Saturday, May 24, 2008

"So, What Is The Because?"

A good friend of mine, Bing, once regaled us with this amusing story concerning one of his junior staff who, in wanting to know the reason for something, innocently asked: "So, what is the because?"

And then there was 26 year-old Nurul, an ex-colleague, who wrote in big bold letters "Nurul's Belong" on a notepad, with an arrow pointing to a stack of items belonging to her.

In the course of my work as a journalist and later as a public relations practitioner, I have had to contend with young colleagues to whom English is incomprehensibly difficult.

Reading their raw copy brings tears to your eyes. Tears of frustration, that is. The fact that so many are completely at sea where English is concerned is truly disheartening.

Yet they are not to be blamed for this sorry state of affairs. This is a classic example of the sins of the father being visited upon the son.

The fault lies squarely at the door of the Education Ministry for its ever-changing education policy, pandering to the whims of groups and parties (political or otherwise) with their own selfish, and sometimes misguided, agendas.

It's the younger generations who are paying the price of this constant politicking. Their English deficiency is now putting them at a disadvantage, at a time when English has evolved into THE international lingua franca for communication and business.

Education Minister Datuk Seri Hishamuddin Hussein recently said the government would decide by year end whether it would continue with the five-year-old policy of teaching Mathematics and Science in English.

I note with interest the thoughts penned by my dear friend and fellow scribe, New Straits Times columnist Zainul Ariffin, who came out in full support of the policy, and then some (NST, May 21, 2008).

Says Zainul: "Doing multiplications and divisions may not be the best of ways, but the more exposure to English the better. No matter if it is via Treasure Island, algebra or photosynthesis. We are not looking for experts in the language, but in producing people who are comfortable with it."

Not only he suggested the policy should remain, Zainul even advocated the return of English schools as an alternative to national schools. I couldn't agree more.

I say bring back Sekolah Rendah Inggeris and Sekolah Menengah Inggeris. If we can have vernacular schools where Chinese and Tamil are the medium of instruction, why not English schools? What have we got to lose?

Bahasa Malaysia is the acknowledged national language and will remain the unifying factor of our multi-racial community but English is still a major determinant of our economic potential. That's reality.

I hope nobody is going to give me that "unpatriotic" spiel. What is unpatriotic is when we deprive our children of something that can give them a competitive edge in a world where English rules in the communication of ideas, knowledge and commerce.

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