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Johor Bahru, 25 Feb. 2016

In conjunction with the visit to UTM by the British High Commissioner, Her Excellency Victoria Treadell, the British High Commission (BHC) GREAT Debate was held for the first time in the UTM Senate Hall.

This landmark event is part of the British High Commission signature programmes, happening for the first time in this southern region.

Apart from the British High Commissioner, also present at the event were the Vice Chancellor of UTM, Datuk Prof Ir Wahid Omar and HRH Tuanku Permaisuri Johor, Raja Zarith Sofiah binti AlMarhum Sultan Idris Shah, who graced the occasion.

The title of the debate was “Does an English Medium Education increase competitiveness or dilute identity”. The panel-led debate was moderated by Sharaad Kuttan from BFM Radio, an official partner of the GREAT Debate Series.

The hall was filled with UTM student leaders, staff and students of the university, as well as participants from outside. The UTM students participated actively in the Q&A session. The event was also ‘live telecast’ to UTM KL campus.

The panelists consist of leading figures in education, youth leaders and young opinion makers, namely Mohamed Raimi Ab Rahim, President of ABIM (Angkatan Belia Islam Malaysia), Prof Malachi Edwin Vethamani, Professor of Modern English Literature, University of Nottingham Malaysia, Wan Saiful Wan Jai, Chief Executive of IDEAS (Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs), Cheryl Fernando, Teach for Malaysia Alumni, Emeritus Professor Abdullah Hassan and a youth representative of Nation Building School.

Among the issues highlighted in the debate was that decisions to have an English medium education or otherwise should not be politicised. Whatever decisions made should be for the good of our students and not create a negative impact on their understanding and performance.

Flip flop and inconsistent decisions should be avoided as it would only be detrimental to both teachers and students instead of doing more good for them.

For an English Medium Education to be implemented, the teachers concerned should have a good command of English and be able to deliver the subject matter confidently in English. Students should also be able to function effectively in English if an English Medium Education is being implemented. If not, it would be to the disadvantage of both teachers and students.

Decisions for an English or Malay medium education would have to take into consideration the main language used by the community of the area concerned. If Bahasa Melayu (BM) is widely spoken or is commonly used by the majority of the population in a particular area or constituency, why should English be the language of instruction!

What is most important in deciding which medium to be used is to ensure that understanding of the principles of the subject matter is achieved and enhanced through the language of instruction. If the subject matter is better delivered and understood in BM, then the language of instruction should be in BM. It does not matter what subject it is, whether it is Science, Mathematics, History or any subject. If understanding is better gained through delivery in Bahasa Melayu, so be it.

It was also highlighted that learning of another language such as English and using the language or becoming proficient in the language will never make one less a Malay, Chinese or Indian. It will also not make one lose his/her identity just by speaking in another language. In fact, being proficient in another language like English would be to one’s advantage in this increasingly global environment as English is the most widely used language of communication around the world.

In fact, for those in the academic field, English is the language of knowledge and scholarship in most disciplines and that publications in international journals are mostly in English. Thus, a good command of English will ease knowledge acquisition and dissemination.

It was also highlighted that schools should be given the freedom of choice to either implement a Malay or English Medium Education. If the schools are more comfortable having English as the medium of instruction, then they should be allowed to conduct all lessons and related activities in English.

On the whole, it was a well organised and dynamic panel-led debate with both panelists and participants giving their views and sharing insights on the topic with substance and decorum.

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