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Teaching of Science and Mathematics in English?

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Consolidated post on Teaching of Science and Mathematics in English

The current topic involving the nation's Education Policy under much public scrutiny and debate for some time now is the teaching of Science and Mathematics in English. CPI in this post consolidates several viewpoints on the issue culled from several media, representing the perspectives seen by various groups and individuals, and indeed the Government is placed in a dilemma of its own making.  Its present review of this policy will soon result in a key decision that will continue to impact -- for better or worse -- almost every Malaysian family with a school-going child. -- YL Chong, Editor, CPI



Take 1 from The Borneo Post:

No other language but English

By E P Yeo, The Borneo Post
Friday, 13 March 2009
I HAVE always restrained from making any comments when it concerns religion or education matters.

The only time when I do so is perhaps during my leisure hang-outs with friends — from both the political and social circles — which I daringly do so because of the immense wrath that I may earn if I go public for the fact that these two subjects are ultra sensitive which could touch one’s nerves.

So this week I finally decided to pen my views concerning the issue of teaching of Science and Mathematics in English language which has caused endless debates since its inception six years ago.

Now that the final decision is yet to be made by the Cabinet which is still awaiting a report from the Ministry of Education, with facts and figures I supposed, on whether to continue the teaching of the two subjects in English, it is just fair for every concerned Malaysian like me to voice out  the issue.

I am deeply enraged by a group of protesters who had taken to the street in Kuala Lumpur recently to protest the use of English in Science and Mathematics as this group of protesters does not represent the majority Malaysians who have remained silent.

The only thing that this group of protesters could earn my little respect is when they knew how to exercise their universal right of freedom of expression albeit for the wrong reason as far as I am concerned.

Former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad was a visionary and far-looking statesman who earns every Malaysian’s respect for building the nation to what it is today and for his decision as a Prime Minister in implementing the teaching of Science and Mathematics in English despite the many criticisms levelled against him.

I agree with many out there who keep silent and whom I have spoken with on this issue that the government ought to continue the use of the international lingua franca as a medium of instruction in these two subjects.

Many friends of mine have acknowledged that the English language standard among the younger generation is deteriorating compared to  yesteryears when the medium of instruction was in English before it was eventually switched to the Malay language.

Just ask any employers about the standard of English among jobseekers and you may hear the common laments on the deplorable standard which does not need my further berating.

I must count myself lucky that my parents decided to send me to the La Sallian mission school throughout my primary and secondary level where I enjoyed the privilege of having a conducive environment which allowed me to use English language extensively.

While the arguments on the right approach will continue, I kind of agree with a friend who is an Australian graduate in his 40s that the government should go back to the previous education system where mother tongues were used to teach Science and Mathematics at primary school level.

As these students go to the secondary level, all the subjects will be taught in English language and I must say this is the best way to address the stalemate which has kept the government being indecisive for too long for fear of political backlash.

Of course efforts must also be taken to encourage the use of other languages such as Chinese due to the fact that China is an economic super powerhouse now which requires one to master the language.

But the government and politicians must understand that whatever decision made would have repercussions in the long-run and if any decision made is based solely on political consideration, then these politicians are just being selfish and not fit to occupy the higher-up for they cannot see what the future lies if a wrong decision is made.

I must stress that the use of English in the education system neither makes us less Malaysian nor disloyal to the country.

I was not surprised when  having a long conversation and discussion with two diplomatic officers from Singapore who were in the city last year to find that they speak impeccable English with confidence.

But the same cannot be said of some of our civil servants who struggle to construct even a simple grammatically correct English conversation.

But who are we to blame for this sorry state of English standard if we, for any selfish reason, object to the use of English in our education system?

The fingers of course cannot be solely pointed at politicians as we too should bear the responsibility for we all know that politicians are only concerned about getting their most treasured votes to stay in power.

I rest my case that English is the way to go.


Take 2 from a blogger Ancient Mariner:

 Language Controversy

By Capt Yusof Ahmad aka ancient mariner
9 March 2009

My late father Haji Ahmad Abdul Jalal was a nationalist. A school teacher who was active in the national Malay Teachers Union, he had fought hard together with his contemporaries for the establishment of a chair for Malay studies at the University of Malaya many years ago. He had shed tears when he was invited to Pantai Valley to witness the launching ceremony and would have cried in anguish if he was still alive today to see his fellow teachers being bombarded with water cannons and teargassed by the police at Saturday's protest march (photo), for fighting for what he and his peers had fought valiantly for, half a century ago. (Read the Malaysiakini report, here)

But my father was also a pragmatist. My siblings and I grew up learning English by reading the Straits Times and the occasional copies of Readers Digest and the Dandy and Beano comics which he could barely afford with his meager salary. We didnt do too badly, I think. How many Malay parents would do the same today, I wonder.

