Sunday, September 16, 2012

The English language--The sacred cow for citizens

During my student era, the English language was the sacred cow in our education system. As a lingua franca to our multi-ethnic society, its importance to our social cohesion is indisputable. Nevertheless, our education system went over board in placing the English language on the pedestal, that it was the determinant to one's academic progression (mother tongue language is another similar subject which was attached with political agenda but it will not be the focus of discussion in this entry) Meaning that if you were to fail your English at an internal school exam, you will have to repeat your academic year even despite scoring all the stars for the rest of your subjects.

The English language was not just a mere tool in fostering a social cohesion to our then population whereby I was already the second generation of our immigrant society, but served concurrently as a political tool in cementing the power of the English-speaking elite as oppositional to the Mandarin- or other ethnic language- speaking elites.

I have a classmate and relative who passed all their subjects apart from English at O level and were forced onto the path of polytechnic. In fact, my classmate had better grades than me in most of the subjects failing only English. I felt weird. Because of the fact that she was an academically better student than me and she scored A for the other English-medium subjects, proving that she has sufficient knowledge of English to achieve good grades and that should suffice.

I could rumble on for ages on this subject. Nevertheless, the question that I would like to raise is that, with such immense importance placed on this language on its own citizens, why is it now otherwise for a certain group of foreign nationals (termed foreign talents by the policy makers) working on our island? In other words, why are advantages and privileges thrown at this group of foreigners whereby the command of English language is not even a pre-requisite to their jobs when English language is our education medium, our working and social language?

My high school classmate came into my mind. She was penalized for the failure of mastering the English language and took a different educational path from me. No doubt polytechnic students still stand chances of pursuing an university education in our local institutions, there is a limitation to the number of students allowed. However, given her excellent overall results, why was she subject to such?

And yet the expectations on our citizens to help out these foreign nationals with their limited or virtually non-existent English language at their work places, inconveniencing customers and co-workers, and at the same time, their very presence pose a direct challenge to our local wages. It makes no sense to me as these foreigners bring no additional benefits to the quality of our lives and in fact on the contrary and to the extent of being detrimental to our own citizens, but more monetary benefits for business owners, property owners and MNCs where a large proportion of employees are foreigners anyway. Ultimately, policy makers stand to gain and therefore explain their irresponsible act of urging citizens to embrace foreign influx.