Johor Sultan moots single-stream education system to improve Malaysians' English skills

Johor Sultan Ibrahim Sultan Iskandar urged Malaysia to adopt a single-stream education system to improve the standard of English.
Johor Sultan Ibrahim Sultan Iskandar urged Malaysia to adopt a single-stream education system to improve the standard of English. PHOTO: THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

JOHOR BARU - The Sultan of Johor has urged Malaysia to adopt a single-stream education system instead of the present multi-stream system in order to improve the standard of English among Malaysians.

In an exclusive interview with Malaysia's The Star daily published on Monday (Dec 28), Johor Sultan Ibrahim Sultan Iskandar noted that the level of English among Malaysians is deteriorating, saying action needed to be taken to address it.

Malaysia's present multi-stream education system comprises national schools, where Malay is the medium of instruction, as well as Chinese and Tamil vernacular schools.

"If you realise, most government officers nowadays are unable to speak or write good English. That is why I am not in favour of the present three types of schools (National, Chinese and Tamil)," he responded when asked to comment on the standard of English among the country's younger generation.

"Nowadays, there are Chinese and Tamil students who do not know how to speak Malay and of course, Malay students who can't speak English," he said.

This was in comparison to the old days, he said, when English schools were regarded as "neutral ground".

He said: "All races attended these schools. During my time, it was a must to know both Malay and English.

"But now, when you teach mathematics, geography and history in Malay in schools, students are at a loss when they have to read books in English in universities. How can you be a scientist when your English is so bad?" he added.

Malaysia switched from English to Malay as the medium of instruction in its national schools from 1968 to 1982 and started the switch at university level in 1983.

In 2003, however, then Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad switched the teaching of mathematics and science back to English, to improve graduates' English and their employability.

But it was found that students' grades in these subjects, particularly those of students in rural areas whose grasp of English was poor, fell after this switch. In 2012, these subjects were again taught in Malay.

The Sultan has previously spoken up on the use of English as a medium of instruction, noting that English could be a unifying language for the country's different races.

In an interview with The Star in June, he said: "The proficiency of English is bad among children, and our children do not mix. The Malays go to national schools where the Chinese feel alienated, while the Indians go to Tamil schools. Where is the unity?"