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Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Maths and Science in English - a rocket which will never ever take off!

I have written about this topic on Navel Gazing no less than twice, I think. And now, as the issue has transformed itself into a full blown political one, complete with a demonstration and the proverbial tear gas and all, I think I should write about it again.

First of all, I wish to make it clear that I support the freedom of expression. And that includes the right to assemble peacefully. I would therefore support the right of all the people who assembled in Kuala Lumpur last Saturday to make known their stand against the teaching of Maths and Science in the English language in our school.

That however does not mean that I support their cause. I also do not support their reasons or rationale for their cause. As I understand it, the purpose of their assembly was to voice their objection against the teaching of the two subjects in English. And as I understand it further, the reason for their objection is that the move would relegate the status of Bahasa Malaysia (or is it Bahasa Melayu? or Bahasa Kebangsaan? or Bahasa Baku? whatever lah!) and reduce its status as the official language of Malaysia. Bahasa Malaysia, apparently "mestilah dimertabadkan". As if language is something which could be put on a pedestal, moved around and idolised like some kind of a Maharajah! The whole cockamajik about this can be read here.

It is of great disappointment to note that even the National Laureate, Bapak Samad Said, had joined the bandwagon. And it is even of greater concern that Pakatan Rakyat had seen it fit to make this issue a political one during the Kuala Terengganu by-election.

Pakatan Rakyat should not descend into this lowly gutter politics! In seemingly championing this issue, it has descended into the lowness of the BN hypocritical politics and reduced itself into a pragmatist political outfit which is ever ready to exploit whatever issue(s) which would bring it political support for the day. That is living for the moment without any clear plan for the future. That is politik lalang, in the Malay lingo. And I find that nauseating! If you all would permit me, itu politik murahan!

But is it any wonder that Anwar Ibrahim would champion this issue? After all, it was him, during his tenure as the Education Minister in the BN government not so long ago, who championed this and that in Bahasa Malaysia. Road names were changed into Bahasa Malaysia. Birch becomes Tun Perak. Jalan whatever becomes Maharajalela. Even the names of Victoria Institution was to be changed in Bahasa Malaysia name. I wonder what it was to be. Institusi Gambir? And it was all in the name of "memertabadkan Bahasa ibunda". The sad state of the level of the English proficiency among our students now is, without doubt, to a certain extent, contributed by Anwar Ibrahim and the policy of the Education Ministry helmed by him before. And so, wonder no more.

If the objection against the usage of English for the teachings of the two subjects is premised upon the fact that it is demeaning to the status of Bahasa Malaysia as the official language, I would like to ask:

  • all these years, when Bahasa Malaysia is the "lingua franca" of our schools and universities, how many great literary and academic works in Bahasa Malaysia have been published?;
  • how many great works in other languages have been translated into Bahasa Malaysia for the benfit of all our students who now don't even know the different between "go", "went" and "gone"?;
  • how many great works in Bahasa Malaysia have been translated into other languages for the benefit of the rest of the non-Bahasa Malaysia speaking world?
  • and last but definitely not the least, what is the extent of the usage of Bahasa Malaysia in the commercial world?

The truth is, the pride and dignity of a race is in its achievements. Not its language. Or the way the people dress. Or the way the people scream and shout about how lofty its language is. Or whatever. In the olden days, the Arabs learned Latin, Hebrew and even Greek just so that they could learn the old and established works of the Greek, the Jews and the Romans. And did the Arabic language vanish into oblivion because of that? I just could not understand why the fuss over this.

As for the Education Ministry's move to teach the two subjects in English just so that the English standard may be improved among our students, I have this to say. You all are laughable in your stupidity! Just imagine a Form 2 student. All his school life he has been taught Maths and Science in Bahasa Malaysia. That means 8 years of his life. One fine day he wakes up and go to school and "campur" becomes "add"; "tolak" becomes "substract" and "pecahan" becomes "fraction". In science, "buah pinggang" suddenly becomes "kidney"; "karbon oksida" morphs into "carbon dioxide" and "khatulistiwa" becomes "equator". How in heaven does that make his command of the English language better?

And what about the teachers? All these while, they teach Maths and Science in Bahasa Malaysia. And one fine day they have to switch into English. And not to forget, they are also the product of a school system which taught them in Bahasa Malaysia. It's like the proverbial buta leading the buta! Are you all nuts?

