Don’t Talk Big, Mahathir, You Brought Down Our English

By Kee Thuan Chye
Yahoo! News

Not that I want to knock Mahathir Mohamad, you know, I’ve knocked him so many times before, but I cannot tahan laa when he tries to act innocent and say things should be like this or that now when he never did anything when he was prime minister to do the right things himself. In fact, for some things, he did the opposite.

Take what he now says about our graduates not being able to get jobs because they fail at interviews – because their English is poor. Now, let me ask him, when he was PM, did he do anything to make Malaysian students learn the language seriously other than learning Maths and Science in English? No, he didn’t!

He didn’t have the guts to go one step further and give more emphasis to learning English in schools. He floated the idea of bringing back English-medium schools but that petered out. He was only testing the idea. When it didn’t work, he pulled back, like a tortoise head into its shell.

He didn’t even make passing English at the Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM) exam compulsory. In fact, English ceased to be a must-pass subject in 1974, when he was education minister. He said Malay students might fail the whole SPM if English was a must-pass. Instead of spurring them on to master the language so that they would pass it and SPM as well, he gave them the easy way out. After that, succeeding generations of students couldn’t be bothered with English. He was responsible for that mistake. The National Union of Teachers protested, but did he care?

Well, Mahathir was education minister from 1974 to 1977, and during that time, Malay neo-nationalism was on the rise. Even Malay creative writers like Muhammad Haji Salleh and Syed Alwi who were originally writing in English were feeling uneasy about writing in the colonial language and decided to switch to writing in Malay. So Mahathir was going with the flow. He promoted Malay to please the nationalistic herd, and he had no qualms about letting our standard of English slide.

But now he says Malay language nationalists are wrong in thinking that nationalism is about being able to speak the national language well. Now he says, “Nationalism is about becoming successful in all fields of life, being able to contribute towards the growth and the development of your country and your race. Being able to stand tall … that is true nationalism.” And therefore the use of Malay, which is “not yet the language of maths and science”, should not be equated to nationalism.

Why didn’t he stand up and tell them that in the 1970s? In those days, Malay was even less of a language of maths and science. He was education minister, for crying out loud. He was a leader, he was supposed to lead with the right ideas. Of course lah, he didn’t because he was scared he would lose his position. In those days, if he had tried to champion English, he might have got lynched! And Mahathir must have loved his neck too much.

We know, however, what he was not scared of doing. In fact, it was one of the first things he did when he became education minister – the sort of thing he does best. Yes, exert control. Mahathir the control freak bulldozed university campuses and forced academia to be subjected to Government control. He kicked aside academics who opposed the move and placed his own men in vice-chancellor positions. I know that he replaced the excellent VC of Universiti Sains Malaysia, Hamzah Sendut, with a civil servant. What did civil servants know about administering universities except how to behave like feudal lords?

Mahathir took away academic freedom and politics in universities. He emasculated academics and threatened to withdraw the scholarships of students who were politically active. He introduced the culture of fear in campuses.

I also know for a fact that during his time as education minister, Malay gradually became the medium of instruction in our universities. When I entered university in 1973, students already had to answer exam questions and write essays up to 30 per cent in Malay, but as time went on, the percentage increased, until everything became totally Malay. Although Mahathir believed that English was important, he did nothing to reverse that. But imagine this, I did subjects like Shakespeare – and of course studying his plays in the original English – and still had to write essays and answer exam questions on Shakespeare at least 30 per cent in Malay! Sounds crazy, no?

Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for promoting Malay as the national language, but there are also limits and realities, don’t you think? And certainly not at the expense of losing our edge in English in the Asian region.

When Mahathir became PM, he could still have redeemed himself as far as English was concerned by bringing it back in a big way – to help Malaysian students. After all, he was head honcho now, and everyone was shit scared of him. Remember those bad old days when he was in charge? But he didn’t.

Late in his premiership – in fact, when he was just about to step down – in 2003, he introduced the teaching of Maths and Science in English, but what’s the point of having just those subjects taught in English? It’s only a half-measure. It doesn’t help students to gain proficiency in the language. They must use the language a lot of the time to be good at it. I should know. I went to English-medium schools, primary and secondary. We used the language all the time. That’s how to become good at it.

