THE Dual Language Programme (DLP) is on, much to the pleasure of many Malaysian parents. The Education Ministry (MoE) has put to rest the speculation that DLP would be shown the exit door after a successful run. In fact the MoE has gone a step further. It is adding another 88 schools to the DLP this year, making a national total of 1,303. MoE has done the right thing. It is hard to dispute that English proficiency in the 1,215 participating schools has improved since the programme was implemented in January 2016. The results of English tests conducted under DLP are evidence enough. It is common knowledge that a growing number of our graduates are not proficient in English. DLP can help make them proficient and employable globally too.
To be fair, not all are rooting for the DLP. When it was first introduced, many pro-Bahasa Malaysia, Mandarin and Tamil groups opposed the piloting of DLP, arguing that such a programme would dilute the mastery of students’ native tongues. While this concern is certainly valid, it must be pointed out that language is best learnt early as our language acquisition capacity atrophies with age. Children can, on average, learn as many as eight languages by the time they are in middle school. It is for this reason that children in Europe are offered foreign languages in school, and, as it turns out European graduates have an edge in the global market. Florence Myles, writing in the Languages, Society & Policy Journal on May 21 last year, estimates that by the time a child turns four he already has had 17,000 hours of his native language. So, the pro-native tongue parents should not be worried because by the time the child enters primary school he has already had a headstart of close to 30,000 hours of Bahasa Malaysia, Mandarin or Tamil. Quantity counts, too. English or any other language for that matter, requires the learner to put in the hours. Again, in the estimate of Myles, if a child spends an hour a week, say on English, he would take 425 years of classroom work to match the input of children learning their native language.
Parents need to be comforted that DLP is not an off-the-shelf module implemented without consideration of the Malaysian context. On the contrary, DLP is a product of months of studied strategy of the Performance Management and Delivery Unit, an in-house consulting unit in the prime minister’s office, and MoE. Many professionals from the private and public sectors were consulted for ideas on teaching pedagogy. And time, money and mind-work have been expended in developing the strategies for teaching DLP and training the teachers. In short, DLP has been well thought through. Yes, DLP adds to the proficiency of the English language, but does not subtract from Bahasa, Mandarin or Tamil. Because, as a second tongue, English will always be second to Bahasa Malaysia, Mandarin or Tamil.