Compulsory pass in English will be good

Should English be made compulsory subject in SPM?

I think there are a few things we may all agree:

Firstly, the standard of English has gone down so much that even a STPM student cannot communicate in simple english ( see my post  ‘English Language and Vision 2020’  written about 2 months ago). Compared to 40 year ago, when even a primary school drop out could sometimes speak good English.

Secondly, English is important if we want to communicate with outside world, do business and learn new knowledge. It is the language to learn if we want to have upward mobility in life.

Thirdly, to learn a language well takes time and it cannot be done overnight.There will definitely be initial pain but this pain is worth the sufferings if we look ahead.

Fourthly, learning English well does not make us any less a Malaysian. In fact, by mastering more skills and knowledge, we will be better equiped to help our country to move forward and compete in the increasing globalised world

Fifthly, most if not all of our English teachers are not up to the mark to teach good English. I was also horrified to learn that English grammar is no longer taught in school. If that is the case, the teachers that we are training without knowing the grammar, may become the proverbial ‘blind leading the blind”.

To overcome all these will be a Herculean task.. We need to have strong wills, which will not easily be swayed by political pressure.

Learn from CHina. There are so many good English speaking people in CHina now, even though they still represent a small proportion of the whole popultaion, they will become the core of a new generation of good English speakers, as time goes on.

I think we have lost a generation of good and dedicated English teachers. To overcome this, we must be prepared to send a new generation of teachers overseas, eg. Kirby collegein UK , to learn English language and the correct ways to teach English.

We can also engage foreign English teachers to teach English in schools. More time should be given to the teaching of English.

And as I have said before in that article ” English language and Visiosn 2020), we should seriously consider making English a compulsory pass subject in SPM.

The best way to achieve excellence is to have competition..  Competition  produces good result. By making English a compulsory pass subject, the students will be made competing against a set standard . Those who have achieve this standard will get a pass .

The argument against this is that it may not be fair to some good students who pass all other subjects with flying colour but fail in English . If that is so, special classes can be given to those who fail and who wish to resit. If they are good in other subjects, give them all the help they need to help themselves and I am sure they would have no problem overcoming their initial handicap, especially when we have strengthened the English teaching profession.

Without pain without gain. There will be initial hiccups like all changes. But it will be good for the students and the country in the long run.


29 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. klm
    Jun 10, 2009 @ 13:52:54

    Dr. Hsu

    The old Kirby is gone. Malaysia cannot send teachers there for training anymore. In the old days, the Kirby trainee teachers were taught in English in school and sat for Cambridge GCE. They were as good as any UK trainees teachers. Beside UK would charge Malaysia a large sum of money for what they did for Kirby. There is no more British colonies.

    Today, it is different. The trainee teachers barely understand English. Malaysia dont have the raw materials anymore.

    You maybe right in saying we need to import foreign teachers. There is a good supply in India. India is probably the only country in the world who
    still teaches the Queen’s English.

    Some of the English language professors in UK universities are Indians. This is true – no joke 🙂

    BTW. This a real story from one interview of graduates for a govt agency recruitment exercise.
    This is no exaggeration.

    The question was “explain global warming”

    The answer from one interviewee ” global warming is taking the nasi lemak packet and warming it in the microwave”

    This is the kind of graduates that Malaysia produced.


  2. Richard Loh
    Jun 10, 2009 @ 14:26:12

    OMG, when did they change this. I thought all the while English and BM are two compulsory subjects that you must pass in order to obtain a full cert.

    Malaysia is the only country that cannot accept universal value even if the rakyat become fools and idiots.

    Let me recall how good our English was in the 70’s.

    I left for Singapore in 1971 after my MCE. I was working in the construction site and one day due to some complaint from the nearby residents, a police car was dispatched to our site to investigate.

    I was the foreman in charge, so I met up with the policemen to inquire what was the problem. One malay policeman start asking me questions in malay and I answer back in English. This policeman feel agitated and started to shout, “you banyak pandai cakap English” and pressing me to answer in malay. I keep on answering in English until the policeman could not take it anymore and ask for my IC and told me that I am under arrest. They handcuffed me and took me to the police station and lock me up. Yes I was arrested because the policeman could not speak English. They have nothing to charge me with and they allow me to call my boss to come in before they released me.

