Sunday 14 June 2015

Learn from Singapore education policy, Johor Sultan says

He says using English as medium of instruction helps forge national unity
The Straits Times, 13 Jun 2015

JOHOR BARU - Johor's Sultan Ibrahim Ibni Almarhum Sultan Iskandar has told The Star newspaper that Malaysia can learn from Singapore the way to forge national unity via its education system.

The use of English as a medium of instruction has been effective in the development of Singapore and uniting its people regardless of race or religion, he said in an interview published yesterday in the Malaysian daily.

He also called for the Rapid Transit System (RTS) between Johor Baru and Singapore to be implemented to improve connectivity between the two sides.

"Let's be honest with ourselves. Singapore has done well as a country. Their students have fared very well in mathematics and science. The prominent use of English has set them ahead of us," the Sultan said.

Malaysia switched from English to Malay as the medium of instruction in its national schools from 1968 to 1982 and started the switch at university level in 1983.

In 2003, however, then Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad switched the teaching of mathematics and science back to English, to improve graduates' English and their employability.

But it was found that students' grades in these subjects, particularly those of students in rural areas whose grasp of English was poor, fell after this switch. In 2012, these subjects were again taught in Malay.

Sultan Ibrahim said English could be a unifying language for the country's different races. "English schools are neutral grounds. We used to have such schools in Malaysia until it was changed. Was there any problem then?"

In Malaysia, "the proficiency of English is bad among children, and our children do not mix... The Malays go to national schools where the Chinese feel alienated, while the Indians go to Tamil schools. Where is the unity?"

He criticised Malaysian politicians, saying they were playing politics with education. "They want to be heroes of their races. They talk about nationalism but in the end, do they send their children to boarding schools in Australia and the United Kingdom to learn in Malay medium?"

He noted that the language policy has led to a "class issue" in which middle- and upper-middle class Malaysians are able to send their children to private and international schools where English is the medium of instruction.

Apart from issues such as the slowing property market in Johor, the Sultan also spoke on transport links between Johor and Singapore. He stressed that there is an urgent need for the RTS project to be implemented to improve connectivity.

"Each day, thousands of Malaysians commute between both countries and the RTS will be an effective way to ease travel and traffic, especially on the Causeway."

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