He should have brought back the English-medium schools, instead of just talk about it. But of course he was scared. We all knew that if he did that, his Umno ultras would have dunked him in English tea. And maybe even chewed him up. Hmmm … like biskut jari.

So, please, Mahathir, don’t act like you were so great and talk big now. For not laying the foundation when you were education minister and then PM, you are responsible for our graduates’ failure today to get jobs because they can’t speak proper English. You didn’t do your job. You didn’t lead. In fact, you brought down our standard of English. Yes, you! You were more concerned about keeping your position, exerting control over people, making people scared.

You did that by creating a Frankenstein – Islamisation. Because you were worried about PAS. You wanted Umno to appear more holy than any other body. You politicised not only the issue of race – with your Ketuanan Melayu concept – but also religion. You used religion to get Muslim support. In 2002, you told Parliament that Malaysia was an “Islamic state”. That was a shocker. I guess it must have even shocked the jubah off every PAS member!

And now you have the cheek to tell Malaysian Muslims to acquire technical and scientific knowledge rather than focus on religious knowledge. What laa? After all that Islamisation, now this? Are you schizophrenic or what? Or are you still trying to screw up the minds of the people you once ruled over?

OK la, you’ve caused enough damage already laa, old man. Just lay off and go into a quiet corner and roll over. Don’t open your big trap again. You’re grounded.

* Kee Thuan Chye is the author of the new book The Elections Bullshit, now available in bookstores.

  1. #1 by sheriff singh on Friday, 15 November 2013 - 12:45 pm

    Teach Science and Math in English? When the teacher says One push One equals All Fall Down, you just know your kids are in trouble.

    Even in the early 1970s, if you gain entry into a local university or the Language Institute (LI), Technical College (TC), Agricultural College (AC) or a Teacher Training College (TTC), you were somebody and the whole neightbourhood would kow-tow to you. Such was the awe and respect for you as entry into any one of these institutions was very, very competitive. You just got to fight, fight, fight for a place. Every student studied very, very hard to get good results in LCE, MCE, SC, GCE, HSC etc.

    These days, anyone can get a degree with our 30 over public universities and 500 over private colleges who just love to give you their degree if you will just give them your money. Every kampong house has got a graduate or two, or three or four. Just about every one has got a sijil of some sort. It is that easy.

    Where is the competitive spirit and excellence these days ? We used to laugh at the standards and quality of Indian degrees back then but today, these Indian degrees are far much better than our local ones which only have some value because our government decreed that it has some value but the employers know better. So the government employs these misfits into our already bloated Civil Service to feed these unemployables with bonuses. Courts and Ahlongs just love these people as they do not know how to count.

    When our senior judges use the internet for their ‘research’ and come out with bull and no law, we know we are in deep trouble. When senior officials see the need for their involvement in politics for their progressions, you know we are in trouble. When the government use excavators and bulldozers to ‘beautify’ temples, you know we are in trouble. When the authorities do not care for your human rights and shoot first and ask questions later, you know we are like some country in Africa. And you can see the primates in Parliament with their ‘monkey see, monkey do’ antics.

    We should thank our ‘leaders’ since the 70s for our troubles. These days, who is afraid of Mahathir anymore? It is now Open Season and we should see more people coming out hunting and gunning for him and his family. No need for any apologies from anyone.

    • #2 by cemerlang on Friday, 15 November 2013 - 4:44 pm

      You all allowed it for 22 b years. Because you all think the highest of him.

  2. #3 by yhsiew on Friday, 15 November 2013 - 1:02 pm

    That is how Mahathirism has ruined the standard of English in Bolehland.

  3. #5 by ENDANGERED HORNBILL on Friday, 15 November 2013 - 1:14 pm

    Mad hat or mad as a hare.

    Much water has passed under the bridge since Mad Hare’s days. Now that the water has receded, the muck is all laid bare.
    All the Mad Hatter’s muckraking now only shows the muck he’s left behind.
    And what a mucky legacy he’s left for Malaysians.

    Now the Mad Hatter has to do just the right thing.. and that is, ride quietly off into the sunset.

    Malaysians have had enough, bro.

