According to Malaysian MP Hasan Arifin, the use of English as a medium of instruction in schools is not a guarantor of success. But countries that do use English in schools and are successful don't count, for various reasons.
The chairperson of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) argued his case in the Dewan Rakyat during Malaysia's Budget 2018 debate, saying:
“The success of a country is not because of a language, but the development of a good system. Now, tell me, has any country in Asia that had adopted the English-medium (been) successful in its development?"
Before anyone could suggest Singapore as a counter-example, Hasan deftly dismissed that argument out of hand.
"If you talk about Singapore, it is not a country, but a city-state."
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The UMNO representative of Rompin, Pahang further elaborated by saying that Asian countries like Japan, Taiwan, China, and Korea did not use English in their schools but were successful.
However, Asia wasn't enough for Hasan. The United States also doesn't count because it has many different languages and professors and teachers from around the world.
"Show us, which country uses English as a medium that is successful in developing the country? Why are we so obsessed with restoring a language (medium) that does not show their success in developing their country?"
Growing support for English schools in Malaysia
Hasan's comments were prompted by a survey conducted by Singapore's own ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute. It surveyed 2,011 Johoreans, and found that a large majority -- 82 per cent -- favoured bringing back public English-medium schools.
In Dec. 2015, the Sultan of Johor expressed his dislike of Malaysia's multi-language, multi-stream school system, with separate Malay, Chinese and Tamil language primary schools.
He supported the adoption of a single-stream education system by Malaysia, in order to improve their proficiency in English and therefore give them an advantage in higher education.
"In those days, English schools were regarded as 'neutral ground'. All races attended these schools. During my time, it was a must to know both Malay and English," he said. "But now, when you teach mathematics, geography and history in Malay in (national primary) 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?
In countries such as France, Spain and China, young people are speaking English. It is the reverse in Malaysia. I am alarmed."
Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Abdul Rahman Dahlan recently expressed support for English-medium schools as well. On Nov. 20, he said:
"We cannot run away from the fact that English is a language that is used internationally and it will allow our children gain a competitive edge that will separate them from the rest.
Malaysians were once known to have an excellent command of the English language. Our graduates today, however, are said to have failed to master the language."
Despite this, it apparently isn't a compelling enough argument for Hasan.
Because if you took out the US -- and disregarded Singapore -- and the other countries in the world who use English in their schools but yet meet an arbitrary definition of success -- then yeah, there's no reason to adopt the use of English in schools.
Top image via screen shot from The Star Online's YouTube Channel.