    During my working years in Singapore I found that their standard of English was so low and was very proud that Malaysian English was among the top in Asia.

    I left Singapore in the early 80’s and I went back in 2004 to claim my EPF. What a difference, 9 out of 10 people that I talk to were very well verse in English. They had overtaken us in the English Language.

    Malaysia is falling behind in almost everything. Sad but true.


  3. serendipity hopeful
    Jun 10, 2009 @ 14:29:04

    Whether a pass in English for SPM is good or bad is as clear as daylight, but after more than 50 years since independence we are still debating on this.

    Whose interest are we talking here – that of the future generations or the politicians???

    Once a mistake is realized, quick action should be taken. Do we need more than 50 years to remedy the mistake we have made. Lee Kuan Yew was the originator of the ‘one child’ per family poloicy, but once the mistake was realized the S’pore govt. quickly took corrective action. It looks like the BN govt. is more interested in protecting their own interests and in political posturing regadless of the detriment it is doing to the nation!


  4. klm
    Jun 10, 2009 @ 14:51:49

    One the thing that amazed me was the statement by Muhyddin that he was shocked that:

    1. English was not compulsory in SPM
    2. English grammar was not taught

    This means that the politicians elected to do the job were not doing their jobs. Civil servants had been running wild all these years screwing up the schools.

    Really Amazing Malaysia.


  5. Nick
    Jun 10, 2009 @ 15:06:29

    Guys, there are only 2 subjects you need to teach your children: dancing and singing. ok ok, these are not taught in class but after class. Anyway, it is too late for me now. I am useless at both of these. If I had a chance to go back to class at SPM, I would have chosen these instead of physics. I had engineers from Philippines and they tell me that in school, they have to learn how to sing properly. Yup, give a mike to a filipino and you can’t stop them from showing off. Now back to this topic. Unless everyone is happy to play a charade and pretend that English is not important, we would be guilty of allowing our children to be 2nd class citizens in the global stage. The best business programs are bloomberg and cnbc. The best sports channel are espn and star sports. The best movies are all hollywood productions. The best books for any scientific, medical, engineering, accountancy, actuarial, any economic subjects, etc are all in english. All big conferences and all eminent speakers deliver their keynote speeches in english. Why pretend?


  6. Barisan No Hope
    Jun 10, 2009 @ 15:14:08

  7. klm
    Jun 10, 2009 @ 15:30:37


    I rather hire a Filipino graduate who sings than a A Malaysian graduate who think global warming is sticking the nasi lemak into the microwave oven. 😉


  8. Dr Hsu
    Jun 10, 2009 @ 15:47:46


    I suspect all these talks will be talks only… In the end, we will have people who dont even associate warming with microwave…AT least in your case, he cannot understand global, at least he still knows ‘warming’…



  9. peng
    Jun 10, 2009 @ 16:21:44

    I don’t think it will do any good. What I am afraid of is this; When English is made compulsory in SPM, the passing level will be lowered so that more can pass, making the English standard to drop and become worse!


  10. clearwater
    Jun 10, 2009 @ 16:43:59

    English will not be made compulsory in SPM. It is not politically expedient and not even remotely possible because the bottom has fallen out of Malaysian public education. There is no real determination to right what ails our education system, no pride, no dedication, no driving search for knowledge.

    I watched the American Spelling Bee competition on TV yesterday and was impressed with the disproportionate number of young American girls of obvious Indian origin who made the finals; their proud migrant parents beaming with happiness in the audience. They gave their children an opportunity in a new land which they never would receive in the land of their birth. Like it or not, America nurtures its migrant communities as do many other enlightened nations with migrant programs. Malaysia? Well….


  11. A true Malaysian
    Jun 10, 2009 @ 17:46:38

    Compulsory pass in English is a long overdue policy. It should be the policy for all major public examinations conducted by the government. But, too bad, this was politicised into race issue.

    Anything and everything in Malaysia is being politicised. I, you and very Malaysian are victims. Anyone not realise that?

