Loyal Followers

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

No, it is not a betrayal!

By a guest writer, John Baptist*.

"Our progress as a nation can be no swifter than our progress in education.” The late President John F. Kennedy uttered these prescient words. I would only hasten to add the word “quality” before education in that phrase acknowledging though that JFK probably saw no need to do so, assuming quality to be a given. In the current context of our country however, I see the necessity to emphasise the word quality. Not the number of degrees or the variety available but the quality!

Education should be formulated to ensure that our nation’s competitiveness in the context of a borderless global economy is never compromised, at any cost.

It is with this mind that I would like to address this area of significant concern - should it be English or Bahasa Melayu/Malaysia for Science and Mathematics? This question must be examined in the context of the long-term objectives of our nation, chief amongst which is our nation’s sustained competitiveness. It must also be borne in mind that this question concerns only two subjects out of a possible ten subjects (based on the restrictions the Government is planning to impose).

Science, based on my limited understanding, is the bedrock of knowledge in many fields and professions involving engineering, medicine and biotechnology, to name a few. Similarly, mathematics provides the foundation for accountancy, engineering, architecture and other vital professions. A mastery of both subjects will provide a reservoir of knowledge. So in what language should these subjects be mastered? In a language used only at home or perhaps in two or three neighbouring countries, each with their own variation or in a language that is universal? Let us assume an example though extreme, of a situation where all our doctors were trained in Bahasa Melayu and had little or no knowledge of English. How would they handle the H1N1 pandemic that has hit this world considering the bulk of the research on this is in English? I was told of a doctor who did not understand the meaning of the phrase “my wife is expecting” until he was told the word “hamil”.

An argument in favour of teaching these subjects in Bahasa Melayu is that rural Malays in particular would lose out. I am not unappreciative of this. However, will teaching these rural folks in Bahasa Melayu protect them from the realities of globalisation when they eventually graduate? I humbly think not. But this is not a problem that can be ignored for it is very real and must be addressed. An idea that comes to my mind is for immediate arrangements to be made to conduct these subjects in both languages concurrently. For example, the textbooks should be written in English with Bahasa Melayu translations within. Classes should be conducted in both English and Bahasa Melayu. Examinations should be conducted bilingually perhaps will a small section entirely in English, increasing gradually over the years. Re-hire the retired English teachers and rope them in to help with the process of improving the grasp of the language. The move to make it compulsory to pass English at SPM level may be implemented in say three to five years, to prevent any injustice on those lacking proficiency in the subject.

I am not advocating that Bahasa Melayu be abandoned. This language will continue to be used for the remaining eight subjects. The language as a subject should also be taken to greater heights. With respect, I find it difficult to believe that the use of a common language by itself is capable of uniting a nation. The process of uniting a nation calls for much more, including the end of discrimination and the championing of meritocracy.

If the teaching of Science and Mathematics in English is considered a betrayal of Bahasa Melayu, I humbly suggest that teaching the subjects in Bahasa Melayu is a greater betrayal of the future of the students who will find themselves incapacitated in later years when faced with global competition. Myopic obfuscation, often political, should not blind our hearts from pursuing an educational strategy that is beneficial to the nation in the long run.

* John Baptist is a dear friend of mine. John is perhaps the most devout believer in God and His  grace that I will ever know in this lifetime. Blessed with a purity of conscience that is rare, John carries his own paper bags to supermarket, travel by train to work and does anything within his ability to build a better world. My many thanks to him for this contribution.


LAT said...


Very Simple But Realistic Approach. Fully agree with you.

may ling said...

Since the language for teaching Scinece and Mathematics has become political, the solution is simple.
Let's just take a count of the ministers' children's education. If most of them are learning
Science and Mathematics in Bahasa Melayu then we should teach Sc and Math in BM to the rest of Malaysia's children. If not then don't use BM to teach Sc and Math!
Personally, I feel so sorry to listen to children reciting '
sembilan, sembilan, lapan puluh satu' when a shorter version is available.

Walski69 said...

Art - first off, thanks for sharing this insight.

Unfortunately, I do not see our education system overall as having transcended the archaic aim of producing masses of literate, albeit robotic, members of the industrial workforce - the moist robots (to borrow a term from cartoonist Scott Adams) that were needed to build this nation from the time of independence. But the situation today is very different from 1957, or even 1997.

