children to understand Math and Science. It is also about exposing their minds at a young age to master a second language. Being a former British colony, English is the natural choice as a second language for most people. And being able to spend more hours exposed to the language in schools will give these children a greater chance at standing out against their peers in the region.
In my opinion, English really matters for the future of Malaysia and Malaysians. Three things come to mind – each a cause that creates an effect:
- There is enormous economic value in creating a bilingual workforce: Malaysia stands a greater chance of differentiating itself versus the rest in the region simply by building a smarter workforce that can speak English as an international language. Language lends credence to Malaysia moving up the ladders of the knowledge economy.
- A bilingual workforce will attract foreign investments: with a bilingual workforce, we stand a greater chance at attracting international companies looking to setup operations here. Singapore is ahead of Malaysia on this note, but Malaysia does seem to promise more potential given its richness in natural resources.
- Foreign investments attract talent diversity: I recall a quote from a Lee Kuan Yew biography stating that a country can only move forward if she can attract diversity in talent. It is not just about the white collar work force, but also the diversity in culture. Sports men, actors, singers, and more will be attracted to a country that allows freedom of expression through an international language such as English, and this in turn will create a rich and dynamic country.
I applaud groups such as PAGE that are fighting to uphold the use of English in schools. This is probably one of the smartest policies Malaysia has set in place for her children, and I hope it lives on for the sake of the next generation.