    To many of us, we realise the important of English long long ago since our education language media was changed from English to Malay. We have invested so much time and money on our kids so that they are fluent with English language. If we take account for all these money, time and opportunity cost lost, Malaysia would have achieved ‘developed’ country status. We don’t need to aim until year 2020. Singapore is the clearest evidence for this.

    We have told those in power this mistake, but they don’t regard as such. Why? Because of politics to remain in power. All fall back to greed and lust….that’s all.

    Why boast of “Jaga maruah, bangsa dan ugama” when Malaysia is now a laughing stock to the rest of the world?


  12. Rhan
    Jun 10, 2009 @ 17:51:08

    Hence compulsory pass is the solution for bad?

    Hmmm… easy huh?


  13. Meng
    Jun 10, 2009 @ 19:22:37

    Demonstration were held to maintain Bahasa Melayu/Malaysia….now English compulsory pass in SPM ..are u sure…don’t joke..more demonstration by umno clowns and PAS would join.

    The plan is to make malaysian esp the malays mediocre and ministers sons returning from overseas will be on top and be in controlled of the ground.

    BN has to please the the end
    ..under the carpet it goes. GE not very far lah.


  14. daffodils
    Jun 10, 2009 @ 19:50:15

    Sometimes it befuddles me that despite the fact that English being taught from Primary One itself until Secondary Five (a total of 11 years), students are struggling to string a few words into a complete sentence. Even at Pre-U level, students are not better off. So that calls for serious remedial measures to uplift the standard of English proficiency to a commendable level.

    Talking about the proficiency of English among Singaporean students, theirs is many notches above us. I often frequent a forum where Singaporean students engage in topics related to education and was actually very impressed by their high standard. In fact prospective international students going to NUS for studies are required to take a qualifying English test. Even those with grade 1A in O level E1119 or Muet score of band 6(the highest) or band score of 8 in IELTS are not spared!

    Students are accepted into public universities at proficiency levels that are much too low. Too often also, teaching staff, either out of sympathy for the students or feeling under pressure from marketers or administrators to push students through, do just that, push them through whatever their academic performance. It was painfully evident that students could not write a coherent sentence or develop and express an argument.


  15. klm
    Jun 10, 2009 @ 22:01:48

    What can you expect when English grammar is not taught in school. How can you build a house without a plan? How can the student string words into a sentence when they dont know grammar? Any wonder we have such weak students?

    See how much damage can be done by the so called education experts in the Ministry of Education or shall we call it Ministry of Mis-education.

    There are two ways to fix this problem.

    1. Fix the school – this take political will. You need someone like Dr. M to do it.

    2. Fix the students – have them go through special English classes before entering actual university classes.

    I am more incline to (2). Fix the smart students. The rest of the students can stay on Bahasa. They can survive on Malaysian standard English
    The country need still workers. Not all people can be managers and leaders.

    This may be a cynical view. But I think this is the only workable way if there is no will to fix the school system.


  16. 过路客
    Jun 10, 2009 @ 22:12:42

    It is time to call for serious remedial measures to uplift the standard of English proficiency in our country.

    Actually, I believe all students will love to study and master the English language so that they can understand and enjoy the internet. Actually, how many interesting website is in B Malaysia???

    Also, you can only half understand the Utusan Melayu or the Berita Harian if you do not know English because, as I see it, every senstance carry one or two English words that are written in malay ( dimelayukan ) like organisasi, kos, sains, ekonomi, klinik, etc..

    English language is too important to everyone’s future



  17. A true Malaysian
    Jun 10, 2009 @ 22:44:42

    During my student days, I and my good friends used to converse in Hokkien until on one occasion, my friend’s father, who doesn’t speak a word of English, suggested to us “Since you guys are so good in Hokkien, why not speak English to each other so to improve your proficiency in the language”.

    Perhaps we should learn from this cinapek, encourage our youngsters to converse in English, even if they speak broken English, but at least it will be a good start. We need to create English speaking environment to make the language popular.

    Common sense told us, English is important. A cinapek knows this. Why not the Education Minister? Just make it a compulsory subject to pass, and give incentive if score distinction in the subject.


  18. romerz
    Jun 11, 2009 @ 01:00:11

    Until we remove the politics from most aspects of governance, I’m afraid this country and our children will suffer for it.

