Where is Our Trump Card? (New Straits Times 18 October 2006)

Lately the educational ministry has announced that the ministry will introduce Mandarin classes in National Schools (Sekolah Kebangsaan), in order to enhance the students’ language competitiveness in the rapidly changing global market in the 21st century. Credits should be given to the ministry’s global perspective, and I believe that every Malaysian is really forward to this new policy to succeed in our lovely multicultural and multilingual country because every language that Malaysians learn is an asset to the country.

When we have a goal, we will surely need to know what the best way to reach our goal is, say, if we want to build a nice house we will then need a good architect, good construction workers and good electricians to build up the nice house that we dream for. Same case goes for language education. The educational ministry is considering employing Chinese teachers from China to fill up the Mandarin teaching vacancies in national schools. It is really good if a small number of the Mandarin teachers in national schools, for instance, 10 percent out of the total Mandarin teachers are employed from China in order to foster better understanding and cooperation between China and Malaysia. Furthermore, Malaysian students would also have the opportunity to learn more about our neighbour in Asia.

However, things may not turn out what we expected it to be if we fill up all the Mandarin teaching vacancies in national schools by employing teachers from China. This is due to the fact that the teachers from China do not understand the multicultural and multilingual society in Malaysia. They do not know Bahasa Malaysia, nor do they know the norm and the unspoken ‘grammar’ of our society which comprises Malay, Chinese, Indians, Sabahans and Sarawakians. Some may argue that we could employ graduates from Beijing Foreign Studies University where Bahasa Malaysia courses are taught, but the point is that why do we have to employ so many foreign teachers when we have already had our local Mandarin teachers in place?

Malaysia is considered the country which has the highest level of proficiency in Mandarin other than Mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan. We have the largest number of Chinese language talents outside China within our country, and it is really a pity if we do not make good use of our local talents. Students in the private Chinese schools are the best assets in hand now. Many countries, namely US, UK, Germany, France, as well as Singapore and Thailand, our rivals in South East Asia, are competing to recruit Chinese language talents by all means. The Singaporean educational ministry has been visiting Taiwan every year to recruit Malaysian fresh graduates who majored in Chinese to teach Mandarin in Singapore. Isn’t it a grievance to know the truth that our Chinese majors in China, Taiwan and Hong Kong are working for Singapore, Thailand and other countries? Why have we been giving our trump cards to our rivals?

I hereby suggest that the educational ministry set up a condition for students who graduated from private Chinese schools- the Unified Examination Certificate (UEC or “Tong Kao” in Mandarin) holders and who are willing to teach Mandarin in national schools to get at least a credit for Bahasa Malaysia in SPM, a Band 6 for IELTS, or 580 for TOEFL, and of course, a credit for Mandarin in UEC examination. Three credits in three languages would be good enough to teach Mandarin as a second language. The ministry should set up a standard to let those UEC students know what the criteria to be a Mandarin in national schools is if the ministry is worrying about the BM and English level of the UEC students and Chinese majors. Closing the doors totally to the UEC holders and Chinese majors in China, Taiwan and Hong Kong, whose certificates and degrees are widely accepted and recognised by most of the countries in the world, will only cause more doors opened with warm welcomes abroad.

Listen to our hearts; do we want to give up our trump cards in hand to our opponents? Or we make good use of our trump cards in order to foster our competitiveness in terms of multicultural and multilingual to service the biggest markets in the world, namely China, India, South East Asia and the English-speaking and Muslim worlds as written by Mr. Ye Lin-Sheng in his book, “The Chinese Dilemma”? Make the most of the resources that we have within the country to enhance our competitiveness in the global market, and strengthen our position as a vigorous multicultural country to service the world.

(Department of Chinese Studies, National Taiwan Normal University)

P/S: Please take note that the New Straits Times editor edited my article and didn’t allow my sharpest questions to be seen on the newspaper. It was published as Teachers of Mandarin: Make Use of Local Resources on Letters to the Editor column on 18 October 2006. This is the original article that I sent to NST.

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