The one-size-fits-all system we have today is problematic because it doesn't encourage excellence, and it doesn't assist those in need of assistance. It's aim is to create a lowest-common denominator level of qualification, suitable for producing moist robots efficiently.

Even worse, Education becomes a tool in political career advancement, and therefore policies introduced are more for political expediency, rather than being well-thought out and planned strategies for educational excellence. Any failure of hare brained expedient policies, unfortunately, takes years to become apparent. There may be a handful of success stories, but I believe these to be exceptions.

And because of politics, the quality of education has deteriorated over the years. Not enough A's? No problem, we'll just fix the distribution curve - which is what I personally believe has been practiced (I've no proof of this, btw - just a gut feel).

So, unless the problem of quality is addressed, it matters not what language you teach a given subject in. In fact, the entire system needs an enema...

Fi-sha said...

Dear Art

i feel like crying read Mr John Baptist's.

It is indeed not a betrayal but it is a betrayal, big time, when some people make sinful money out of PPSMI and this ocnfusing, maddening, ill-thought education system.

Linda J said...

We have Mahathir to thank for this. Until the early 1970s everything was fine, then he came along to blight the system and it was downhill all the way. Ironically while most of the nation's children were (and are still) subjected to his changed system, his own children were either sent overseas (as are most politiicans' children today) or probably went to private school so they did not miss out but are very proficient in English.

Anonymous said...

Dear Art,

I like your idea of having bilingual text books and teaching in classes (in English and Bahasa Melayu). However, we may find that textbooks will be thicker or the font will be reduced to maintain the existing pages.
Sometimes i pity schoolchildren in having teachers whom insisted that they bring most of the textbooks to school, reason being, in the event the scheduled lesson is cancelled and being replaced with another as the teacher is not available (for whatever reasons) and the idea of having lockers at school was not implemented .

I am agreeable that English language is to be made compulsory in passing SPM or even PMR and let other subjects be taught in Bahasa Melayu.
The education system must plan methods and take serious steps in making learning English language effectively (oral and writing). Teachers must be first well prepared to make this successful. Once schoolchildren are good and master in English language, reading journals and researched studies in medicine, engineering, law and etc will not be a problem.

My observations, many ideas by our administration were hurriedly implemented. PLKN for example, is a good program but the program was implemented ‘overnightly’. Then only they realised shortages of facilitators, finding suitable programs and many more.

Frank said...

To me, education is about choice. It is about educating a child about making choices in life while absorbing knowledge and learning skills of survival in the modern world. It is about enabling parents to make choices for their children, for they are the ones bearing the responsibility of the child's future.

Government and bureacrats should not be the ones pigeon-holing the future generations of this nation. Govt's moral responsibility is to facilitate and to provide an enabling environment for the parent and the child to make the choices. It is not the job of Govts and bureaucrats to MAKE choices for parents.

Nation-building is not the monopoly of politicians or bureaucrats. It is a shared task and shared responsiblities of every Malaysian.

Having said that, the ruling parties of this Govt before and now have been making decisions without adequate consultation with the population at large. Decisions based on narrow political interests, disguised as national imperatives.

Today, our education is gone down the tube. Graduates of local higher institutions of learning unable to compete in the private sector, let alone in the global job market.

The wider issue is not whether we should teach science and maths in english or in Malay/chinese.

It is how far and how serious do we want our children to master the english language so that they not only can master science and maths comparable to their peers in other countries, but be able to compete in the global job market?

The only way out for Malaysia is to go back to how we started when we had our Merdeka.

Allow parents and children to have choices and for Govt to facilitat that choice.

To have two streams of education. English medium and vernacular medium.

Let there be English medium schools alongside with Malay medium schools in the rural areas. Chinese and Indian medium schools should be allowed too.

As for language: Bahasa will be a compulsory subject for ALL medium schools. Compulsory English language be implemented gradually only in designated rural schools. Chinese and Indian medium schools can choose whether they want English to be compulsory.

Govt by then will know what are preferences of parents in choosing the medium of instruction for their children.

