Thursday, May 29, 2014

Making an English SPM 'pass' compulsory

Much has been made of the fact the DPM and Education Minister, Tan Sri Muhyiddin, did not know that it was not compulsory have a 'pass' in English at the SPM level. Later UMNO Youth came out to support making an English pass compulsory at the SPM level, subject to some caveats. I have some reservations about making a change to the current policy and here's why.

Firstly, this proposed policy change (making an English SPM pass compulsory) is premised on the false assumption that the standard of English will increase as a consequence of this policy change. Without any changes in the quality of teachers who teach English, especially those in the rural areas, or other resources aimed at improving the standard of English in our schools, all things being equal, this policy will only result in an increase of those who will fail their SPM because of failure to pass the English exam.

Secondly, this proposed policy change will increase the incentives to make the English exam even easier than it already is as well as to decrease the passing mark for the same exam. The bureaucrats at the MOE do not want to have political heat on their backs as a result of the protests of many parents whose children did not manage to pass their SPM English exam. The path of least resistance would be to either make the English SPM exam easier or to decrease the passing mark or to do both!

Thirdly, this proposed policy change presupposes that every SPM holder requires a passing level of English to get on with life. Sure, it would be difficult to read English textbooks and articles at the university / college level without a proficient understanding of English. But if the medium of instruction in our public universities continue to be in BM, then I see no reason why not having an English SPM pass should be the basis for denying a student entry into one of the public universities or a matriculation program. Furthermore, there are many career paths which are open to Malaysians which require only a minimal level of English proficiency. I don't see why Malaysians who choose to pursue these career paths should be denied an SPM certificate just because they fail to pass their English exam at the SPM level.

This is in no way an argument to diminish the importance of English. Most of the top jobs in the private sector require a high proficiency in English. Most of the top jobs in the civil service require at least a decent level of spoken English. But I think having this policy change distracts from the more important and pressing objective of improving the standard of English in Malaysia. Making an English pass compulsory at the SPM level is the easy part. Making substantive changes to the way English is taught in our schools in the much harder and more important challenge.

No comments:

Post a Comment