IN the 60’s and early 70’s, children from poor families can study at English medium schools free. A fisherman’s son and a farmer’s daughter can converse in English at ease while at the padi-field or helping in their father’s catch.
And one could see these children enjoy reading comics such as Beano and Dandy. And when they were in Standard Four or Five, they could read the English newspapers with ease and relish Enid Blyton. In secondary schools they enjoy Shakespeare and great poets such as Wordsworth or Elliot.
At secondary school, they were generally knowledgeable in World History and Geography. They could easily rattle the names of capital cities of the world and tell you what the 100 Years War is about or what happens to Napoleon at Waterloo.
And they enjoy C.V.Durell’s Mathematics which comes in blue, green and red colour. Schooling was enjoyable then as teachers were dedicated to their profession. And of course the students respected the teachers and vice versa.
Sad to say, change is indeed painful. In the name of narrow nationalistic sentiments, the present generation who are the product of the present education system of Sekolah Kebangsaan are not the same as their lucky parents who studied at English schools.
Only privileged children of the rich and famous can study in English schools conducted by the private sector. They have the advantage of an English education which prepares them to be competitive in the job market and enhance their self esteem.
What about the product of Sekolah Kebangsaan? They are poor in English; they can’t read, write and converse properly. Even the teachers who are to improve their English and general knowledge are no better as they too are the product of the present system.
We blame the students for not taking English seriously. We blame the teachers for not taking their profession seriously. We blame the parents for not guiding and encouraging their children to be proficient in English. We blame everyboy except the system.
How can someone who goes to Sekolah Kebangsaan be proficient in English compared to the children of a Cabinet Minister or a diplomat who study in Internationl Schools?
It is a pity that we fail to address the national problem and dilemma faced by today’s children in their need to command the English language. We continue to experiment on them and make mistakes along the way. We refuse to reintroduce the English medium schools while retaining vernacular schools in order to give parents the option. While the politicians, academicians and nationalists indulge in rhetorics, the poor chilren suffer in silence.
After completing schools and colleges, they envy seeing those who are articulate in English attending interviews with confidence. They envy their colleagues who are able to present papers and argue in English at international forums. They envy their office mates who attend cocktails and enjoy jokes in English with their western counterparts while they remain silent and put up a brave smile at one corner.
And when they bring their children to the bookshop, they envy those who are able to read the latest books from the West. When they buy a book on nursery rhymes, they have problem singing and making their young one understand.
They wallow in self pity and tried their best to improve their English. They know it is a herculean task as language cannot be studied as a subject nor by attending crash courses.They curse the system in silence.
It is a pity. Once a upon a time the British and Americans were surprised that we spoke good English. Today our students have to pass a special English test to be admitted to British and American universities where the failure rate is high.
If Pak Lah wants to leave a lasting legacy before March 2009, then I suggest he reintroduce English medium schools of yesteryears.
Barisan Nasional government’s education legacy