This is a letter I wrote a few weeks back, supposedly for theStar. I mailed it to the editor, but it never saw the daylight of publication :(
Too long? Too controversial (haha, I'm beginning to reek of controversies)? You be the judge. Censure me in your wisdom, and all that. I wrote the letter in about an hour, so it's not exactly Martin Luther King. All the same, I put my views forward and if you like, you can do so too. There's a handy little 'comment' button down there :)
As of late, much has been said regarding the role of English as a teaching medium for Science and Mathematics in our current education system. More recently, we’ve had many worried parents expressing their concerns on the apparent indecisiveness of the government on the medium of teaching for the two subjects.
In 2002, the government announced its decision for the introduction of English as the medium for teaching Science and Mathematics, two subjects that were constantly evolving and changing. The decision was based on the justification an English medium would better prepare Malaysian students for a world that was rapidly being globalised. The teaching of Science and Mathematics in English, while not a new concept has only been implemented since 2003 and already there is talk of reverting back to Bahasa Malaysia for teaching.
If we are indeed to revert to Bahasa, let us first examine the rationale for this decision. Firstly, it has been claimed that many teachers are incompetent for the teaching of Science and Mathematics in English. This comes as no surprise, as even veteran teachers would have initial difficulty in adapting to the new method of teaching. Moreover, the younger and less experienced teachers would have even greater difficulties adapting, considering most of their training was facilitated in Bahasa Malaysia (verify claim). However, should these teachers truly be competent and well-versed with their knowledge of their subjects, it should be a relatively simple to acclimatize themselves to the new teaching environment.
Unfortunately, many parents still have qualms about the standard of teaching being imparted to their children. Clearly, the issue of competence among our school teachers has to be addressed. It is foolhardy to abolish the current system because of this. Put in perspective, the move could be likened to refusing medicine simply because it was difficult to swallow it. Furthermore, if there is a genuine inability on the part of the teacher to teach adequately in English, reverting back to Bahasa Malaysia is definitely no cure. In all probability, the teacher’s inadequacy stems from the fact that as a student, he or she did not receive as English based education, hence the inability to express himself in English as a teacher. Hence, it is critical that we realize this is a self-propagating cycle that must be broken. And if not now, when? Simply put, reverting back to Bahasa Malaysia for Science and Mathematics will only compound the problem, not solve it.
With this is mind, I see absolutely no reason for reverting the medium for teaching Science and Mathematics back to Bahasa Malaysia. Proponents of the move might justify it with the most recent examination results, in which it was shown that many students chose to answer the papers in Bahasa Malaysia, compared to English, or that students generally performed better when the Science and Mathematics was taught in Bahasa Malaysia. However, I believe this issue is closely entwined with the competence of the teacher. Given time and proper training, the teachers should become familiar teaching in English, and the performance of students should follow suit.
Returning again to the original vision of the government in its 2002 declaration, the situation has not changed. It is still imperative that Malaysian students are well equipped for the globalized world. Knowledge is power, but practicality helps a great deal as well. To be brutally honest, Bahasa Malaysia has no value where Science and Mathematics are concerned. In the world today, a large portion of the advancements in technology are carried out in English. Hardly anywhere in the world is research being done where Bahasa Malaysia is the language of instruction. For this reason, it is totally impractical to further the teaching of these subjects in Bahasa Malaysia. Countries such as Japan and Germany are still able to maintain the teaching of Science and Mathematics in their own native tongues because it is of some use. These countries are bustling hubs for research and development of new technologies, while Malaysia, unfortunately, does not even come close in this regard.
However, one cannot doubt the role of Bahasa Malaysia as a unifying subject, as common ground on which the races can build their foundations of harmony. As the national language, it will be used for the teaching of most of the non-science subjects, but with the continuation of English based Science and Mathematics subjects, a healthy balance of both languages can be introduced, and hopefully this will encourage a proliferation of English proficient students.
In recent years, many of our local graduates have found difficulty in getting employed, chiefly because of their poor command of English. If we examine this retrospectively, we find that these are the students who have been subject to a wholly Bahasa Malaysia based syllabus. As a result, there is practically no room for the development of their oral and written English skills. They may be able be score A1s for their SPM English, but in reality any grasp of a coherent sense of the language is lost to them. A language is not something that can be mastered through the teaching of the language alone. Consistency and regular usage are necessary to be English proficient. At least, with a few subjects taught in English, students will have to read, write and speak it on a regular basis, which will help them better grasp the language.
For the reasons I have stated, I wholeheartedly advocate the teaching of Science and Mathematics in the English language. In a world being shaped by rapid globalization, we cannot deny the fact that English has become one of the most important languages in the world. Teaching in English will not result in the corrosion of our culture and our national language. Let not misguided patriotism blind our judgment. Let us not politicize our education, as it has been oft done in the past. All we want is for Malaysia to advance as a country, and I believe it begins with education.
Hai, it's me agein.
Remember, COMMENT, COMMENT, THINK, THEN COMMENT AGAIN.
Tenkiu very much :)