Conundrum of the Must pass English for Malaysian SPM Students

We were reading an article from Free Malaysia Today, it talked about the implementation of making it necessary for SPM students to pass English to pass the whole SPM exam (besides passing Bahasa Malaysia). This will be implemented from 2016 onwards.

Now then, before we delve in further’;SPM or Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia is an examination certificate equalvalent to the O-Levels in the UK (though the standards over there is waaayyyy much better). Somewhere in the year 1999 the Ministry of Education at that time, stamped the need-to-pass Bahasa Malaysia for all students of SPM 2000 onwards.

Not that we have any problems with that part since it is the national language of the country but the problem that we personally have is the new English must-pass implementation set to begin in 2016. Sixteen bloody years for the government to make it compulsory. This should have been done in the same year that passing Bahasa Malaysia was compulsory.

Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, said the government has placed emphasis on English to strengthen students’ grasp of the subject, with an intention of producing a globalised generation. Better late than never though we can see that this is going to be a real tough battle for teachers and students of the local schooling system and it is probably worst for race-type schools.

In Malaysia, besides the National School (Sekolah Kebangsaan) that houses all the races in this country; we have vernacular schools . Vernacular schools, normally teaches in the mother tongue of the race it is for. Chinese – Mandarin, Indian – Tamil. The only times that these Vernacular Schools will not use the mother tongue would be in the subject of Bahasa Malaysia and English. Other times it will be in the mother tongue.

National schools has a unique problem which Lyle wasn’t a part of but suffered the consequences. During his time, the english subject was the only subject taught in English. A few years after, the Ministry in their mad reign of terror spoke of teaching Math and Science in English. Here was something that Lyle was quite impress until the same Ministry change their mind later on.

Just imagine secondary school students from 2005 till 2010 learning three subjects in English, then secondary school students from 2006 till 2011 having only English as the only subject that is English. Nothing wrong with that, as there are many countries in the world which teaches in Math and Science in their national language. Problem with Malaysia is that after you finish SPM and enter college or university that is not local, math and science is in English.

For SPM students who has math and science in english, the transition is easier than those who had the two subjects taught in Bahasa Malaysia. Like what Lyle mention, he indirectly suffered the consequences. So what does this have to do with the topic at hand?

A lot actually, when you break down the subjects that SPM science stream students will normally take :

Bahasa Melayu
*Add Math
*Agama Islam / *Moral Study

*subjects taught in Bahasa Melayu

Out of the possible 9 subjects, only one is taught in English. Passing this subject is easy, just look at how we “raise” the standards of passing. During Lyle’s time getting 40% was considered a pass for a subject. Not sure about the standards now though, but knowing the government we will not be surprise to see this rate as a measurement to pass a subject.

Personally we love the fact that English is a must-pass subject but we have this strange bitter taste in our mouth as students might just want to pass for the sake of passing.