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October 28, 2013

Malaysia

Malaysia's English language crisis

A shortage of competent English language teachers and a looming deadline that will affect all school-leaving students are creating a sense of crisis in Malaysia's education system.

In Perak on the northern Peninsular Malaysia, an English teacher uses textbooks meant for seven-year-olds to teach her Form One class of students, mostly aged 13.

"When I first taught them, they could not even tell the difference between 'when' and 'what'," the teacher, who wants to be known only as Yee, told The Straits Times recently.

"I had to put my planned lessons aside and start with the basics."

It is the type of story many English teachers in Malaysia share, but are reluctant to speak openly about because they worry about being sanctioned by the education ministry.

And so, when the ministry recently announced that from 2016 onwards, students in Form Five - the equivalent of a GCE O-level class in Singapore - must pass English before they can obtain their school-leaving certificates, it set tongues wagging.

After all, last year, almost a quarter of 470,000 Form Five students failed English, and only 16 per cent of them scored highly in the language.

"Without the school-leaving certificates, the students cannot further their studies or get jobs," said Lok Yim Pheng, secretary-general of the National Union of the Teaching Profession. "Is their future being killed?"

Part of the problem, educators say, is that there are not enough qualified English teachers. Recently, the education ministry revealed that 70 per cent of the country's 70,000 English teachers failed a competency test to teach the language.

The ministry is now working overtime to re-train thousands of English teachers around the country to try and meet the 2016 deadline.

"It is an ambitious goal, but we cannot tolerate students not being able to communicate in English any more," Dr Habibah Abdul Rahim, head of a new agency within the ministry, told The Straits Times in a recent interview.

"Something needs to be done."

In Malaysia, English is a |compulsory subject from Primary One to Form Five. Despite that, many school-leavers, especially in rural areas, cannot converse or write fluently in English.

It was not always this way.

Read the full article from The Nation.

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