KUCHING - In Sarawak, where one in four students fails English in SPM, there is grave concern that it will be a must-pass subject starting next year.
While nearly everyone agrees English is important, many also feel the policy should be delayed.
"This is a monumental challenge. It's quite scary," said Datuk Fatimah Abdullah, Sarawak's Welfare, Women and Family Development Minister, who keeps a watching brief over education matters for the state.
"Many of our students failed English in SPM. Learning a language is different from learning other subjects.
"Based on our current results, about a quarter of the students might not leave school with a certificate next year. That's a big number."
In the last year's SPM, 23.16 per cent of the state's candidates failed English.
Even when better results from urban areas were included, Sarawak still lagged behind the national average.
Only 11.27 per cent of Sarawakians scored A- or better in English compared to 13.5 per cent nationally.
Publicly, Fatimah has been urging teachers, parents and students to pull together and strive for better results since the policy change was announced.
But speaking to The Star on Thursday, she expressed doubts on whether students in the state could improve significantly enough by next year.
Asked if the Sarawak government would lobby for a delay, she said that was a possibility.
"During my time, English was the medium of instruction. After that, it became Bahasa Malaysia. Now everybody is weak is in English," said Fatimah.
Sarawak Teachers' Union president Jisin Nyud shared Fatimah's concern and called for the return of teaching Science and Mathematics in English.
"For students who go home to English-speaking families, that's fine. They will have much less problems. But how about students who speak other languages at home?
"For them, more English-speaking contact hours would mean a lot," Jisin said.