Finger pointing over poor English in Malaysia textbooks

Nazir Razak says Malaysian workforce losing edge, renews call to boost proficiency

PETALING JAYA • Concerns over dipping standards in English made headlines in Malaysia yesterday as several science and mathematics workbooks prescribed for students preparing for public examinations in Malaysia were found to be littered with bad grammar and usage.

This came as CIMB chairman Nazir Razak, the younger brother of Prime Minister Najib Razak, made a renewed call for schools to focus on beefing up proficiency in the English language.

"Never thought I'd see this day. English is a global language and, as a nation, we should declare English language proficiency as our top priority," Datuk Seri Nazir wrote in a post on Instagram alongside an image of a news article, reported The Nation.

"It's a traditional edge that our workforce is losing fast; we must reverse the deterioration now. (And no, it does not mean we have to neglect bahasa!)" said Mr Nazir.

The article posted by Mr Nazir on Instagram was about Japanese carmaker Honda's plans to switch its official corporate language from Japanese to English by 2020 in a bid to improve communication with the international market.

'REVERSE DETERIORATION NOW'

Never thought I'd see this day. English is a global language and, as a nation, we should declare English language proficiency as our top priority. It's a traditional edge that our workforce is losing fast; we must reverse the deterioration now. (And no, it does not mean we have to neglect bahasa!)

CIMB CHAIRMAN NAZIR RAZAK, the younger brother of Prime Minister Najib Razak, in a post on Instagram yesterday alongside an image of a news article

Newspaper reports said that science and mathematics textbooks for students preparing for public examinations were riddled with jumbled tenses and wrong prepositions, citing the example of one science reference book for Form Three students.

The textbook is said to have included actual questions from the Pentaksiran Tingkatan 3 (assessment grade 3) public examination test papers that were reproduced with the permission of the Malaysian Examinations Syndicate.

"We took them 100 per cent from the actual papers. We just arranged them for our workbooks before publishing," said manager Mohd Sharizan Walat of the workbook's publication house.

"We checked several times. The questions and the suggested answers are duplicated exactly from the test scripts by the examinations syndicate. There shouldn't be any errors," he said when asked about the mistakes, which were apparently in the 2014 test papers.

Deputy Education Minister P. Kamalanathan said the blame for the errors lay solely with the publishers, pointing out that private publications do not come under the ministry.

"Sometimes the publishers just cut and paste from the exam papers and do not check thoroughly," he said. He also claimed that if there were errors in the original question papers, the parents of students who took the test would have complained.

The standard of English at Malaysian schools has been under the spotlight in recent times.

Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, who is also Education Minister, said late last year during a dialogue on the Malaysian Higher Education Blueprint 2015-2025 that "something is not right" when students are still struggling with English when they enter university.

In May, Johor's Sultan Ibrahim Ibni Almarhum Sultan Iskander made a call at the opening of the state assembly for Malaysia to emulate Singapore by adopting the English language as the medium of instruction in schools. He reiterated the suggestion in a recent interview with The Star.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 23, 2015, with the headline 'Finger pointing over poor English in textbooks'. Print Edition | Subscribe