Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Learning in English makes me lesser Malaysian?

- A commentary-

PKR Youth passed a resolution today that described the teaching of science and mathematics in English as "a betrayal of the position of Bahasa Melayu as the national language". [Malaysiakini, 28/11/08]

The youth wing called for the restoration of Bahasa Melayu as the medium of instruction for science and mathematics in national schools. The switch to the English language in these subjects was, according to PKR Youth, 'a betrayal of the position of the Malay language as the national language.'

The teaching of mathematics and science in English began in 2003 and was spearheaded by former Prime Minister Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad to improve English proficiency among Malaysians.

Nevertheless, there has been several harmless voices from within the Barisan Nasional to once again throw the language switch into dispute. The latest resolution passed by PKR Youth was indeed a piece of disturbing news and could raise an eyebrow or two over the choice of languages as the medium of instruction for science and mathematics.

But seriously, PKR Youth has got to be kidding me.

The appalling standard of English amongst the younger generation are undoubtly one of the major reasons for the substandard performance of public universities in the world rankings. However, both sides of the dispute have sound reasons to believe that either the Malay language or English should be used in teaching science and mathematics in national schools.

Bahasa Melayu
  • The national and unifying language of the country.
  • It is easier for rural students who are not fluent in English to understand subjects in school.
  • The lingua franca of the world
  • The language of information and technology.

Bahasa Melayu or the politically-correct term, Bahasa Malaysia (though both have minor vocabularic differences) is compulsory for all Malaysians, regardless of race. Its role in unifying the races should never be discredited and its status as the national language should never be challenged as it is only right for the people of a country to learn the national language. On the other hand, Malaysians must not be ignorant to the fact that the world speaks English and our inability to master the language would only adversely affect our international competitiveness.

Using English as the language of instruction in science and mathematics does not undermine or disrespect the national language in any way. Other subjects like Geography, History and etc. could still be taught in Malay while school activities continue to be conducted in the national language. However, the Malaysian public should also be considerate of the plight of rural students who have difficulties in mastering the English language. However, it is also not impossible for both languages to be given equal attention and emphasis in national schools.

Reverting science and mathematics back to the Malay language would only be a step backwards. By doing so, there is no guarantee of an external effort to improve English proficiency. It would be a fool's errand to just fold our arms and expect Malaysia to be internationally competitive when the general public could not even converse let alone write decent English.

I'd say what is at fault here is the whole education system itself. The lack of quality teachers with the skills to converse/teach properly in English should first be addressed. The fact that the current crop of young teachers who are unable to coach in the language is truly depressing; a product of the extensive Malay language usage in mathematics and science prior to 2003 perhaps?

In September 2008, the Education Ministry revealed that 35% of teachers teaching science and mathematics in schools nationwide have been found to lack a good command of the English language. All teachers should be able to teach science and mathematics in English without a hitch. Hence, there is no reason then for rural students to have difficulties in improving their command in English if the language is taught by competent teachers at the earliest level of education.

Still not convinced? Take our former Information Minister Zainuddin Maidin as an example. In an interview with a foreign news agency, Zainuddin's poor command of English on live television did not only make our nation an international laughing stock but the fact that he was a cabinet minister was the ultimate blow to our national image. (You may watch the video here or click here to read the transcript of the interview.)

Apart from the issue of competent teachers, it is also needless to say that the standard of English being taught in national schools is abysmal. I have been a student myself and in one of my examination questions, I have been asked to name a place where a swimming pool could be found. My options were: A. Hotels, B.Police Stations, C. Library.

And yes, that was the standard level of English being taught in high school.

Unless there is a convincing guarantee that the standard of English proficiency would not regress by reverting science and mathematics to Bahasa Melayu, I do not see a more effective and better way to improve the command of the English language among Malaysian students.

Now, before I am lambasted for being a 'lesser patriot', let me just say that no one is disputing Bahasa Melayu as the national language to begin with. Likewise, I believe learning science and mathematics in English is no way, an act of betrayal to the national language. Forsaking Malaysia's ability to compete in the developed world is the mother of all betrayals.


  1. K L said...

    Why don't all of us revert to sign language which everyone understands and no more arguement, but with the middle finger up please !

  2. david santos said...

    Nice Day for Malasian people!!!