Monday, 15 December 2008

"Children Caught In The Middle"

I was reading the Education Minister's comments on whether the teaching and learning of Science and Maths should revert to the use of the mother tongue, and I empathized with him; he is as the saying goes, 'caught between the devil and the deep blue sea'. He is however careful to impress upon us that the decision would be made by the Cabinet, and not by him after the final round of the Round Table discussions with stake holders. The public is waiting with bated breath as to whether the decision will be made on political or educational ground.

Although he has mentioned that there was a dramatic increase in the number pupils who answered both the Science and Maths papers in English, he has provided precious little information on pupils' performance. It is difficult for the public to make an informed decision unless a detailed analysis of the results is made available to the public.

Meanwhile, proponents and opponents alike will continue to be vociferous in voicing their concern. The Dong Jiao Zong has threatened a nation-wide protest to pressure the government to revert to teaching both the subjects in the mother tongue. They argued that content learning, at least during the primary school years, is more effective through the mother tongue. I believe that the Malay educationists share the same view; moreover they would have salvaged a large measure of their pride to have Bahasa Melayu reinstated to its former elevated position as the language of Science and Maths.

The Dong Jiao has always been fiercely adamant to government tinkering with their entrenched system for fear that it would diminish the character of Chinese schools. What they do not see or refuse to see is the harm they have inflicted on the innocent. The situation is reminiscent of the 60's and early 70's when Chinese parents in droves abandoned the Chinese schools in favour of English schools. As Wong Chun Wai pointed out, the Chinese realized the importance of English at that time. What drove the Chinese back to their vernacular schools is not that they have a more effective system, but simply because the national schools are seen as more and more mono-ethnic and religious. Look at how ineffective has been the teaching of Bahasa Melayu and English in Chinese primary schools. Many of these students who enrolled in National secondary schools were left to feel like fish out of water and the drop-out rate of Chinese students in national secondary schools is estimated at about 25% (out of 99,000) according to a survey conducted by MCA. A government survey revealed that 1 in 4 students dropped out of the system.

To be fair, the Chinese educationists do not reject the policy in toto; they would prefer that both the subjects be taught in English at the secondary level. But is it going to help their students who may in future enrol in national schools? Going by their track records, these students are going to be even more helpless when they enter these schools. Those who prefer to go to Chinese Independent schools are also crippled by their lack of competence in English which will effectively exclude them from studying overseas except in Taiwan and China.

The controversial Namewee video clip on his alma mater highlighted the predicament of Chinese students who have gone through the Chinese school system. He related that her sister who studied all her subjects in Mandarin had to study Maths and Science in Bahasa Melayu and later in English in the college she attended.

I am sure many Chinese students have felt how severely they have been hampered by a system that has limited their opportunity for further education.

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