Please. If the thinking is that the standard of English would suddenly improve by teaching these two subjects in English, don't even bother. It is not going to work! A more total and holistic approach is needed to achieve that objective. This is not going to work.

As simple as that.


MK said...

Could it be that the switch of medium of instruction for science and mathematics also provided ample opportunities for the cronies to make money ?

Anonymous said...

just start with year 1 now and make the transition. Look around us.. Today the two strongest economies are in the Asian belt albeit Japan, is Singapore and Hong Kong.

Their economies may be affected by the downturn, but their economies take the least brunt of it all..

English is the first language, and the mother tongue of each invidual is to be compulsory in these countries..exception is Hongkong where most take up Mandarin ...same with Singapore..

It is without any doubt that to create a vibrant soceity we got to go global.... English is the only language that one can commit to and become international.. and achieve the merits of the global advancements....

all due respect given to our patriots, however, knowledge is of essence.....

English has been around long enough to become attached to literary and history not forgetting tradition...

The reasons why Singapore and Hong Kong are so far ahead of us and today are still indeed financial powerhouses and have high standing in international forums...

Whilst we must understand that the generation before 1973.... were mostly English educated. THereafter, chaos came around. Our politicians made political statements to persue their own private agendas.. whilst leaving a whole generation or two without the basics of English language....

regardless.. Bahasa could have been well perceived had everyone focused on using the language and writing in the language... instead of forcing someone to learn and use the language...

Today regardless of one's nationality, science and maths are expression of English in technical terms. The scientific and mathematical solutions of today are still in technical English expressions.

Therefore whilst I support the nationalistic goals, it must also have common sense in reality. THe application of common sense should prevail and then reasonable amounts of it... to be able to accept the reality straight to the face.

I am aware of my associates who would not hire someone who did not possess a good command of English mainly because that was the language his clients communicated with and especially in both legal terms and scientific terminology, English was the international language in practice and in reality.

Contracts were not acceptible in bahasa mainly because it had no local standi in lucrative and financial markets today....

I have experienced two parties one Arab and the other from Morocco exlusively stating that the language of their multibillion dollar contract be executed in English and both parties used the best British solicitors to craft out the legalise of their contracts and obligations whilst both bore nothing to their own nationalistic goals...

i rest my case...

old fart

Anonymous said...

The best solution is to improve the teaching of English through English classes as soon as possible.

Make it semi compulsory in the sense that you must pass it when you fail while you can still go to the next level. You fail you dont get a cert.

Another thing, using ICT is good but one must use ICT that is practical not those that poor cannot have it.. CDs or flash broadband based systems.

That is why even UNESCO'S EFA or FTI are failing.


PM said...

The comments by old fart regarding contract is very true. In my experience I have signed three agreement with Malays company and their lawyers who were Malays drafted the Agreement in English and well written too.

The usage of English cannot be ignored. If the Malays want to get globally involved in business, English is a must.

English should be taught right from year one of schooling. English medium schools be implemented and the choice should be given to the children to choose which school they want to go to. Bahasa Malaysia must be a compulsory subject irrespective which school they go to.is

vijayandra said...

If we teach the whole system in Bahasa we are going to create two class system in this country among the malays.The government will definitely send Malay student overseas and they will come back feeling superior and they will be holding the top posts.The private sector will employ only those well versed in English.The local graduates will be belittled because of their command of the language.All these will create frustration and the end will see civil war.In the best interest of the nation Malaysians should be given the option to study Maths and Science in English or Malay.This choice will be given till the university level thus stisfying those who fear the demise of Bahasa Melayu.I am ashamed of the stand taken by the Malay laureate.He has scome to this level because of English.The Ministry of education should wor of facts as ruaral places in Malaysia enjoy all the best facilities and thus do not lack anything.The question is whether we want to progress or Bahasa Melayu to progress.There is a difference.

LAT, Ipoh. said...

Let's put it this way, for a person to master more than one language will surely render him/her more good than any disadvantage.

Mastering and Proficiency in the particular language depends on its regular usage be it in written or oral form. Hence i find it very useful and practical to start this policy from primary school children at their early stage of learning.

And to be frank to all the readers here, i personally pray hard for this policy to be implemented for the benefit of my next generation to enable them to stand to compete in this world and also to secure a better chance compare to those who are poor in the command of the English language especially in this globalise commercial world
where English medium is the tool of communication even for internet access.

