Friday, October 17, 2014

LET THEM EAT MUET

by Azly Rahman


 


There is so much worry that the Malays are going to be left behind in the new English Language requirements for university entrance – the Malaysian University English Test (MUET).

There are so many groups making excuses that the kids from rural areas will be left behind.

Well, hasn't this been an argument since time immemorial? Never-ending excuses for those 'speaking for the Malays'.

Here is my advice to those learning and teaching the lingua franca.

You've got to work hard for it; just like anything else in life. We should have progressed a long time ago as a nation with good mastery of the English Language had we not politicised the issue.

It is time to grow up cognitively and have a 'do or die' attitude towards the language if one really wants to get a good university education with English as a medium of instruction.


Cry daily if you must – if you wish to master the language or any language for that matter or to master any skill. Look at what Bruce Lee did with his art.

All this talk about helping the Malays is not helping the Malays. Get on with the programme, hit the ground running, and get tough with what you want your students and children to do with regard to mastering the language.

Stop making excuses. It is not like all the Malaysian shop and road signs, even in Kelantan, are written in Urdu or Swahili.

The situation is very bad. Maybe if all of us master the language, we could actually understand terms such as 'liberalism' and 'human right-ism' without talking nonsense and confusing them with 'lebai-ism' and 'animal magnetism', as propagated by the 'Islamic state'.

I’d like to share a poem I wrote last year for my English teacher on the occasion of her birthday.

Ode to an English Teacher
(on the occasion of her birthday)

Somehow or rather
everytime I think of you
these verses come
serenaded to me as a child
whose love for the language
is immense
maybe not so much because of the profundity
of Beowulf
of Gilgamesh
of John Donne's poems
of Jonathan Swift's modest proposal
of the eerie opening words of Shakespeare's Macbeth
or the wonders of Keats, Shelley, and Byron
or of late
the beat poetry of Allen Ginsberg
– of Howl and the Velocity of Money
maybe not all these
but simple verses you taught us as a child
learning to know the world
and to be friends with its wonders
and with the great books
i would love to devour
daily
till the end of time
because you have taught us
the power of the word
as it becomes flesh
as it becomes
bricks
walls
structures
of power
in hope that
they will come back to become
a desiderata
you once taught us to read
to recite
as children
promised a world
in which
language
only language
makes reality
breaks reality
bends reality
become these
becomes us

That was my tribute to my English teacher who taught me the beauty of the English Language and how it has helped me explore other areas of knowledge such as philosophy, politics, anthropology, cybernetics, and a host of other fields of study.

I am a strong proponent of a radical change in Malaysian education that ought to bring back English-medium schools and to teach all subjects (except Bahasa Melayu) in the English language.

This must happen at the secondary school level in order to have a generation of good citizens and workers able to not only do well in our universities sloganised by the idea of “globalised campuses” competing in this or that world rankings, but also for them to participate in challenging a global economy that still uses English Language as lingua franca.

Most importantly, I'd like to see Islamic studies be taught in English in order for the ideas of liberalism in all its intellectual glory to take root. This might be the best antidote to the Ebola-isation of the idea of the 'Islamic state' we are seeing as a global-ideological pandemic.

We must go back to the drawing board and policy-makers, especially politicians and ultra-Malay linguistic nationalists, must be honest with themselves: what is best for their children must also be made available to the children of the poor.

And this includes challenging to greater heights those so-called children from the rural areas.

But first, as the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche said about teachers: “Educate, but first we must educate the educators!”

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