Every country in the world adopts a suitable philosophy in its educational system. This is the result of centuries reflecting the said people’s experiences and knowledge gained through trial and error. The compilation of these reflections is preserved for the coming generations to ponder and perpetuate their relevance for the future.
What happens when there are three different philosophies germinating in the educational systems of three different races of people residing in one country? “Each to his own” is a saying very applicable in this context. Ultimately, the three divergent philosophies in three different educational systems produce three different ways of thinking, outlook and reflection practised by three different races of people.
Is there a common ground for these three different educational philosophies to meet apart from their origins in the East? Can there be a common ground for these three different educational philosophies to converge and melt into one in the coming future?
In the field of Malaysian education, the three different philosophies representing three different civilisations of Malaysia’s three races – the Malays, the Chinese and the Indians – are regressive. It is very telling in its economic sector. Malaysia’s economic sector is an extension of its regressive educational system.
Most university graduates are unemployable. Mediocrity at all levels of Malaysian society has deprived its real talent to contribute effectively to Malaysia’s economic development. When mediocrity is rewarded handsomely, it spells disaster along Malaysia’s ever-closing narrow path of economic development.
A global world needs people with a global outlook. And in this global world, only those who are qualified with an education delivered in the global language called English stand a better chance economically. But that better chance does not necessarily equate to a definite place in the world’s economy as other contributory factors such as one’s attitude as well as subtlety of thought in surmising events and articulating them confidently play a crucial role too. In short, intelligence to wade through life’s many perplexities and difficulties is sorely needed by an individual if he is to progress unhindered in his occupation.
Many Malaysians fear the worst. English is viewed with hostility as it will erode both the local languages and the respective educational philosophies of the three vernacular schools, gradually. Hence, the Malays, the Chinese and the Indians in Malaysia will fight tooth and nail to preserve their respective vernacular schools at all costs even though Malaysia loses its economic competitiveness globally. It also reveals how contented most of these Malaysians are when it comes to the education of their young. They are trapped in a self-delusional syndrome of things being economically rosy forever. They don’t see a connection between the country’s educational system and its continued economic performance globally in the future. All they see is the maintenance of their respective mother-tongues as mediums of instruction in their respective vernacular schools.
Educationally, Malaysia is divided. It is reflected economically, politically and socially in its very fabric.
Clinging on vehemently to the relevance of the three vernacular schools in Malaysia, the proponents fail to observe the bigger picture of Malaysia’s continued economic survival globally. As more and more neighbours in the ASEAN region embrace globalisation with its accompanying changes, Malaysia’s economic competitiveness begins to slide. What about the other regions in the world?
“Economic growth means growth in the amount of goods and services produced.” What about the distribution of those goods and services? Who will be responsible for their distribution in international markets – TOM and JERRY? the government of the day? bodybuilders? hospital staff? the fire brigade? the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra (MPO)? Baba Ali? It must be the manufacturers and the providers themselves. The sooner the goods and services are distributed, the sooner the Malaysian manufacturers and providers make money and capture new markets.
Most Malaysian business entities have been very comfortable in the local market alone. When the domestic consumption of their goods and services reduce, they will be forced to export. Naturally, their sales, marketing and promotional efforts will be done in the English language.
Besides, they will have to contend with many issues on the global stage. One of them is the quality of their goods and services offered. As a result, they may end up “dumping” their goods and services into countries lesser developed than Malaysia. What about exporting them to developed nations? Any chance of most Malaysian-made goods and services making an impact in the developed countries in the long-run? Are most Malaysian-made products and services able to compete or on par with those found in developed countries? Otherwise, Malaysians should just resign their fate to that of village champions.
The real test for Malaysian business players comes when the world’s economy moves at a snail’s pace. Businesses will compete ruthlessly for their share in the global market. And in that coming ruthless economic environment across many countries, business players don’t speak and write in Punjabi. They speak and write in English.
The world is gradually gravitating towards a knowledge-based economy. In the current age, most knowledge and information are obtained via the English language. No doubt there are other languages that can help one to gain knowledge and information but they may not be on par with or equal to such knowledge and information acquired from the English language. As long as an individual’s knowledge is subordinate to others in the same field, he cannot claim to be in the know of what is happening in his field with confidence. On a macro scale, people with lesser knowledge in a country will not deliver the necessary results in the form of economic power to that nation compared to people with more knowledge from other countries. The former nation’s economic power will be slowly eroded over a period of time, rendering the greater population the inability to earn decent wages for a decent living. The other option is for that said nation to cut itself off completely from the wave of economic globalisation altogether. There will be no need at all for the population to empower themselves in the English language which is the lingua franca of the world.
In the Malaysian context, English was the dominant language in the field of education before 1970. It was the medium of instruction in schools, colleges and the sole university – University Malaya – in that era. It played a major role in uniting the three races in those places of learning as there was only one educational philosophy – an educational philosophy based on the British way of thinking, outlook and reflection. Hence, the learners who acquired and savoured knowledge were trained in the best traditions of thinking and intellectual development based on the philosophies of English penetration and Scottish reflection that permeated the subject-matters in that era.
Most parents from the three races in the old Malaya – the Malay parents working mostly in agriculture, the Chinese parents working mostly in trade and the Indian parents working mostly in the rubber estates – sent their offspring to such places of learning where English was the medium of instruction despite the existence of the vernacular schools. Knowledge delivered in the English language guaranteed the future of young Malayans then.
Thus, for Malaysia to remain economically relevant in a globalised world in the coming future, it needs to re-introduce English as a medium of instruction in its public schools and public universities. It can achieve strong unity among its three races and empower its young intellectually for the constantly changing world.
So long as the policymakers involved in charting the educational needs of Malaysia’s population as a whole in the greater global economic community don’t see the need and the relevance of the English language as a medium of instruction in the public schools and the public universities, Malaysians can expect their coming generations to be a contented lot that will never aspire to the greater things in life. That inaction on the part of Malaysian policymakers will only serve to uplift the economic lot of Malaysia’s neighbours in the ASEAN region and the other parts of Asia, for these neighbours can use Malaysia’s regressive educational system as an ammunition to hit it further in the global economic arena, thereby diverting foreign investors to their shores.
When three races of people are running in three different directions in one country, how can they collectively unite as ONE COHESIVE UNIT to develop the country in all its spheres?