The Implementation of the teaching of Science and Math in English should be taken as a positive challenge for all the parties concerned & those directly or indirectly involved in such policy, be it parents, students & the teachers.

It is always difficult and bound to encounter with many hiccups & obstacles for any new thing to start and begin with but we should view such policy and envision that it is "far more benefit for our current & future generations" and the current young generation who have been involved & participated in the policy will be a good testimony for the generations to come.

While reaching for the success in life and the same apply to this policy, bearing in mind also that we would stumble,fall and get hurt but all these are nothing compare to the SUCCESS in Mastering English Language by our current & future generation.

Who know one fine day the President Of America may come from Malaysia, President Obama has already made it happen so Nothing Is Impossible !

Farouk A. Peru said...

Dear Art,

Many thanks for your fine thoughts, really appreciate them.

Farouk A. Peru

Cruzeiro said...

There is plenty of substance to the argument for teaching in Malay (or whatever you call it).

Firstly the sub-standard literary achievements in Malay over the last 30yrs, isn't becos of any lack in talent- but simply politics, indoctrination, repression and suppression of thought in our teaching halls.

Secondly - language determines character and identity of a people. and being the national language, it cannot be identified as an "impediment". In fact it's progress should be aided through increased challenges, and not the approach of taking them away to facilitate gratification.

Without a doubt - English is the lingua franca in business, science & technology, and hence mastery in this language would indirectly aid progress.
However, preventing the teaching of science & maths in Malay not only handicaps the the language in terms of commercial viability, but also renders it irrelevant as a national cohesive force.
This would indirectly affect our national identity and bring about polarisation.

What then happens to the national language of the majority? It would have a very negative effect on the Malay/ national psyche, having to "make do" with a language which is irrelevant!

The government enforced the teaching of M&S in English without having trained enough manpower to carry out this task. The implementation should've been done gradually as they did with schools in the seventies, over a period of 10-15yrs.

Taking away the option for an education in Malay is totally unjustified, for there is no reason why it cannot be used for these subjects until tertiary level. After all, it matters only if you were to need "foreign influences" in furthering your studies.

If the scientific growth of the language were to be stunted at an elementary stage, it would definitely spell doom for it in due time.

Bottomline - the Govt would do well to seriously consider starting schools of Malay & English medium, so as not to deprive the children of the options available.
They would also do with decent QC for teaching staff, as opposed to the current lowering of standards in all fields so as to allow for mass production.

Anonymous said...

i graduated from a local university and it was clear that those studying science with education - your current graduate teachers - were the 'leftovers' who were never going to amount to anything.

despite the prejudiced education system working ovewhelmingly in their favour, their grades were not good enough for any overseas scholarships or the more sought after courses in local universities. they were dumped in the education faculty.

they guys, i am certain, can't teach in ANY language and forcing them upon our children is nothing less than a crime.

it may be unreasonable to think that our students would improve their command of english by studying maths and science in that language but with our 'teachers' we run the risk of the students not even learning science or mathematics!

Dr Syed Alwi said...

Dear Malaysians,

The International language of Science & technology today - is English. There are millions of scientific books and journals written in English. Dewan Bahasa simply cannot translate these zillions of books into Malay.

Therefore - to facilitate the transfer of technology, you ought to teach Science and Maths in English.

True - Japan, China, Korea, Europe etc teach Science and Maths in their mother-tongue. But they are scientific powerhouses, technologically advanced and socially matured. What about Malaysia ? How many world-class scientists does Malaysia have ? Where are the Malay scientists ? How many books and reputable journal articles have they published ? So you see - you cannot compare yourself with the more advanced nations.

It is sad to see Malaysia degenerate into a failed state.

Best Regards
Dr Syed Alwi

Cruzeiro said...

Nobody says they can't teach in English - they just shouldn't deprive the people of the choice of wanting to learn in Malay.

That argument about International journals thingie - that's hogwash, buddy!
Come on - get real .... Just how many actually (need to) read them?
We're talking about BASICS here!
Anyway, learning M & S in English when they can hardly speak it (let alone think in English) isn't gonna help anybody.

dbwing said...

Many still belief teaching Mths & Science in English at primary school will 'somehow' help to raise the std of english.

If the objective of the above is raising one's std in english, I would like to interpret it as:
Asking one to take soft drink to overcome the thirst(WHY NOT JUST TAKE PLAIN DRINKING WATER!). Why?....

R.Prem Kumar said...

