On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Different schools of thought but one objective

No one should lose track of the original aim – to improve
the proficiency of the English language among students.

There has never been any dispute over that objective.

Along the way, controversy surfaced when the different
schools of thoughts argued on how the implementation of English to teach the
two subjects should be carried out.

The differences were over methodology and never the
principle of raising the standard of English but unfortunately some politicians
and journalists were confused or chose to confuse the issue, resulting in
insensitive statements being made.

While debates are healthy in formulating any policy,
particularly one affecting our children, we must remind ourselves to be
cautious in expressing our views, particularly in a plural society.

Differences in opinion over any proposed policy,
especially among coalition partners, deserve serious attention. These component
parties, representing their communities, would best understand the sentiments
of their members.

Last week, Barisan chairman Datuk Seri Dr Mahathir
Mohamad and his deputy Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi demonstrated what
pragmatic politics is all about.

The two leaders showed Malaysians, especially the younger
ones, that compromise and tolerance is alive and being practised by the ruling

Despite initial apprehension over how the Barisan elders
intend to resolve the issue, the coalition's concept of consensus has again

The leaders of the four Chinese-based parties, especially
MCA president Datuk Seri Dr Ling Liong Sik, have also correctly handled the
issue in a very moderate and low-key manner despite mounting pressure from some

The decision has also met the sentiments of most parents
– preserving the mother tongue, as guaranteed under the Federal Constitution,
and striving to raise English proficiency in schools.

Parents with children in Chinese schools need not worry
about how these schools are going to maintain the high standard of Mathematics
and Science.

Although there are initial concerns that extra classes on
the use of English in the two subjects will burden pupils, I am sure most of
them will be able to cope.

What is more important here is that English will now be
given top priority in schools.

The teaching of English should not be left entirely to
schools. Many of us, especially parents from English-speaking homes, have heard
complaints from our children about their teachers' poor command of the

Let's not have any delusions. As a result of our
education policy, which emphasised Bahasa Malaysia,
a generation of teachers and university lecturers with little grounding in
English are now in our schools and colleges.

Many are more comfortable in Bahasa, so we should not
expect our teachers to be proficient in English after a two-month crash course
in the language.

There is a need to create further awareness among
Malaysians on the push for English. Many Bahasa Malaysia
television programmes have started carrying subtitles in English. It is a good
move and should be made compulsory for all Malay programmes.

Political parties should be encouraged to set up classes
in English at their respective division headquarters and community halls,
especially in rural areas.

There are no losers in the bilingual formula, only
winners. Barisan leaders have woken up most Malaysians to the importance of
English; now it is for us to make the formula work.