English in schools and the class divide


The deterioration in the standard of the English language is entrenching the income divide between wealthier Malaysians, who have access to an education in the English language and hence to wider opportunities, and lower-income Malaysians, who are denied such access.

The gap is becoming more pronounced as higher-income Malaysians can now send their children to international schools in Malaysia and public schools in the UK and Australia.

The international schools in Malaysia, whose enrolments were previously largely made up of children of expats, are now taking in more and more Malaysian students, the children of wealthier parents.

So we have the unfortunate situation where richer Malaysians are increasingly avoiding government schools and turning to private international schools in the same way that they are avoiding the general hospitals and opting for private hospitals. A class divide is emerging.

Those living in Johor have the added option of sending their children to schools in Singapore. (The BBC has a podcast on the great language debate here.)

Just ask the elite Malaysians – politicians and tycoons – where they send their children for education.

Najib himself received his education in English at St John’s Institution and later studied at Malvern College (Worcestershire) and the University of Nottingham in the UK (Wikipedia). Hishamuddin Hussein studied at St. John’s Institution in Kuala Lumpur before going on to the Alice Smith School, an international school in KL that follows the British system. From Alice Smith School, he moved on to the English public school, Cheltenham College and later to the University of Wales and the London School of Economics (Wikipedia).

No one is disputing the position of the Malay language as the national language and lingua franca of the region. But many of the elites, whether politicians or tycoons, have found that proficiency in English certainly helps in moving up in their careers and widening their options. With their money, they can send their children to the best international schools or overseas for an education entirely in the English language. With a strong grounding in English, these children then have an advantage over other Malaysians in foreign universities and later, the pick of high-paying jobs.

The problem is that many of these children, because they are educated apart from other Malaysians, lose touch with the socio-economic realities of their poorer local counterparts. Is it any wonder why these elites seem to find it so hard to emphatise with the plight of poorer Malaysians?

Less well-off Malaysians are being denied access to greater English proficiency, which could help expand their horizons not just in the sciences but in literature, the arts, and philosophy. Their lack of confidence in English also limits their exposure and interaction with other cultures.

It probably suits Umno’s political interests to keep Malaysians straitjacketed in their thinking and worldview as a result of their poorer command of English. For political expediency, it appears the standard of English in schools is being been allowed to deteriorate.

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semuanya OK kot

Demand the right to run, and to send children to, private English schools without any “special permission” for the children or licence for the school. If MOE is unwilling to conduct the exams or finds them beyond its capability, such schools can follow UK standards and exams. This will save us a lot of money now lost overseas.


I come back to the point that English is NOT a foreign language in this country. Truth be told because of our necessary open economy that must only continue to open up in the future or it will tank, the only option is to embrace English – for everyone. I have been travelling to Japan since the early 1980s. Back then, you could not see foreigners much anywhere even in Tokyo and Seoul. Everything was in Japanese but over the years because of their stagnant economy, more and more Japanese now speaks English. So EVEN the most successful have to… Read more »


GerakanK, you write pretty good english yourself. Or are you a professional translator for someone else’s post? “If you want to be multi-millionare, then ENGLISH is not your key”. Of course not. You just need to be set a company with 3 Bahasa Melayu alphabets – NFC – you will be instantly 1/4-way to a billionaire!. I have another “secret recipe of GREAT success” for you GerakanK. Instead of “distributing ‘nasi lemak berlauk’”, (some resort to) big-time robbery? Can grab 800k per MONTH, man! And no need to speaking da Ingrish either!. How many entrepreneurs can the ‘nasi lemak’ business… Read more »

ong eu soon

Aiyah! Gerakan K is not a person, it is a group of people hide under this pseudo name.


My daughter is in Chinese Primary School. She can understand basic dialogue in the entertaining “Journey To The West” currently showing on 8TV at 8.30pm. She explains to me every nite and I pick up some basic mandarin. Thank you Sekolah Kebangsaan China ! She now can speak good English, mandarin, Bahasa & Tamil (4 languages for a 11 year old !)


If you want travel out of Malaysia & Indonesia/Brunei, then better to learn basic conversational English.


We must master another language other than BM (at least to pass SPM).

No need to argue the value of English Language.

Master Mandarin – career opportunity in China!

If you only know BM, good luck to you if you are not in civil service.


With the implementation of the teaching of science and maths in english (PPSMI) in 2003, I was glad that there is hope to address the decline in the english, eventhough PPSMI is not about improving english but with more opportunity to use english, naturally the standard of english will improve. Since the government is so adamant to abolish PPSMI, other than the english will go further down the drain, and the people continues to be under the coconut shell (tempurung).