With regards to translation of valuable English mediums into Bahasa Malaysia, I recall not very long ago, even Samad Said himself was pissed off with Dewan Bahasa & Pustaka who were not forthcoming with his royalty cheques. If a lierary legend like him was subjected to such treatment, what more do we expect in the context? Clearly there are many cases, even students have a better command of English language than the teachers! It is one thing to declare teaching of Math and Science in English and quite a different ball game of implementing the policy in a thoroughly comprehensive aspect.


In the 1970's, teachers educated and proficient in English were suddenly required to teach all subjects in Malay. There was no furor and the teachers then ( me included) made the switch without any fuss at all and took it in our stride. There were no extra courses or seminars for us and the transition took place quite well. Perhaps teachers of those times were from the top half of the graduating Form Fivers and higher achievers

asiseesit said...

ya, right. it didn't worked for me too. coming from a education system where everything was taught in bahasa with the exception of english language.

but i had the unfortunate opportunity from teachers "left over" from the english teaching medium where every sentences were punched in with at least a english word to ease their flow of lecturing.

so it doesn't really matter if they're taught in english or bahasa, but to groom students to be more articulated and analytical to see beyond education not just to gain knowledge, but adaptable with changing times.

our education system is one of compliance with no stimulating discussion but merely running thru text books. what's in it is always correct with no further debate or viewing it from a different perspective.

Drachen said...

How would one translate something like this into Malay?

"NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander, launched on Aug. 4 and headed to Mars, fired its four trajectory correction thrusters Wednesday for only the second time. The 45.9-second burn nudged the spacecraft just the right amount to put it on a course to arrive at the red planet seven months from today."

Or this.

"In the life of many successful networks, the connections between elements increase over time. As connections are added, there comes a critical moment when the network's overall connectivity rises rapidly with each new link."

art harun said...

Drachen, I don't really know how to say that in BM. But I suppose it will sound something like this:

"Enjin omboh biasanya injap bagi mengawal bukaan salur masukan dan ekzos. Kedua-dua injap dikawal bukaannya oleh sesondol pada aci sesondol. Sesondol membuka injap (bukaan) pada selang masa tertentu (tempoh) semasa kitar masukan dan ekzos. Pemasaan bagi bukaan dan tutupan injap juga penting. Aci sesondol digerakkan oleh aci engkol melalui tali sawat, gear ataupun rantai pemasaan."

Awesome! LOL!!

Brian Barker said...

I see that President Obama wants everyone to learn another language, however which one should it be?

The British learn French, the Australians study Japanese, and the Americans prefer Spanish. Yet this leaves Russian, Mandarin Chinese and Arabic, out of the equation.

It is time to move forward and discuss the subject of a common international language, taught worldwide, in all schools and in all nations.

An interesting video can be seen at http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-8837438938991452670. A glimpse of the language can be seen at http://www.lernu.net

Anonymous said...

As an old bugger and former university lecturer, I am quite disappointed with all the politics surrounding the teaching of Maths and Science in English. During my time most Malaysian who went overseas to study and work were well respected because of our command of english and our brilliant maths and science knowledge. Our university students nowadays cannot even converse properly in english nor Malay. What dumb fool says we cannot improve our english by doing maths and science in english. The problem started with all this stupid fervor to promote a primitive dead language like malay as a national language. Malay language today is a rojak of mispelled english words. Come on how do you expect to use a language that has not evolved with the ages. For example, universiti for university, tren for train, situasi for situation, promosi for promotion, etc. The list is long and worse still for maths and science. The teachers and students become so confused that they cannot even differentiate the original word spelling from the cooked-up malay version. The quality and aptitude of teachers we have in our schools and universities are laughable, therein lies the problem. We need to have good teachers and lecturers first and foremost.

caravanserai said...

It is greed and power
Corrupt Bee Anne absolutely
Hacking social contract
It is them to rule

Bee Anne changes rules
With the obedient greedy hogs
Feed them with power and projects
The dominant party chalks its ambitions

Only Harm Noh can decide
No other party has a right
Saying this is democracy
Our rights diminished

The rights of this land
Belonging to all Malaysians
It isn't to a class of a race
It never is the way

Gerakan, PPP and others
Talk about race and its rights
Forgetting the root
We are Malaysians

As long as they don't wake up
We better change the scene
Through the ballot boxes
Exercising our rights
To pick our leaders
Managing the affairs of the nation
Else we are on the down slides
On this borderless world
Be in or be out!