Some years ago, I believe I did my bit for the national language when I served on a Dewan Bahasa & Pustaka committee to translate English nautical and shipping terms into bahasa. It was indeed a learning and eye-opening experience for me when I discovered that it was almost next to impossible to deal with many of the English words and terms without simply bastardising the same. Perhaps for this reason only that the courses at the Akademi Laut Malaysia (ALAM) in Melaka, for example, are still being taught exclusively in English.

What I am really against is the 'flip-flopping' on the issue of the language to be used in the teaching of science and mathematics in schools, despite denials from the prime minister. This will be very hard on our children. (Read my earlier posting: "Don't belok-belok", here). On the other hand, high handed government action on peaceful dissent on the matter are not going to make things any better, either.

Perhaps Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah or Ku Li is the only UMNO leader worth listening to nowadays, but sadly nobody in the party appears to be listening to him. I agree with Ku Li when he says, here, that "UMNO is utterly alienated from its meaning, purpose and spirit. No longer the party of the Malay schoolteacher but of the power that directs water cannons and teargas at them. No longer the grassroots party of the Malays, but of opportunists who hide behind the Rulers while they fan hatred between the people."

Take 3 from

 Division chief: Don’t revert to Bahasa Malaysia for teaching Science and Maths
16 March 2009
PASIR PUTEH: More than 1,000 people here, including teachers as well as Parent-Teacher Association members, are in favour of using English to teach Science and Mathematics in schools.

“The Education Ministry should not bow to pressure from Malay language academicians to revert to using Bahasa Malaysia as the medium of instruction for both subjects,??? said Pasir Puteh Umno division chief and former teacher Zawawi Othman.

“The future of the younger generation is at stake here. The medium of instruction in English is the way forward,??? he told reporters before handing over a memorandum to support the present system to state deputy education director Ishak Ismail at SMK Kamil here yesterday.
Zawawi said if the Education Ministry bowed to pressure, it would certainly affect those teachers earning RM300 per month teaching English after school hours.

“In fact, the present system had been proven to be good in enabling pupils from the rural schools to master English. It is further proven by the UPSR and SPM results.

“I cannot see how the present system can affect Bahasa Malaysia as the national language,??? he added. Ishak said he would also hand over the memorandum to Education Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Tun Hussein as soon as possible.


Take 4 from

Decision known by mid-April on language for Maths and Science next month
By Karen Chapman, The Star
Wednesday 18 March 2009

PETALING JAYA: The Cabinet is expected to make a decision on the language of instruction for Mathematics and Science in mid-April.
Education Minister Datuk Seri Hisham-muddin Tun Hussein said this was the earliest he could possibly present it to Cabinet, in reference to whether the teaching of the two subjects continues in English or reverts to Bahasa Malaysia and mother tongue (Chinese and Tamil).

“It is not possible to table it this Friday as a memorandum is being circulated to various ministries for feedback.

“There is also time to hear what the delegates have to say at the Umno assembly next week,??? he told The Star.

Hishammuddin said parent-teacher associations nationwide were also holding their annual meetings and he had asked that they make this a part of their agenda.

“There is no hurry anyway as we have spent more than RM3bil since the introduction of the policy in 2003,??? he said.

Almost 100,000 teachers were involved and over six million students had gone through the policy, he added.

“Two-and-a-half months since the release of the UPSR results for the first cohort (who were taught the two subjects in English from Year One in 2003) is not long,??? he said.

On a report in online news portal, Malaysian Insider, quoting sources that the policy was likely to revert to Bahasa Malaysia and mother tongue for primary schools, Hishammuddin said this was not possible.

“Any policy decision must go through the Cabinet. The decision in 2003 was also made by the Cabinet,??? he said.

Education director-general Datuk Alimuddin Mohd Dom urged the public to refrain from speculating on the policy.

“A memorandum on the policy was circulated to several ministries for feedback last week,??? he said.

The Teaching of Mathematics and Science in English (ETeMS or better known by its Malay acronym, PPSMI) policy was implemented in phases, beginning with Year One, Form One and Lower Six students in 2003 during the tenure of former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

It was reported last week that Dr Mahathir defended the use of English to teach Science and Mathematics, saying it was necessary to ensure Malaysia could keep up with the rest of the world.

