The Problems and Issues in Teaching and Learning English as a Second Language in Malaysia
English language is known as an international language and is spoken by most people in this world. English has spread throughout the world most extensively and has dominated a number of important fields including international commerce, education, and communication. Asia is not an exception to such global trend. (Crystal, 1997). English language has been included in the school curriculum many Asian countries in recognition that “it can contribute to students’ personal, linguistic, social and cultural development” (Le, 2004, p. 167). According to Asmah Haji Omar (1992), in the 1960s, the British colonial education system introduced the teaching of English in Malaysia and it is still entrenched in the current Malaysian educational system. English is taught as a second language in all Malaysian schools which is also a compulsory subject in both the primary and secondary schools. In the tertiary level, local undergraduates who plan to pursue their tertiary education at Malaysian universities are compulsorily required to register a stipulated credit hour of English courses based on the result of their Malaysian University English Test (MUET) which is an English proficiency assessment course (Malaysian Examination Council, 2006).
The History of English in Malaysia
Malaysian had gained independence in 1957 from the British and there have been vast changes in various fields. The education system was one field that has gone through several changes since then. Various policies have been implemented related to the education syllabus and the medium of instruction used in imparting knowledge. Malaysia has continued to practise linguistic segregation, which is a divide and rule system inherited from colonial era as far as individual schools are concerned (Solomon, 1988). According to Santhiram (1999), schools in the past were set up along ethnic lines and conducted in different languages.
According to Darus (2013), during the pre-independence, primary schools were available in four mediums of instruction. Malay was used as the medium in National schools, while English, Mandarin or Tamil in National-type schools. The Malay, Mandarin and Tamil medium schools were catered to the different ethnics in the country which are the Malays, Chinese and Indian children. English medium schools were mainly found in urban areas and were not popular among the Malays because of its location. The secondary schools were mainly through English or Malay which were catered for students from Form 1 to Form 5.
During the port-independence, English was the established language of administration and the language of education for urban school children. The implementation of the National Language and National Educational Policies made a changeover to Bahasa Malaysia for the primary and secondary level of education. Malay language was declared as the sole national language in 1967. After a severe riot in May 1969, which catalysed a change in the education where all English medium schools were instructed to be phase out. In July1969 that beginning from January 1970, English-medium schools would be phased out in Malaysia and by 1985 all former English-medium (National-type) schools would become Malay-medium (National) schools which was declared by the Minister of Education at that time. The Third Malaysia Plan (1976-1980) states that “Bahasa Malaysia (Malay) is the basis for national integration but the plan also states that “measures will be taken to ensure that English is taught as a strong second language” (Government of Malaysia,1976, p.386). The reasons given for the maintenance of English was “to keep abreast of scientific and technological developments in the world and to participate meaningfully in international trade and commerce” (Government of Malaysia,1976, p. 391).