Implementation of English as the Medium of Education in Malaysian Primary Schools

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IMPLEMENTATION OF ENGLISH AS THE MEDIUM OF EDUCATION IN MALAYSIAN PRIMARY CHOOLS. My essay deals with the implementation of English as the medium of education in Malaysian primary schools between 2002 and 2009 and considers the advantages and disadvantages which have been observed during this period. Malaysia belongs to the group of former colonies of the British Empire described by Braj Kachru as countries of the outer circle (Kachru, et al., 2009). Malaysian census figures show a population of 8 million in 1970 increasing to 28 million in 2010. During this time the urban population has increased from 26.8% in 1970 to 64% in 2010 with the rural population decreasing proportionately (Swee-Hock, 2007) and (Wikipedia, 2012). According to Hewings (2012) in the years before independence in 1957 English was used in private schools for the education of the privileged classes and for British citizens, and also formed a compulsory part of the education in state schools alongside vernacular languages. The three racial communities which formed the country were Malays, with a majority of 60% and the least advantaged, Chinese, in charge of commerce and finance with a representation of 25% and Hindu professionals at 7% (Hewings, 2012). In 1963 with the creation of the new country called Malaysia, the new government made pre eminent the idea of the Malay people and the Malay language, and began to identify the Malay language as something which could confer identity on the new country (S. Bautista & Gonzáles, 2009). Until 1969 English in education coexisted without problems with the vernacular languages but violent social upheaval against the Chinese minority in the same year forced prime Minister Mahatir Mohamed ‘in the interests of national unity and affirmative action for the bumiputras (children of the soil)’ (S. Bautista & Gonzáles, 2009, p. 131) to change the policy in favour of Malay ‘with future civil servants and university students having to pass advanced examinations in Malay to qualify’ (S. Bautista & Gonzáles, 2009). Surprisingly the same man who reduced English to the status of a second language ‘with the National Language Act of 1976 (S. Bautista & Gonzáles, 2009), in 2002, and claiming that this was necessary ‘to compete on equal terms with the world’s most advanced countries’ Mohamad cited in Hewings (2012, p. 99) reinstated English once again, as a six year experiment, as the language of instruction of science and mathematics (Hewings, 2012). According to Hewing this reinstatement of English created a series of concerns for students in Malay language primary schools especially in rural areas ‘as those using Tamil and Chinese were not obliged to follow’ (Hewings, 2012, p. 99) . In urban areas this measure was well received by parents, especially those of students of a superior social class as traditionally English was the vehicle for the elites to maintain their power (Hewings, 2012). English in urban areas, especially for the upper classes, had been the traditional medium of education. Students from this category had not suffered any reverses during the period of marginalisation of English and their level of English was good. Interest in learning English was not solely academic, however. Toh, quoted in Hewing (2012) states that ‘the formal education system in Malaysia has been utilised more as a mechanism for the intergenerational transmission of economic status rather than as a vehicle for the social advancement of the poor’. ‘Urban parents...pupils who already had access to English, certain higher education professionals, and many in business and the media’ gave support to the experiment since it was a way of assisting students to climb the social ladder and have access, to better jobs, the use of new technologies, and to better prospects of advancement globally (Hewings, 2012, p. 102). But these benefits which English gave to some also turned out to be disadvantageous for others. In primary schools in...
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