[Letter to the Editor] Recognition of English alongside BM as official language in Sarawak a big win for State govt

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By Lating Minggang

As I see it.

It’s better late than never, and after 59 years following the formation of Malaysia, the usage of English alongside Bahasa Malaysia (BM) will finally be recognised as Sarawak’s official language by the Federal government following the amendment of the agreement by the unity government with the State.

This indeed, has proven that the State government’s effort to fight for Sarawak’s rights under the Malaysia Agreement 1963 (MA63) has finally materialised and bore fruit.

Our country is widely known for being a multiracial country with a diversified culture and religion, hence, it needs various concepts and methods towards building a united nation.

The farsighted vision of the unity government under the leadership of Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim who understands that the rights of the State government that needs to be protected under the Federal Constitution, is indeed commendable.

Yesterday (Dec 16), Sarawak Premier Datuk Patinggi Tan Sri Abang Johari Tun Openg had spoken to the Sarawak Dayak Graduates Association (SDGA) members regarding the amendment during the SDGA’s 21st anniversary celebration at night.

Abang Johari stated that the original unity government agreement only included Article 152 of the Federal Constitution that was for the use of BM as the country’s official language. However, Article 161 was then included, so that the use of English can also be used alongside BM, as Sarawak’s official language.

To Sarawak, English language has an enormous impact on the State’s cultural evolution, sustenance of the State’s labour pool, and in some ways too, it’s also an integral part of the peoples’ critical thinking skills. This was mainly due to the English education system that was adopted by Sarawak many years back.

The use of the English language needs to be strengthened in the State, since the language is also being used worldwide internationally in the global market.

This quick action by our Premier to include Article 161 was in fact to safeguard Sarawak from the continuous erosion of MA63.

Lest we forget, one of the rights under the MA63 is that Sarawak has been exerting its right to use English as its official language for the past 59 years.

English is the universal language being used globally, and therefore, in order to keep abreast and be competitive with the global market, it does make sense for Sarawak to use English language alongside BM as the State’s official language.

Reverting to English medium schools may be a good idea

It is worth a thought too if the State could also try to explore the idea to revert back to English medium in the State’s education system, and at the same time, still emphasise the importance of BM as the national language.

For instance, if Malaysia had not constantly changed the education system, the country’s higher educational institutions by now should have been on a par or similar to the colonial heritage countries like Singapore and Hong Kong.

Furthermore, it is a known fact too that the industry players have long highlighted the issues about the poor command of English and soft skills by most of the new graduates.

There were also some critics that had raised the issues about some of the graduates that could not achieve the critical thinking and problem-solving skills expectations as per the standard, as required by most, if not all the corporate players.

The industry players too have long highlighted about the poor command of English and soft skills by some of the new graduates.

Changing the education system into English medium would require a strong political will, and also require a completely different corporate culture within the Ministry of Education.

These changes most probably could be of some help to Malaysian education in order to realign it to the needs of tomorrow’s society.

This is also a good strategy, since the use of English can be a game changer for our country, i.e. if we want to equip our graduates to be competitive in the global market.

The transition to the English medium may require a generation to achieve, however, if our country wants to remain competitive with the rest, then re-imagining or re-engineering must start to occur now. This undoubtedly, could turn our country’s past failure in education into a great success.

For instance, the rude awakening normally comes, more often than not, to those people who keep denying the importance of English language, whereby they could see the adverse consequences effect, being faced by those unemployable graduates, who tried to work in multinational companies. One of the major things that is lacking and common among these graduates is that, with regard to their ability to communicate in English.

The truth will prevail on how important it is for the graduates to acquire English literacy in order to have a competitive edge. In the private sector, multilingual skills are also crucial in securing a job.

English literacy is a prerequisite in today’s technological and information age, in order to be employable in an extremely competitive, globalised labour market.

Moreover, English literacy is a must in multinational companies in order for the staff to be able to communicate with their counterpart overseas or international business clients, on technical, business and shipping matters.

For those who can only communicate in BM, their jobs may be confined mainly to being employed in the government sector.

The same sentiment about the usage of English in the State, was reiterated by Abang Johari, who in 2017, said that English will remain an official language of the State.

Most recently in 2021, Sarawak’s liberty to use English as its official language was further confirmed by Dato Sri Dr Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar, who stressed that, unlike the other states in the country, Sarawak is not required to use BM in its official purposes.

Due to all the reasons mentioned above, Sarawak still uses English as its official language even after 59 years of Malaysia’s formation.

While many, in particular from Malaya, might disagree with the usage of languages other than BM, as the official language, they could not argue with the State’s decision, since, it is afterall, well within, the rights of the State, to do so.

In fact, let it be known that Sarawak is merely exercising its rights, i.e. exerting something that is a part of MA63. — DayakDaily

Lating Minggang is the Walikota for Kapit District Council.

This is the personal opinion of the author and does not necessarily represent the views of DayakDaily. Letters to the Editor may be lightly edited for clarity.