JOHOR BARU - Sultan Ibrahim Ibni Almarhum Sultan Iskandar is known to be an outspoken advocate of English-medium education.
Meeting with scholarship recipients recently, he asked them point blank whether their English fluency was good enough for them to deserve the awards.
He is also fond of equating the English language to the US dollar, saying "it's accepted everywhere and used everywhere, even in countries where the people don't speak English well."
English advances and unites
Q: Tuanku, in your address at the opening of the Johor State Legislative Assembly recently, you suggested that Malaysia should adopt Singapore's education policy that uses English as a medium of instruction, especially to forge unity. Could you elaborate?
A: Singapore is our closest neighbour. We don't have to go very far; we should emulate them as the island republic has achieved development way ahead of us.
Let's be honest with ourselves. Singapore has done well as a country. Their students have fared very well in Mathematics and Science. The prominent use of English has set them ahead of us.
We shouldn't kid ourselves. We have politicians in Malaysia who are in self-denial or choose to play politics with education. They want to be heroes of their races. They talk about nationalism but at the end, do they send their children to boarding schools in Australia and the United Kingdom to learn in Malay medium?
I also know of so-called Chinese educationists who champion Chinese education, even insisting non-Mandarin speaking teachers should not be allowed to teach in Chinese primary schools. These are the extremists. I know one such leader had tertiary education in Western countries. We have many such hypocrites.
One thing that we can learn from Singapore is their way of forging national unity via their education system. The use of English as a medium of instruction has been effective in the development of the country and uniting their people regardless of race or religion.
English schools are neutral grounds. We used to have such schools in Malaysia until it was changed. Was there any problem then?
The proficiency of English is bad among children, and our children do not mix among themselves. The Malays go to national schools where the Chinese feel alienated, while the Indians go to Tamil schools. Where is the unity?
Then some people also want Chinese and Indian universities. All this is driving the races apart. Yet we say we are all 1Malaysia. Unfortunately, I see all this as 5Malaysian.
The richer Malaysians send their children to private and international schools where English is the medium of instruction. So, who says there are no English-medium schools? But they are only available to the middle and upper-middle class from urban areas.
So, soon we will also have a class issue. This is all due to the myopic planning and thinking of our politicians.
For me, education is the foundation to create the country's future generation.
As such, I hope Johoreans will start to open up their minds. I have sent the signals across and I hope they start thinking now with regard to the country's education system and are willing to change for the benefit of the people and long-term development.
I am confident if we have an education system based on a single stream for students from a young age, we will be able to create a community which is more harmonious and can work together to face challenges in the future.
Anyway, we can also teach Bahasa Malaysia in schools as it is the country's national language. You can still have English as the medium of instruction but BM and Chinese or Tamil are compulsory.
Don't forget, when English was used as a medium of instruction in schools in the 1950s and 1960s, a pass in BM was compulsory. Even a pass in Mathematics was compulsory to pass the Form 3 exam but now you don't even have to pass your Maths test!