    So how do we depoliticize Malaysian governance? Frankly I do not know except gripe about it which is a far cry from what is needed.

    How do you help people who are too scared to be helped?

    Case in point – I have a table to a DAP fund raising function this Friday at E&O. I asked a friend of mine if he was interested to join me for the dinner. He said yes at first then asked what kind of dinner.

    When I told him it was a DAP dinner, he said No No, I can’t be seen there! (and he is no BN supporter)

    Maybe we really deserve the shit that is heaped upon us!

    Overdose of politics!


  19. Rhan
    Jun 11, 2009 @ 08:21:59

    How the compulsory pass in BM or credit in BM to enter university did improve the standard of BM? Did this policy promote the love of BM and how many of us here treat BM as our common language? During my times, this policy did help our government to make tremendous saving in education allocation with elimination of the inferior quality student as many of them stuck in either SRP or SPM and lost their chances for further study. Can I say education is the privilege for the bright and the rich?


  20. Rhan
    Jun 11, 2009 @ 08:49:55

    I remember well how my Indian classmate who everyday travel more than 10km to school from the plantation estate, via a full load palm estate lorry. Most even speak decent BM and I believe English is a definite foreign language to them.

    It is a sheer waste of money and time to continue provide free education to all this …..(deleted because of racial profiling)., as they know nothing about the queen language!

    Ya, spare the money for our elite ba$tard to further their study to the LKY land or the Queen soil. Let the poor rot, and rot further.

    Not even one of my classmate from the esteta went through SRP.

    ….(deleted foul word) brainless education system.


  21. Taikohtai
    Jun 11, 2009 @ 09:11:48

    I think this issue is being blown out of proportion. Whether it is English, Chinese or even Malay, it is more important to heed the advice of Deng Xiaopeng who said: It doesn’t matter whether the cat is black or white, so long if it can catch mice.

    What Malaysia needs today is to stay focus on how to make the country vibrant and progressive like other developed countries. Do you find such countries squabbling over what language should be taught in school? In Australia, students are given a wide range of courses to choose as the country knows that there is value in A-Z.

    This language issue is another sidetrack by BN. Time to focus on how to catch the mouse rather than discussing the colour of the cat!!


  22. clearwater
    Jun 11, 2009 @ 09:43:20


    I sense your frustration and bitterness at an unfair system and unfeeling authorities. Children in estates and rural areas are undoubtedly disadvantaged because of difficulty of access to educational materials and the like.

    However, do not forget that parents and the community play important roles. To break the cycle of poverty and despair, one generation must see fit to make sacrifices for the next. You can see this at work in migrant families in the US, especially in Asian migrants, who make good within a generation or two because of strong family values and the self help mechanism.

    As I said earlier, I am impressed with the ethnic Indian representation in the American Spelling Bee competition this year. The words are so difficult and tricky ; yet these children of first generation migrants of non English backgrounds get it right! Given opportunities and encouragement, children can overcome debilitating obstacles.


  23. evil
    Jun 11, 2009 @ 10:14:11

    There is no possibility of fixing the schools because there is no agreement on how to move forward. For every one for english, there is one or more against it ( for various reasons).

    My feeling is that probably less than 50% of the entire population will say yes for compulsory pass in english in SPM. Most Malaysian want an easy way out. Seemed 70% of calls to MOE was against this.

    So. I say let the buggers suffer for it. Let these people be workers for the rest of their life. I still say focus on fixing the smarter students who want to make something with their life. This will cost less and a smaller problem and a fixable problem. Let the rest rot.


  24. Nick
    Jun 11, 2009 @ 11:21:15

    I attended the PKFZ Forum held at the SCAH last night. Tan Sri Dr. Ramon Navaratnam summed it up and said there is one word to describe our civil servants failings over this scandal and many other scandals and it is “meritocracy” or the lack of. Unless you and I stand up and shout on top of our voices till the Ministers hear us, nothing will come out of it. “evil” wrote “let the rest rot” but this should not be the way. There are no easy options here. Two wrongs don’t make a right. If having a good solid command of the english language is a prequisite to engaging the world, our Policies must change and it is never too late to change. Old hacks like us will pass on but what about young generation? Our human resource is our most valuable resource. And I say, we better fix it! Otherwise, I will vote for a change at the next GE13.


