It is understandable if there is dissatisfaction over the abrupt announcement that the compulsory pass in SPM English scheduled to be implemented in 2016 has been put on hold. This is purportedly to “allow teachers and students to have more time and opportunities to prepare”. Be that as it may, there are also many teachers and students who are well prepared and are ready for the “challenge”. To them, it is totally disappointing and frustrating, to say the least.

Some have suggested that we give the system another five years or so. I shudder to imagine what really will be the outcome. We can do away with all these so-called “politically correct” talk.

So, is there another way that can be more practical and accommodating? We may take a leaf from history.

I remember that in the 50’s and 60’s, our Form Five students then took the MCE (Malayan Certificate of Education) examination. A credit pass in English was compulsory for the award of the certificate.

There was also a requirement that candidates must secure at least an ordinary pass, that is Grades P7 and P8 in the Bahasa Kebangsaan (National Language) paper (BK). The Malay Language was then only beginning to gain prominence.

Nevertheless, candidates could also choose to sit for the Bahasa Melayu (Malay Language) papers (BM), which was a “harder” version of the Bahasa Kebangsaan paper. A compulsory pass in BM was not necessary to get the MCE; only a pass in BK was required.

A reversal of role in Bahasa Melayu and English can be discerned here.

In this “transition” period, why not have TWO versions of the SPM English papers? A pass in the “simpler” version (as that of BK) is sufficient for one to get the SPM certificate. Students who are more confident and competent can also opt to sit for the “harder” version of the English papers (as that of BM).

Postponing or delaying implementation of a compulsory pass in SPM English may send the wrong message and have a dampening effect on the learning of the language especially for students in the rural setting.

Those in the Ministry must realise that they can have many batches/years of Form Five students to “experiment” with. But, for a child, he/she has only one year to sit in a Form Five class.

We must strive to give them the most fulfilling and beneficial experience in learning the English Language, whether they are from a rural or an urban school.

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