In the modern world, national language is no more a reliable cementing force for nation building. Ever since Bahasa was forced down the throats of every Malaysian, the country is now more racially and communally divided than before.

Multilingualism is the currency in today's world.

A Chinese or Indian Malaysian today is at least tri-lingual. Bahasa, English and their mother tongue.

Many young locally educated Malays are essentially mono-lingual with a hopeless command of the english language.

English language will remain an international language, with or without the rise of China and India in the next 50 years.

So we better catch up since we lost it some 30 years ago due to narrow political reasons of this UMNO-led govt

Anonymous said...

Regarding making it compulsory to pass English for obtaining the SPM cert, I have this thought.

67% of students pass the SPM English paper now, as per report in the MSM. Whether passing English is made compulsory or not is not going to affect this group.

As for the 33% who fail English, they fail almost all other subjects. The validity of this statement can be checked out. This group does not pass English not because they don't try; they just cannot pass.

Under the circumstances, will making a pass in English compulsory solve the problem?

What is the problem anyway? Isn't it that the students are not competent in English? But 67% are passing SPM English. Is it to be understood that they are not competent in English, despite passing the English paper?

If making a pass in English compulsory is by some magic going to make 100% of the students pass the SPM English paper, then we'll have 100% not competent in English!

What problem are we solving?

It is time we stopped barking up the wrong tree.

Singam said...

The basic premise of teaching Science & Maths in English so that students going into tertiary education can cope better with research is a sound one.

The basic premise of using ICT tools to help teachers bridge their language deficiencies is a sound one.

The basic premise that teaching Science & Maths in English will have a secondary effect of improving the general standard of English is a sound one.

The failure was in the implementation.

The ICT tools turned out to be a scam because software contracts were handed out to cronies who came up with window dressing instead of good teaching aids. ICT equipment became trophy possessions of the connected people. There was poor facilitation of the use of ICT tools such that it was easier to stick to traditional methods.

Meanwhile, the lack of political will resulted in the non-enforcement of the use of English and in the upgrading of teacher skills. Back doors were opened everywhere and the program simply fell through.

Unless these fundamental weaknesses in the system are addressed effectively, any subsequent scheme will also fail.

lil ms d said...

Father Baptist! :D Welcome to bloggin! Me throw panties at you! Hahahahaha!

And yes, write for us la...

Kris said...

You have struck at the crux of the matter John. This entire issue has been manipulated by politicians and other pond scum to leverage sentiment for their own profile advancement. The actual future, interests and welfare of the students themselves are of no concern to them. They will go through this education system crippled and emasculated but like the blind not know what they have missed...

John Baptist said...

Dear bro Art, your introduction of me is most gracious but undeserved. I remain an ordinary person tarred with the same brush of imperfection as my fellow beings. Thank you all for your kind feedback and comments. Fi-sha, sorry to have made you cry. To lil ms D, "get thee behind me!" hehe. And Kris, I share your exasperation with the state of things in this we love so desperately. Kind regards, JB

John Baptist said...

My last line should read "in this country", sorry.

ajoyly said...

Why are the Chinese currently learning English? Considering, China was a civilised nation, a thousand years earlier than England ( which was still in a rudimentary stage at that time ). The answer is obvious. And Malaysia should act accordingly.

Anonymous said...

Countries like Japan, France, Germany, Spain, and China, just to name a few countries, have been teaching math and science in their native languages for hundreds of years and yet they remain globally competitive.

I do not think that medium of language is THE MOST important factor.

I think the quality of the teachers, the motivation of the students, the way knowledge is imparted are factors that should be given great considerations than the language that is used to teach these subjects.


Anonymous said...

I agree that some countries like Japan, France, etc taught Math and Science in their own language and they still globally competitive. But in Malaysia, we couldn't do that. Here's why:
- lack of good books translated in Bahasa Malaysia
- even there are some translated books, the translation only lead students clueless than ever (at least for me; ex-engineering student)
- the private sector values english as a must.
- employers do not value local graduates. They prefer importing foreign than local expertise. It's a mentality thing.
- lack of quality teachers is due to the product of previous education system (which was low quality as well).

Therefore, we need to adapt with globalization. Reverting back teaching Sc and math in bahasa will only churn the same low quality graduates in the future.