LAST_UPDATESun, 22 Jul 2018 9pm

An Unsolved Problem: Urban-Rural Gap In English Language Proficiency

Pic: ipok-business.blogspot.comPic: ipok-business.blogspot.comTHE language issue in Malaysia has always been a contentious topic and believe it or not, no language other than English language has aroused more contentious views among Malaysians. Over the last few decades, Malaysia has commenced its effort not only to propagate the importance of English language but also carried out many initiatives in the National Educational Blueprint (2013-2015), realizing the fact that it is highly important in terms of nation building and global competitiveness.

Although there are other vernacular languages in Malaysia, English language proficiency holds prominence due to its importance in Malaysia’s interaction with the rest of the world.

According to the findings on English Proficiency Index (EPI) last year, Malaysia beat out Singapore, Taiwan, India, China and Kazakhstan, ranked Malaysia as having the highest level of English proficiency out of 13 countries in Asia. More remarkably, on a global scale, Malaysia was ranked 11th out of 60 countries, with four of the top five slots going to Scandinavian countries, with Sweden and Norway taking the top two spots.

However, despite these findings, it is apparent that there is vast discrepancy in the mastery of English language between urban and rural students still exists. While some may argue that we should not blame the Government as initiatives have been taken over the years to rectify the problem.  

Tackling English Language Proficiency In Malaysia: More Action Needed Now

Puteri Umno head Datuk Rosnah Abdul Rashid Shirlin. - Pic: en.wikipedia.orgPuteri Umno head Datuk Rosnah Abdul Rashid Shirlin. - Pic:

Earlier in June, Puteri Umno head Datuk Rosnah Abdul Rashid Shirlin was quoted in a local English newspaper as stating that the infrastructure for the teaching and learning of the language must be overhauled primarily for rural students who were still lagging far behind.

Meanwhile, Education Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin said the Education ministry will strive to raise the standard of education in rural schools in order to bridge the gap between rural and urban schools, citing reports from local English daily.

“I agree that education facilities in rural areas should be better. There should be no discrimination just because they are located in remote areas,” he said in a statement in The Borneo Post while admitting that most rural schools nationwide lagged behind in facilities and needed massive support to catch up with urban schools.

Muhyiddin, who is also the Deputy Prime Minister, added that: “We are committed to improving the facilities and infrastructure in rural areas.” He said that the improvements for the interior areas could not be rushed due to the vastness of the states in the country and should be carried out systematically, according to The Borneo Post.

Clearly enough, this reflects the concern of our ministers on the matter, believing that the urban-rural gap in the learning and teaching of English language in the country should be seen as a serious issue if we aspire to prosper to greater heights in order to compete internationally.

Teaching Science And Math In English (PPSMI): Is The Struggle Over Yet?

The initiative to teach Science and Math in English language was initially conceived to improve Malaysian students’ English proficiency and employability in order to compete globally. Our country implemented the teaching of science and math in English from 2003 – 2012. Many parents and employers had called for English to be retained as the language of instruction for Science and Mathematics. -Pic: www.thenutgraph.comMany parents and employers had called for English to be retained as the language of instruction for Science and Mathematics. -Pic:

Nevertheless, the Government had found that academic grades in Maths and Science subjects had fallen since English was introduced. This is partly because the students in rural districts suffered the most because their English proficiency was low.

However, many parents and employers had called for English to be retained as the language of instruction. Of late, concerns have risen in recent years that students’ English skills have declined, with employers citing this as a major weakness among fresh graduates in Malaysia,

Earlier this year, Datin Noor Azimah Abdul Rahim, the chairman of the Parent Action Group for Education (PAGE) in an interview with an online news portal again reiterated the call that it was the right time now to re-visit PPSMI and introduce it in schools once again, saying that the struggle for the proposal is not yet over.

She explained that the first batch of students who began learning Science and Mathematics in English in Form 1 back in 2003 and proceeded to become teachers are now just entering the workforce so they should be competent enough to handle teaching the two subjects in English.  So the debate on the matter persists even until today particularly among academicians, parents and students themselves.

Words Of Concerned Malaysians

Tan Sri Abdul Ghafar bin Mahmud, the Director-General in Ministry of Education. -Pic: ppdajerantut2u.blogspot.comTan Sri Abdul Ghafar bin Mahmud, the Director-General in Ministry of Education. -Pic: ppdajerantut2u.blogspot.comLast Friday, Malaysian Digest contacted Tan Sri Abdul Ghafar bin Mahmud, the Director-General in Ministry of Education. When asked about his views regarding the urban-rural gap in terms of the learning and teaching of English, he said he is fully aware of the matter and the ministry has come up with a very comprehensive approach to solve the problem which stated in the Malaysia Education Blueprint (2013-2015).

“Our strategies are clearly stated in the Blueprint. It is the result of a multitude of analyses, surveys and research conducted with the support of experts, teachers and parents all across Malaysia,” he said.

He stressed: “We have set ourselves ambitious yet achievable tasks to build a strong and efficient education system by 2025 and the urban-rural gap in the English language is also our top concerns.”

Meanwhile, Malaysian Digest also interviewed teachers from urban and rural districts on the matter. Mr. Ooi Jeng Herng, is an English coach from Pusat Tuisyen Cahaya Gaya, Pulau Pinang. When contacted, he said the urban-rural gap in English language remains obvious though little has improved for the past few years.

“I personally think that the main reason for this problem is the lack of exposure and the scarcity of resources to adequately teach the language in rural districts.”

When asked on how to improve the situation, the English coach said; “The government should promote the reading habit especially in rural schools through Guided Extensive Reading (GER) program. Various trials had been conducted on its implementation in rural areas back in 2003. This approach should be continued as it will help students to read extensively and improve their writing and communication skills at the same time,” he said.

Another interview was with Ms. Ong Siew Lan, a teacher from SJK (C) Kg. Baru Tampin who has been teaching English for 10 years now in the rural district. When contacted, she admits that there is an existing gap in English proficiency between students from urban and rural areas.

“I believe the main reason behind this problem is the availability of well-trained teachers and the lack of infrastructure in the rural schools,” she said.

Ong also added that sometimes teachers from other subjects are assigned to teach English (not their majors) due to the lack of teachers and believe that this contributes to the inadequate mastery of the English language by rural students.

A Paradigm Shift Is Needed

Today, as the world becomes increasingly inter-connected digitally and economically, English language proficiency is even more important as it increasingly becomes a requirement for better employment and opportunities in the global arena.

As we propel towards achieving developed nation status in 2020, clearly now is the time for the government to adopt a paradigm shift in its approach to this unending dilemma. A comprehensive and far-sighted approach is urgently needed; otherwise the effort to push this great nation to even greater heights will come to naught.

- mD