The sudden and extremely questionable introduction of “imported” English Language textbooks

As part of overall efforts to improve the quality of teaching and learning of English in our education system, the Ministry of Education (MOE) announced that current English Language textbooks will be replaced with a curriculum aligned with the Common European Framework of Reference for Language (CEFR). According to the ministry, because locally published textbooks do not adhere to the CEFR framework, imported books will be used instead.

Expensive “imported” textbooks

According to two circulars issued by MOE on 16 August and 12 September this year, year 1 and 2 students will use the Super Minds textbook published by Cambridge University Press, while form 1 and 2 students will use Pulse 2 by Macmillan. These books will be used as the main textbooks while the existing KSSR (Kurikulum Standard Sekolah Rendah) and KSSM (Kurikulum Standard Sekolah Menengah) textbooks will no longer be distributed to students and instead may be used as reference or supplementary material.

Unfortunately, the sudden policy decision by MOE has raised much consternation and concern, especially with regards to its rushed implementation. Firstly, the new “imported” textbooks are far more expensive than existing ones, costing RM38.80 a copy for Super Minds and RM38 a copy for Pulse 2. Based on current enrolment figures of 450 thousand students in year 1 and 400 thousand students in form 1,[1] the total cost to provide textbooks for each child in those two cohorts would amount to RM33 million. In contrast, locally published textbooks currently used cost less than RM10 a copy.

The prohibitive cost of these books is also questionable as these supposedly “imported” books are not actually imported but printed locally and supplied through local publishers Pan Asia Publications for Super Minds and Desa Fikir for Pulse 2. Are these books then purposely labelled as “imported” in order to justify the high price paid for them?

Completely foreign context and instructions

Worse, these textbooks were wholly copied word for word from the original versions, and as such carries a very strong British context with zero local content. For example, page 75 of unit 7 in the form 1 textbook Pulse 2 (see attached image) features an article about Andrew, an Amish teenager from Mississippi, USA who is going on a visit with other Amish teenagers to London. During his stay, Andrew will be visiting a sports club, attend a music festival and try some traditional British sports.

The article ends with an instruction: “Watch Channel 4 on Friday at 8pm to see how Andrew gets on!” After that, among the exercise questions asked include: “Do you think Andrew will enjoy his trip to Britain? Why (not)?”

Notwithstanding the fact that such content, which describes the visit of an Amish teenager to Britain, is incredibly foreign and meaningless in our Malaysian context, how are our students supposed to refer to the TV programme in question when Channel 4, a British TV station, is not available here in Malaysia. At the same time, how are our students expected to respond to the question of whether Andrew will enjoy his trip to Britain when almost all our students cannot even imagine what Britain looks like? Obviously, the use of such content makes no sense and has not been thought through.

In order to facilitate the learning of any subject, it always helps when local cultural references are used. In this case, the extensive use of foreign cultural references will only confuse students and teachers. In the end, the learning and teaching of English will be even more difficult.

Zairil Khir Johari
Member of Parliament for Bukit Bendera
DAP Parliamentary Spokesperson for Education, Science and Technology

Pulse 2 coverPulse 2 p75

[1] Ministry of Education, Quick Facts: Malaysia Educational Statistics 2016.

NB: This press statement was released on 23 November 2017 in Kuala Lumpur.

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