Saturday, September 27, 2008

Language barrier splits Malaysians into classes

A visibly angry Maimunah Hamid shook her head in desperation as Education Ministry officials struggled to explain to angry parents gathered at a parent-teachers meeting at a national school in the city last week.

"I have had enough, I am moving my daughter to an international school," said Maimunah, an accountant with Maybank, Malaysia's biggest bank. "I am sick of this flip-flop policy, why can't you all make up your mind?" Most of the 120 parents agreed with Maimunah, 46, a mother of two daughters aged nine and 12.

"Make up you mind please — English or Malay. Don't torture the children," said another parent Kanagaratnam Vellupillai, 39. "This issue has been going on for years and years." In fact the issue — English or Malay as a medium of instruction — has been hotly debated and remains unresolved since the British colonialists left in 1957.

After acrimonious debate the matter was settled in 1967 that Malay would be the medium of instruction in all national schools, but that Chinese and Tamil vernacular schools could continue teaching in a mixture of Malay and their own mother tongues.

However, in a decision in 2002, which was widely opposed by parents, officials, opposition lawmakers and even civil servants, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad ordered the return of English on the grounds that national education in Malay narrowed student minds, retarded economic growth and that if continued, Malaysia's competitiveness would collapse against Singapore, Hong Kong and Bangkok.

more: Language barrier splits Malaysians into classes
Malaysia Today, Malaysia