Yes to GK, English is not the key to be a millionaires. Corruption cronyism is. But this ignorant fool does not understand that English is the key to knowledge that is essential to the development of the country and people. He is still living under the tempurung

Gerakan K

Yang, let me share you one precious secret recipe of GREAT success. Not your average mouth-watering oversea university MBA holder + Senior Manager post with excellent command of English with PATHETIC RM 6500 monthly salary job. My EPL friend Encik MM, a nasi lemak distributor who “gagal SPM”, read carefully “GAGAL SPM” and “GAGAL Bahasa Inggeris ie F9 grade during his time” earn more than RM 800k (before tax) annually by preparing and distributing ‘nasi lemak berlauk’ set to 28 street hawkers (ie Malay & Indon aunties only speak non-standard Malay). That is UN-GLORIFIED hawker business of nasi lemak as… Read more »


Gerakan K, You are really one of a goon. English, the de facto global language, is turning from a mere useful skill into a prerequisite for access to the best jobs and the highest incomes. Nowhere is the growing dominance of English clearer than in information technology. Highlighting the challenge is the Internet, where 80% of Web pages are in English. Since the biggest companies, the hottest startups and the best research institutions are in the U.S., the industry and the technology dance to English lyrics. Beyond its importance in day-to-day business, English is now the prime language of learning… Read more »

Gerakan K

Again, bookwise Yang think English for IT only. Facebook right ??? Microsoft right ??? Intel right ??? Google right ??? Sigh !!! The world is bigger than IT, Facebook and Microsoft !!! THIS IS MALAYSIA. Don’t just visit shopping malls only. Don’t just look at digital camera, Iphone, Ipad only. Open your eyes. There are plenty of other industries and works. There plenty of gold pot industries waiting for you. I’m starting to doubt you YANG. You seem like a young college student without many real life experiences. Only gather information from online news like MToday, MKini, MInsider, BBC, CNN,… Read more »

Gerakan K

Again bookwise anil thinks that ENGLISH is the key to money or securing jobs with high $$$. WRONG !!! If you really want a lot of $$$ (not a job with RM 10 xxx or less), then ENGLISH is not your key to achieve it. If you want to be multi-millionare, then ENGLISH is not your key. THIS IS MALAYSIA The reliable route to become a multi-millionare IS to be an entrepreneur and the LANGUAGE has no importance. Do not impose a non-existence barrier for yourself. Streetwise Gerakan K has seen numerous real multi-millionaire (i.e. millions of cash in bank… Read more »


Don’t confuse the personal wealth of a minority of exceptional individuals with the overall progress of a society.

The long term progress, even survival of any society is dependent on the strength of its education system.

That’s why even those towkays who made piles of money with little or no book learning make sure their children get the best education available, otherwise the wealth will not last to the next generation. You will not find them despising the value of a good education.

Andrew I

Well, Gherkin epitomizes the adage: money in the wrong hands can be a dangerous thing. Loud, crass and self idolizing. Even the new millionaires in China are seeking to improve their social etiquette and command of English. Only Gherkin wants to wallow in his own ignorance.

Gerakan K

The choice is yours. You can pick the hard or easy way. You can choose the easy way after achieving the first gold pot. Or continuously suffer the hard way even you have wealth sufficient for next 20 generations. You keep suffering for what ??? To become the next billionaire ??? I prefer to enjoy now. Idolizing English is your choice. But don’t expect everyone will do the same. I’m happy with my not very proficient hokkien, cantonese, mandarin, malay languages. I’m also happy that the teaching of Math and Science already change back to BM, Mandarin, Tamil. Andrew I,… Read more »

Angry and Fed UP

Kalau awak rasa kurang selesa dengan penggunaan Bahasa Inggeris dan enggan mengiktiraf kepentingan Bahasa Inggeris untuk menjamin masa depan yang cerah..mengapakah awak masih lagi bertutur dalam bahasa tersebut?

Mengapa awak menyalari blog yang bukan dalam Bahasa Malaysia? Bukankah ini Malaysia?

Awak ni hipocrit. Tidak perlu mengecil orang lain.


urgh BN is proud to make billionaires but silent on >80% of citizens earn less than 3,000 per month (which is urban poverty).

Pretty Obvious

Gerakan K,

Those of us who read Anil’s blog will know that you are a self declared rent seeker. We would have thought that for the likes of you, rent seeking … would be your route of choice to making millions.


fast track to wealth-join UMNO/MCA.