  4. #6 by lee tai king (previously dagen) on Friday, 15 November 2013 - 1:26 pm

    Yeah. Malaysia became a disaster during monsterO’mamak’s time. And now umno is continuing his effort with renewed momentum.

  5. #8 by Godfather on Friday, 15 November 2013 - 2:27 pm

    Mamakthir’s social engineering policies were designed for only one purpose – to give an extra advantage to one particular race. It started out as attempts to level the playing field e.g. rural students not as proficient as urban students in understanding English, and it gradually became a “must have” ingredient of Malay ketuanan. Any question over such social engineering policies would be met with (a) perceived constitutional rights and (b) threats to evict from this country.

    Mamakthir instituted the right to answer exam papers in either English or BM. Then it became compulsory to answer in BM. When non-malays end up doing better than Malays in exams, he instituted preferential marking systems and lowering passing marks. Then he decreed that UiTM’s matriculation would be equal to STPM and A levels so as to circumvent any talk of lack of meritocracy.

    Muhyiddin is following in Mamakthir’s footsteps in terms of structuring education policies to only benefit one race – and to hell with any arguments on meritocracy or on the long term damage to the country.

  6. #9 by bumi-non-malay on Friday, 15 November 2013 - 4:22 pm

    Why bother with giving him air space….Shut him down By Ignoring Bapa Kemerosotan malaysia…He will DIE with those Words engraved in ALL Malaysian Minds and hearts.

    Nothing Tun says will improve Malaysia…..nothing he does will improve your lives…Just ignore him and Pakatan would do good to IGNORE him….regardless of what nonsense and sense he tries to connect….Like Social media thumbs down and Ignore him. That is the pain Tun have to live with…to die UNLOVED by 65% Malaysian…. ABU UBAH….PECAT Malaya!!

  7. #10 by yhsiew on Friday, 15 November 2013 - 4:38 pm

    • #11 by cemerlang on Friday, 15 November 2013 - 4:47 pm

      South Korea, Japan, China still excel despite majority population know only their language.

  8. #12 by undertaker888 on Friday, 15 November 2013 - 5:45 pm

    Not just English. He brought down many things and conveniently forgot about it.

  9. #13 by omeqiu on Friday, 15 November 2013 - 6:09 pm

    Cemerlang, I agree with you. It’s the lazy people, not the language that impedes the progress of the country.

  10. #14 by tak tahan on Saturday, 16 November 2013 - 3:20 am

    LKS,r u really reading comments posted here ? Why my comments still waiting for ur approval after more than half day ?Which part is wrong with my comments ? Can’t tell why you choose and pick as u like.What words can’t be said can be easily just put out for all to see and considered and to save our time……..

  11. #15 by Noble House on Saturday, 16 November 2013 - 4:24 am

    Is Mahathir contradicting himself yet again with the subject of the English language when an article reportedly stating that Malaysia is No.1 in English Proficiency in Asia?

  12. #16 by ENDANGERED HORNBILL on Saturday, 16 November 2013 - 8:18 am

    Bapa Kemerosotan!

    Ingenious. Hit the nail on the head.

    Henceforth, “He-whose-name-curries-Odium” is a.k.a ‘Bapa Kemerosotan.”

  13. #17 by Bigjoe on Saturday, 16 November 2013 - 11:47 am

    When will people get it that you can’t tell Mahathir to stop opening his mouth especially when he wants to lie. He is like that irritating know it all in kid in school that looks down on everyone but in fact all-talk that is the only one that deserves a real bullying and you do the worst to him and still does no good.

    Truth is the only real thing to do is to make him irrelevant. His post-retirement of consolidating the biggest ill-gotten wealth in this country is fundamentally about his deep-seated fear of irrelevance of his legacy including maybe especially in future Malaysian history. He is just afraid that he is proven to be just one bad dream or lesson for most Malaysian, the world and be punished for it.

  14. #18 by on cheng on Monday, 18 November 2013 - 9:54 am

    Just under whose rule, when? that made ringgit Malaysiam from 99 cents (Spore) 41 cents (Spore) ??
    So, what is so great about this person ??
    when Malaysians cross causeway or into Brunei, and find his RM100, is less than S$41 or BR$41, he or she know who to blame ?

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