He said it would be better for people to know the language so they could get the information themselves.


Take 5 from

Wee: Change can't be done overnight

9 March 2009

KUALA LUMPUR: The Education Ministry should not be demonised for the teaching of Science and Mathematics in English as the decision was made by the cabinet seven years ago.
Deputy Education Minister Datuk Dr Wee Ka Siong said those seeking to scrap the policy should check their facts before pointing fingers.

"We don't make decisions on the behalf of the government. We are only the executing authority. The decision to use English for the teaching of Science and Mathematics was a collective decision made by the cabinet in 2002."

He urged detractors of the policy to be patient until Education Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein tabled a working paper on the matter.

Cabinet members are expected to make a decision based on the paper.
Wee, who was responding to Saturday's march by some 5,000 protesters against the policy, added that Hishammuddin was upset by allegations made in a police report that he had a hidden agenda in pushing for the move.

"It's as though people are not looking back into history. To set the record straight, Hishammuddin was appointed to the post in 2004 and he is just continuing an existing policy."

Wee added that even if the cabinet decided to scrap the teaching of the subjects in English, the implementation of the new policy could not be carried out overnight.

"It's not as easy as a 'yes' or 'no' answer. Education is a very risky business. If the cabinet decides to do away or make alterations with the next five-year policy, there are subject syllabuses to review and construct besides textbooks to prepare."

On the protest, Wee said the stakeholders in the issue were given ample time to voice misgivings at roundtable talks.

"Many days and months had been spent on discussions and roundtable talks.

"The minister recently tasked education officials to prepare a paper that incorporates those views."


Related story:

Nine out of ten answered in English

By Karen Chapman, The Star
Wednesday March 11, 2009

KUALA LUMPUR: Nine out of 10 candidates candidates who sat for the Sijil Tinggi Persekolahan Malaysia (STPM) examination last year opted to answer the Science and Mathematics papers in English.

Malaysian Examinations Council (MEC) chairman Tan Sri Prof Dzulkifli Abdul Razak said a total of 49,722 or 92.7% of the 53,638 candidates answered in English, an increase of 0.8% compared to 2007.

5A students: (From left) Cheh Ghoon Hoong, Mark Wong Siang Kai, Neo Jia Hui, Nicholas and Foo Jong Yi looking at their certificates yesterday. Picture taken from the Star.

“Candidates don’t take risks in examinations. If they had not been comfortable, they would not have answered in English,??? he said when announcing the STPM 2008 results here.

Since 2004, candidates have been given the choice of answering the Science and Mathematics papers – Mathematics S, Mathematics T, Further Mathematics T, Computing, Physics, Chemistry and Biology – in English or Bahasa Malaysia, or both languages.

MEC chief executive Omar Abu Bakar said candidates were not penalised if they answered a question in both English and Bahasa Malaysia.

He added that there was no data to show the breakdown of candidates who answered the Science and Mathematics papers in both languages, or solely in Bahasa Malaysia.

In terms of candidates’ overall performance in urban and rural areas, Prof Dzulkifli said there was still an obvious difference.

“Urban candidates performed better than their rural counterparts, with 10.39% obtaining three to five As compared with 6.77% in rural areas,??? he said.

But, he added that for the first time, candidates in the science stream from rural areas did better than those in the urban areas.

“About 14.18% of rural candidates obtained three to five As compared with about 12.99% of those in urban areas.???

Prof Dzulkifli, who is also Universiti Sains Malaysia vice-chancellor, said that although candidates were allowed to take five subjects, the majority took four in 2008, as the Higher Education Ministry’s requirement for entry into public universities was four subjects, including the General Paper.

He said 13 candidates obtained As in all the five subjects they took, compared with 25 in 2007.

“This includes five candidates from the science stream who obtained all As in the papers they took, which are General Paper, Mathematics T, Physics, Chemistry and Biology,??? he said.

Thirty-one candidates who sat for five subjects obtained four As, while 223 who took four subjects obtained four As.

Prof Dzulkifli said 259 candidates obtained a cumulative grade point average (CGPA) of 4.0, compared with 437 in 2007.

There was a decrease in the number of STPM candidates last year – 53,638 compared with 66,048 in 2007.

The results for eight subjects, namely Usuluddin, Geography, Economics, Commerce, Further Mathematics T, Computing, Sports Science and Visual Arts, showed an improvement. No subject showed a decline of more than 3%.


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