Reading, speaking, writing: Malaysia’s lost treasures

Do we have what it takes to acknowledge we have failed horribly and to get back on our feet and raise our literary competencies?


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Reading widely, speaking fluently and writing sharply and with clarity are today lost treasures in Malaysia.

Why and how have we come to this state? Who is to be blamed? 

Veteran journalist and blogger Kadir Jasin said, “A nation that doesn’t read cannot think. A nation that doesn’t think cannot speak and a nation that doesn’t speak has no voice.”

So true. I can vouch for that, as I have trained thousands of executives in Malaysia (not counting those in foreign lands) over decades.

The executives of thirty years ago and those of today are so different. 

Today it is no surprise to find executives lacking in speaking skills and being completely incompetent in writing. 

To meet their communication needs, many companies and public sector organisations hire external consultants.

Many graduates appear shockingly uninterested in reading as well. Buying books each month on payday is a dead culture. 

Many graduates in business, marketing or communication do not even know the noted writers who have contributed to the body of knowledge in their own fields. 

Executives who have to write their own profiles or a one-page report, let alone a proposal, find it a colossal struggle.

Our nation’s prospects look bleak, with a growing vacuum of capabilities.

Do we have what it takes to acknowledge we have failed horribly and to get back on our feet and raise our literary competencies?

The education system today has collapsed. Not a few graduates appear unable to speak and write competently. Let’s not even ask if they have a passion for reading to gain knowledge and mastery in their work. 

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Our education culture has regressed. Many parents put more emphasis on tuition classes (if they can afford it) for their children. Others resort to copy, cut-and-paste remedies to get by. 

We have dumped our tradition of encouraging the habit of reading, even in our homes. 

Today, many even feel that buying books as gifts for festive seasons – Hari Raya, the Lunar New Year, Deepavali or Christmas – is a crazy idea. 

Instead, they think that distributing cash packets and lighting expensive fireworks is a more modern way to attain happiness.

Why, even many teachers themselves do not have the reading habit. Ask around and see how many teachers read at least one book a month. 

Many classrooms have little time to master the art of reading, writing and speaking because they have too many other subjects to cover, so claim some teachers.

If policymakers, teachers, parents and students continue to pay lip service to reading, speaking and writing skills, our nation’s human resources will suffer.

I have doubts we can rediscover these lost treasures after witnessing the downward trend among the executives I have coached over the past thirty years.

The views expressed in Aliran's media statements and the NGO statements we have endorsed reflect Aliran's official stand. Views and opinions expressed in other pieces published here do not necessarily reflect Aliran's official position.
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