This is a perennial topic where discussion can go on forever because there are so many different angles to it. I am adding another one.
I think the key focus must be on the education of our young people for their own future and their own good. The ultimate purpose of education is individual survival of the person being educated. There is the master who has knowledge and hopefully wisdom. He is the master because he has learned to survive and now his role is to teach the young.
In traditional societies, the elders teach the young how and where to hunt and fish and plant crops and raise husbandry. To live in peace and harmony among the villagers, the elders teach manners and courtesy. There are customs of how things are to be done when certain things happens, akin to the standard practice instructions or standard operating procedure of modern organisations. The whole village also learn how to make peace with nature in hope of an abundant harvest and plentiful feasting.
At a certain point in the history of the current human civilisation enter religion which is also dictates a way of existence and survival in a certain environment, probably of a very harsh nature. The people are taught to keep faith, to defend their customs and traditions, and to kill off their enemies as self-defence or to disguise or hide their identities from their enemies. These are skills of survival.
In time, rational thinking and argument come in. The politics of democracy comes in, which is usually practised as tyranny. Religion gives way to the pursuit of material wellbeing and money. The means of survival requires young people to be able to read and write and count, be discipline and hardworking, be creative and productive and be everything that any capitalists would love to work to death for a few more pennies.
The people pay taxes for the government to employ experts to teach their kids to learn how to survive in this big and nasty world. Instead, the government twisted the system to inculcate nationalism which is a sense of identity which the elite politicians feel will enhance and prolong their longevity of their reign on earth. Instead of openness, they send in new half-baked people to indoctrinate young people that they are beholden to the false prophets for their well-being. So they lock the minds of the young people up into sterile cells where no thoughts are present except for the few propaganda items of privilege and exclusivity.
In so doing, the politicians on independence of the country from foreign exposure cut the entire nation from the rest of the world, close in onto their own limited language and old agrarian customs and foreign religions, feeling comfortable in their own familiar and shrunken world.
But the survival of the young generations and the young nation require that the young people must be open and versatile and think for themselves. They must not only learn the local languages but also the foreign languages of import. They must be encouraged to think for themselves and to argue against traditions and their elders because the outside world in which they and the nation is subject to are constantly evolving as the world tries to compete with each other. A nation that closes its door onto itself and thinking it is safe is containing itself in its own little enclosure, indifferent to the lack of the space their children and their children's children.
I have read arguments why the local language is also a language of science and discovery and I am of course not doubting that one can be in one's element thinking in one's own language. But it is not an argument against learning other languages and be conversant with them and be so good as to be able to think comfortably in foreign languages. Let not the slow ask the fast to slow down so that he can catch up.
I for one encourage multiple languages for they teach us to understand other cultures and other ways of thinking and looking at the world and each other. I am simply perturbed how limited and constrained the government of the day is, with its civil servants knowing only how to speak and write in their own local language and not being able to communicate with the rest of the world.
Focusing merely on the mother tongue is a dangerous proposition. The language used at home and in the market is colloquial. To be able to speak and write properly in the local language, there are also rules to be followed and therefore even for the native, the formal local language needs also to be learned and not everybody speaking the colloquial language will necessarily be good in the local language formally.
I conjecture that there are as many illiterate native speakers of the local language as non-native speakers. It is therefore likely that the promotion of only the local language will result in a nation full of illiterates compared to one where learning to read and write in different languages is conscientiously pursued as a matter of policy. I am saying that we should be promoting languages as a serious area of study in schools as opposed to the politicising of one language as the one and only one, to the exclusion of others.
In the modern world, it is instructive to learn Mandarin and other Asian languages too. In fact, for the nation to place strategically in the world, we should have experts in all the key languages of the world so that we have understand at the native level what is happening all around us. We cannot simply stand alone deaf and ignorant of the world.
At the very least, I would like the civil servant to be communicating to its citizens and the rest of the world in two or three languages - Malay, English and Mandarin. At least, show that Malaysians are not incompetent and that Malaysians can relate with others.
There is a need to expose the ignorance that is hiding behind the sole use of the local language in communicating with the people in our society. We were not isolationists in the first place. We were an open society but closed in on independence. Something went terribly wrong. It is not too late to turn around and face the world proudly.