  25. A true Malaysian
    Jun 11, 2009 @ 13:18:59


    To me, DAP is the only party that is truly ‘multiracial’ that put emphasis on merit, transparency, integrity and accountability. Of course it has its own weakness but it is still the most credible political party anyone with right thinking will join. If not, a respectable person like Tunku Aziz will not join DAP. People like Zaid Ibrahim should join DAP, and I hope he will. Zaid’s book, ‘Aku pun Melayu’ should be read by all, especially the Malays. NEP has somehow greatly influenced on how they see thing on merit basis. If I am not wrong, many Malays see Zaid success because of NEP and not through his own efforts. ‘Aku pun Melayu’ is good in correcting this wrong perception.

    DAP need to work doubly hard to discard people’s perception especially the Malays that it is a Chinese party that only fight for Chinese interests. In the long run, DAP cannot just rely on PKR and PAS to garner the Malay’s supports….if not….You know what I mean? Zaid will be a great help in this. Only then, there will be a truly Malaysian political party.


  26. klm
    Jun 11, 2009 @ 20:30:51

    When GOD created man he gave man free will to choose between good and evil. Similarly, we should give the people the free will to choose to study English and sit for the examination in SPM or not to sit for the paper.

    There is no need to force students to do the English paper. After all, it is their lives. The only thing we should make sure is that English is properly taught in school.

    I wonder if Pakatan would really do anything if they win the next election. Personally, I think they will dance around this matter, like BN.


  27. klm
    Jun 12, 2009 @ 11:29:43

    Having said all the negative things. I think a decision has already been taken on English . The two things that Muhyiddin was shocked. Those are indicators of the direction going forward. Teaching proper english and make it compulsory for SPM.

    The real problem is how to sell this to the public. The Govt knows the backlashes that will come from many different groups. It need to build support before it can announce the new policy. The more opposition against making English compulsory, the longer the changes will take.


  28. pohwatchdog
    Jun 13, 2009 @ 19:28:42

    Time to reflect what happen to our education system. Is our Minister of Education really don’t know the standard of English Language going bad? MOE need to emphasis on the teaching of English Language especially grammar to our younger set. Even the standard of our present English Language teachers need refreshing course from time to time. It is no point paying them extra incentive to brush up their language skills. It is back to school for them during the school holiday.

    It seem that our children is burden with too many subjects, course works, overlapping among the subject syllabus such as Civic Education, Moral Education and History. Is it not time to overhaul our education syatem that place on vocational skills for those who are not academic inclined. No more automatic promotion for those in PMR or LCE level.


  29. David
    Jun 14, 2009 @ 21:08:59

    Dr Hsu,

    In response to klm’s posting on Kirky teachers training college in the UK, I think it was discontinued in 1962. Malaya used to send young people with good SC results to Kirkby and Brinsford to be trained as teachers with the medium of instruction in English and when these teachers came back to teach in Malayan schools, they were good. The standard of English was very high then. At the same time Malaya also had its teacher training colleges in Penang and Kota Bahru (Pengkalan Chepa). The medium of instruction in the teachers colleges then (at home and abroad) was in English. Trainees need to get a credit in English in their SC to be selected for training.

    Malaya/Malaysia continued with the training UK style of teachers with Malayan Teachers College in Pantai Valley KL replacing Kirby and I think JB teachers college replacing Brinsford. I was a trainee at MTCKL for two years (1966-67) and we were trained exactly like our earlier colleagues in Kirkby. Our lecturers were English expats and we were taught Queen’s English though we trainee teachers tend to speak Malaysian English. We were trained to be English and Arts (History, Geog, Music) teachers. MTCKL, the successor Kirky continued until 1969, the year of the fateful KL racial riots of May 13.

    With the govt announcing that English schools would be phased out from 1970, that was also the year our college MTCKL “died “. Its premises were taken over by the Universiti Kebangsaan which began in 1970 as its temporary premises. It is nearly 40 years since the demise of Kirky and its successor MTCKL and that is the period we have seen the standard of English deteriorating in this country. Why the best scholars in SPM with a string of A1s, purportedly in English, can’t even compare to all those who got P7 or P8 in English during our SC days.


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