AMS students need to master English

I refer to the On the Beat piece “A handicap we must overcome” (Sunday Star, March 13). I was horrified to learn that the students of the Academy of Malay Studies (AMS) are against the Higher Education Ministry’s request to all public universities to upgrade skills in the English language.

The ministry’s honest advice was given in order to raise their low employability, largely due to their poor command of English.

Regrettably, the students acted like spoilt kids who reacted against being told what to do in their best interests.

I agree that these students should give priority to studying our national language, but let them not neglect to grasp the essentials of the English language due to misplaced national sentiment, laziness or insecurity.

They owe it to themselves, to their parents, to our taxpayers and to our country to make themselves employable on graduation. Otherwise, they will become underemployed and even social misfits and a drag on society.

They will thus do untold damage to themselves, their families and, worse still, constrain Malaysia from becoming a developed country.

Universiti Malaya Vice-Chancellor Prof Dr Ghauth Jasmon should be saluted for being courageous in properly implementing government policies to promote the greater use of the English language.

However, he – like other vice-chancellors and, indeed, all public officials – will not be able, nor be encouraged, to translate the Government’s Transformation and Economic Transformation Plans if professional officials are not fully backed and publicly supported by the Government.

The AMS students should be actively advised to follow the VC’s advice. Their recalcitrant and belligerent attitude should not be tolerated.

I am a proud alumnus of the old University of Malaya in Singapore. It was a leading university in Asia with a formidable international reputation.

But today it has declined considerably because of the negative attitude of a minority of students and teachers like those of the AMS, who appear to be against high academic standards and progress.

If this unhealthy trend is not checked, other public universities and even private universities can suffer from the same malaise.

Then there will be two classes of students and standards – those from the middle and upper class homes whose children will be exposed to more English in private universities and those from lower income homes who will have to attend public universities where the English language is given less priority.

This will lead to differences based on employability, incomes and social standing that can, unfortunately, be related to race as well. This trend will then undermine national unity.

The Malaysian public may therefore determine the seriousness of the Government’s Transformation Plans and its effective implementation by the strength of its response to the protests raised by the AMS as well as other extremist groups in many other fields of our endeavours to become a united and developed nation by 2020.

Thus, I appeal to the Government to act boldly and decisively to overcome the many handicaps and challenges that we now face.

Article published in The Star.

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