English still holds valuable social capital, and English proficiency is regarded by many economies as a key in global competitiveness.
A former Malaysian minister expressed concern about the deteriorating English skills of Malaysian graduates whom he described as being unable to communicate properly.
“The problem is sometimes thinking and communication. Most of our graduates cannot communicate. This is a problem. When someone questions in English they cannot answer. Whereas knowledge is English,” former finance minister Tun Daim Zainuddin said in an interview.
The declining English proficiency rate has been a growing concern and sensitive topic in Malaysia. Many blame the current educational system as reflected in the poor language ability of those who attended public schools. Others see English speakers in a bad light, often judging those who prefer to use the language as ‘elitist’ or snobs. While many young people are able to understand and communicate in English on the internet or in restaurants, their skill proficiency is still not enough to help them find jobs.
Daim stated that, “We must think of the future. Where are we going to bring our nation to? We don’t want to penalise our future generation. So let’s think. Do we want to compete or not? Compete in education. Put aside sentiments, and think of our future, our children,” in a report by the Malay Mail.
According to the most recent study by the EF English Proficiency Index (EF EPI), Malaysia is ranked 22nd in the world and third in Asia in terms of English language proficiency in 2018. Malaysia dropped several ranks compared to 2017 when it held the 13th spot in the world out of 80 countries.
The Ministry of Education has launched campaigns to address the growing problem. The English Language Education Reform in Malaysia, a 10-year reform plan, includes adapting the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) as a benchmark for English language learning, teaching and assessment.
Singapore is ranked third in the world and first in Asia in terms of English language proficiency in 2018 according to the EF EPI./TISG