Malaysia is encouraging its schools to teach more classes in English as manufacturers and company chiefs say a deteriorating command of the language is hurting the country’s competitiveness.
Over 90 percent of the 190,000 respondents in an online poll this month said there should be an option to take more subjects in the language, Idris Jala, head of the government’s Performance Management and Delivery Unit, told Bloomberg.
Prime Minister Najib Razak introduced a dual-language program during his budget speech last week.
“Malaysia has lost its competitiveness due to our standards in English going down,” AirAsia Bhd. co-founder Tony Fernandes wrote on Twitter this month.
It’s a critical time “to reverse decades of decline in English”, he said. “Our children have suffered.”
The government has flip-flopped on policies for English for over a decade.
A delay in August on making it a compulsory pass subject in a major exam for high-school students renewed debate about the education system.
It drew criticism from manufacturers who say the delay would weaken efforts to make Malaysian graduates more employable amid Malaysia’s efforts to become a high-income country by 2020.
The country shifted to the Malay language, known as Bahasa Melayu, from English as the primary language used by teachers, in an effort to promote integration between the ethnic Malay majority and ethnic Chinese.
The government revived math and science lessons in English in 2003, only to switch back to Malay in 2012.
In 2013, an education blueprint said it would be compulsory to pass English for fifth-year high-school students taking a national exam starting next year. That changed in August.
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