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.