Sunday, 7 September 2008

Maths And Science In English: a failure

Consider how fortunate the Malaysian Science and Maths teachers are when the policy to teach Science and Maths in English was implemented: laptops were issued to individual teachers which they can take home to prepare their lessons; LCD projectors for each classroom; CDs for teaching topics covered by the syllabus at every level; crash-courses in English; reference books; even lesson plans for each unit in the syllabus have been scripted in English so that they could conduct their lessons more efficiently; and to top it all, an allowance of 5 to 10% of their basic salary, with the proviso that they pass their English language courses. Of course, nobody failed in these courses. It is not uncommon to see teachers teach by remote control by inserting the CD into the laptop and the computer takes over. The teaching of Science and Mathematics has never been easier.

Now indications are that this policy after five years
and RM 5 billion down the road will be assigned to the scrapyard. If it does happen, the loss of the critical allowance for these teachers will be sorely felt in this trying time of high cost of living.

The policy was pushed through amidst considerable opposition from both the ruling coalition parties, opposition parties as well as academics and educational institutions. Needless to say, Tun Dr Mahathir was a prime minister who would not tolerate any opposition to his plan. However, what had made this controversial, great man to embark on a policy that would surely have made him very unpopular, not only among the Malays, some of whom branded him as "a traitor of the Malay language", but also the vernacular educationists? There are many anecdotes that pointed to his decision to embark on the project, one of which was related here. But the publicly announced rationale for such a controversial decision was the decline in the standard of English in the country as he saw it.

And now a professor from Universiti Pendidikan Sultan Idris (UPSI) who conducted a research on the impact of the use of English for both subjects has proclaimed that the policy is a failure, and thousands of students have been victimized by the policy. His conclusions were that there was no improvement in the language proficiency of students; more alarming however, was the deterioration in the performance of Science and Mathematics, particularly rural students. If that is so, why is the UPSI's Year Five tests for both subjects showed Malay students in rural areas and large towns did better than those in the cities (The Straits Times, 7 Sept 2008)? And why did the vernacular schools do better than the Malay schools? So is it a failure of the policy, or is it the methodology, the quality of the teaching, the lack of commitment from the teachers and school administrators since they are the ones who opposed the move at the onset?

The professor also did not say how the students fared in comparison with those who studied the subjects in their mother-tongue before the policy was implemented. On the other hand, visits to schools by the Federal Inspectorate to study the implementation, teaching and learning of these subjects have provided a picture of significant improvement. Who are we to believe?

It seems a foregone conclusion the government would revert to teaching both the subjects in the mother-tongue to please the people. The question that comes to mind is: Is it a failure of the policy or its implementation? In this connection Bakri Musa has an interesting take on the subject.

While we raged and screamed at the former Prime Minister over his foolish decision, it would do well to look at the Philippine's bilingual education policy, which uses Filipino as a language of instruction for social studies and English for Science and Mathematics. The country has been doing that for years, and the people are none the worse for it. In fact, they would prefer the status quo, although the government is in the process of making Filipino, which will be known as Pilipino, as the language of instruction for all subjects. An interesting digression here is that a group of some 50 Korean teachers went to the country recently to study how English is taught as a subject and as a language of instruction for Science and Mathematics.

We should seriously do some soul searching so as not to throw out the baby with the bath water.


  1. Our education system is very much driven and influenced by politics. Those ignorant fools who oppose to teach Math and Science in English are shallowed minded, short-sighted and politically retarded. It is imprudent to let politics to influence and chart the course of education.

    If this continues, our country will be dumb-headed in a few generation to come.

  2. To recall a historical fact, Mahathir was the Education Minister that changed it to Malay after his infamous dilemma book in 1970s.

    It was a wise move to bring back the English medium, but the implementation undoubtedly faces the uphill battle. As the teaching workforce (20-30s) are mostly born in 70s & 80s, where teaching stream started in Malay.

    Too bad, it will surely take another 1-2 generations of student before things can change, but to declare it failure and revert it back to Malay will be even a bigger disaster for future of our kids, of any races.


  3. Woody
    You're right. The teaching fraternity had become 'Malaynized',inculcated with the culture of ketuanan melayu; hence the resistance to change in a changing world.

  4. Just to correct a fact, the Ed Minister that changed it was Rahman Yaakub, comes 70s when Dr was Ed Minister, full steam ahead to complete the change. But it was not RY, the Dr. was fanning fire with a infamous letter to Tunku about giving in to other races.. It was "summer of 69".