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Khamis, 10 Disember 2009

English to BM: Are we on the right track?

by Syed Zahar

Finally, a decision has been made by the Education Ministry to have PPSMI (teaching of science and maths in English) replaced with MBMMBI (teaching of science and mathematics in Bahasa Malaysia) and this is encouraging news especially to those who were against PPSMI from the start.

The Teaching and Learning of Science and Mathematics in English [Pengajaran dan Pembelajaran Sains dan Matematik (PPSMI)] is an education policy which determined English as the medium Science and Mathematics would be taught in all level of learning. It became a widely debated issue since it was implemented by Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s administration in 2003. The most renown activism against this policy was by Gerakan Mansuhkan PPSMI [Movement for the Abolishment of PPSMI (GMP)] headed by national laureate Datuk A Samad Said and former Director of Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka Datuk Dr Hassan Ahmad. More than 8,000 took part in the demonstration against PPSMI by marching to Istana Negara.

The rationale for switching to English in the first place was based on the government’s aim to develop the country's human resources to reach the same level of those in developed nations as well as preparing students to compete in the era of globalisation. During the proposition of this policy in 2003, Mahathir said he felt that Malaysia was lagging behind in the course of globalisation and hoped this policy will enable students to be more competitive. He took Singapore and India as examples of nations that are advancing at a greater pace as a result of their high proficiency in the English Language.

The pressure from numerous academicians, laureates, politicians, teachers and students themselves led the education ministry to decide on replacing PPSMI with Memartabatkan Bahasa Melayu dan Mengukuhkan Bahasa Inggeris [upholding of Bahasa Melayu and strengthening of the English proficiency (MBMMBI)]. The implementation of the MBMMBI syllabus was said to facilitate the country in promoting our national language. Conversely, using English to teach science and math will erode the importance of Bahasa Melayu in these two fields.

Though there are compelling points in the arguments from both sides of the spectrum, I think the resolution to implement MBMMBI in our schools is a sensible one. For one, almost all the researches and studies on PPSMI that costs millions revealed the unconstructiveness of this syllabus especially to pupils in the rural areas that happen to make the mass of students in this country. Apart from PPSMI favouring those in high-income families in the urban areas, studies also revealed that majority of students learn faster when they are taught in their native tongue.

The best argument from the pro PPSMI faction is that we’ll get the short hand of the deal by not having the Maths and Science taught in English as we don’t have enough academicians who can translate documentations (mostly written in English) of new studies and discoveries in these two perpetually evolving fields. As a result of, we would lag behind in the advancements in maths and science. It’s quite a revelation to know that there’s insufficient number of scholars who are proficient in English, Bahasa and Maths or Science who could take to this task.

One solution to this potential problem is to produce more superior scholars and intellectuals. The government should seriously consider providing grants for graduates who intend to further their studies in masters and doctorate level and beyond. If a countryman wish to be a student for the rest of his life then let it be. It will only benefit the country. On top of that, we should also learn how non-English speaking nations like Korea, Japan, China and those in Europe have made their exemplary advancements in these related fields despite not having them taught in English.

The Importance of Linguistic Skills

It’s crucial to realise that modernisation and globalisation is not equivalent to westernisation. On that note, it’s time to lose the notion that a person who is learning or are able to speak English, French, Flemish, German or Norwegian is going or wants to be westernised.

Having the skill in conversing in another language is definitely an advantage. Given a choice, I would rather have intermediate level proficiency in three languages instead of advanced level proficiency in a single language. My partiality is simply for the reason that the former would enable me to experience and have insights to other cultures, ideas and ways of thinking. Variety is indeed and has always been the essence of life. On that note, I feel it would be worthwhile for schools to bolster their linguistic (Bahasa Malaysia, English, Mandarin, Tamil etc.) syllabuses or, even better, have more schools implement foreign language classes like Sultan Alam Shah School has done for the last 30 years or so.

Additionally, it won’t hurt to encourage Malay/Muslim students to take advantage of their ability to read and write in Arabic by learning to speak and understand this language. Seeing as most already know how to read and write in Arabic - half the battle is won - and this makes it easier to grasp the speaking and comprehending part especially at a young age. Not only would mastering Arabic help our kids understand the quran and any other Islamic and Arabic literature better, it would also be a great asset in the future as it gives these students an edge over the others in terms of greater international career opportunities. Now that’s what I call moving with the globalisation trend.

Whatever our reasons are for favouring one curriculum over another, our grounds must be for the best interest of our youths and not those of politicians, laureates, academicians, parents or backward anglophiles who preposterously holds high reverence to our colonial past. Perhaps it’s best to leave it to the kids to decide what’s good for them. After all, they are the ones doing all the learning.

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