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Education Malaysia 2009: Fake Phobia to Science & Mathematics in English


(The 2009 protest against teaching of Science & Mathematics in English is based on the dumbest excuses like it only benefits rich students and it insults the national language. These are the very people who will destroy the future of the country and will not feel guilty about it – Image source:

Oh well, those who been fighting for Science and Mathematics to be taught in the national language would probably be breaking their bottle of wine to celebrate.

The Cabinet have decided to put a reverse on its decision and decided that effective from 2012, both subjects would be taught in Bahasa Malaysia.

There are many reasons cited for this reversal but here is one really pathetic:-

Only 19.2% of secondary teachers and 9.96% of primary teachers were sufficiently proficient in English

In an era where almost 1.8 billion people speak English, the low percentage of local teachers’ proficient is…unspeakable. One would wonder for how long some officials been burying their heads in the ground on the importance of English.

Of course with the reversal of the decision, obviously some future plans to improve the mastery of the English language thrown into the limelight. Once again, with local politicians, it is one thing to say something ideal; it is another thing for one to execute the plan.

We still have about 3 years before the Science and Mathematics subjects are taught in Bahasa Malaysia. My son will be one of those who will be learning these subjects in Bahasa Malaysia – a shame considering a majority of the world (and worlds in Star Wars and Star Trek) uses English for Science and Mathematics.

What kind of students we will be churning out 2012 onwards?

Will they be the same dungus that we are presently churning out in some of the “high” learning institutions where they cannot even speak basic English? Or will we insist on any new technologies imported from Mat Sallehs to be interpreted into Bahasa Malaysia so that the local brilliant scientist can make any sense of it?

We may have our reasons now to switch from English to Bahasa Malaysia to teach the two subjects but are we screwing ourselves in the long run?

Let us look at the percentage again – “19.2% of secondary teachers and 9.96% of primary teachers were sufficiently proficient in English”

If you think about it, it is not only pathetic, it is also frightening – considering 80.8% secondary teachers and a whopping 90.04% primary teachers are out there, speaking little or broken English to our children (and how many of them are English teachers?). And this is happening when globalisation is more apparent and mastery of English is getting more critical. Just when you think it won’t get any worse, the Government has decided to go back teaching the 2 main subjects in Bahasa Malaysia.

This brings us to consider some questions:-

1. The teaching of Science and Mathematics was implemented on 2003 – the Government says the implementation has failed but where are the facts and figures? Why they were unable to produce enough teachers who are proficient enough in English?

2. Between 2003 & 2012, there is about 10 years – why there is no long term plan to work on the problems affecting the 2003 implementation?

3. All journals and documentaries on Science and Mathematics are printed in English – is the Government going to embark on a major translation exercise to render all journals and documentaries back in Bahasa Malaysia?

4. If yes, who is there to interpret? Will the interpretation be correct & accurate enough?

5. What has really failed? The teaching of Science and Mathematics in English or the understanding of English itself?

The former Prime Minister considered this in his blog and said:-

12. Ilmu sains dan matematik bukan ilmu yang statik. Ilmu-ilmu ini berkembang sepanjang masa. Tiap hari ada hasil kaji selidik, penerokaan, ciptaan dan perluasan yang diperkenal melalui ratusan kertas-kertas yang ditulis.

13. Hampir semua ditulis dalam bahasa Inggeris. Untuk menterjemah tulisan ini kita perlu orang yang fasih dalam bahasa Melayu dan bahasa Inggeris dan faham ilmu yang hendak diterjemah.

14. Kita ada beberapa kerat sahaja orang yang berkebolehan seperti ini. Itupun dalam dua tiga bidang sahaja. Orang yang layak seperti ini tidak berminat menjadi penterjemah seumur hidup. Apabila sains dan matematik diajar dalam bahasa Melayu, orang seperti ini tidak akan ada lagi. Bagaimanakah kita hendak ikuti perkembangan ilmu sains?

Loosely translated, he said:-

12. Science and Mathematic is not a static. It is evolving all the time. Every day, there is new research, explorations, new inventions and other introduced through hundreds of research papers.

13. Almost all of the (research) papers are written in English. To translate it, we need someone who is well verse with both Bahasa Malaysia and English and also understand the knowledge that is to be translated.

14. We only have a few who have these capabilities and that too in 2 – 3 research fields. And those qualified is not interested to be interpreters for rest of their life. And when Science and Mathematics is taught in Bahasa Malaysia, these qualified persons may not be around anymore. Then how we are going to keep up with the development in Science?

Good question Dr M – how one is going to keep abreast with the latest in Science when we do not have the right resources to interpret the thousands of new development in Science? And if the Government is deciding to take a short cut by freezing the syllabus at schools, it is only going to create more dumb students – whatever they learned today may been obsolete and redundant.

And what about improving English (probably starting at teachers’ college)?

TheStar reported:-

The hiring of 13,933 teachers and additional teaching time for English in both primary and secondary schools are among the measures being taken by the Government to strengthen the teaching and learning of English

Muhyiddin said the ministry would also introduce a Contemporary English Literature Programme For Children to inculcate the reading habit and introduce elements of literature.

The problem with these measures is that whilst it sounds good on paper, it is yet to be seen how effectively it will be implemented.

Can they get the 13,000 teachers in time? Then what? I’m sure many measures would be laid out when the decision was made to teach Science and Mathematic in English and 6 years later, it was announced that the measures had failed. So, what assurances that the new measures to improve English will succeed?

Dr. M asked the same question:-

Dr Mahathir said it was good that more teachers would be trained in English. “But if we can train teachers to learn English, why can’t we do the same by training them to learn and teach Science and Mathematics in English?” the former Prime Minister asked.

Good question – when decisions are made by politicians for the sake of political mileage, one can rest assured that it will not necessarily be in the best interest of nation. Dr. M said:-

The future of our schoolchildren will be compromised with the Government reversing the teaching of Science and Mathematics from English to Bahasa Malaysia

I could not disagree more on this observation.

3 thoughts on “Education Malaysia 2009: Fake Phobia to Science & Mathematics in English”

  1. On average, the percentage of those using English during Mathematics and Science periods was around 53% to 58%,” he said, adding that only a small number of teachers were proficient.

    That is because every time the government make a new policy, it is done hastily without proper preparation and studies! WTF these teachers don’t teach the subjects in English when they are tasked to do so?

    And ‘only a small numbers of teachers were proficient’ because they received lousy, substandard education that didn’t put strong emphasize in English when they were studying!

    I actually more pissed on the flip flop rather than discussing the merits of the language to be used to teach Math and Science.

    It’s simple. Why take the long way to learn ‘knowledge’? We lack of references and information in technical subjects. We lack manpower and brains to teach in Bahasa Melayu for these technical subjects.

  2. My daughter is less than 2 years old and she can understand both English and Japanese, and later will introduce Malay, Mandarin and Cantonese.

    I can’t see why we cannot take 1 step forward to integrate the BM textbooks few years back with the current English science and maths text books. Its a lot of effort, but why move backward instead of forward. We can allow students to use either English or BM to answer in the exams as long as the maths and science principles are correct.

    Some good will surely come out of the dialectics at work between both languages instead of choosing either one. We need new advancements. We need Malaysia Boleh. Not some power struggle between languages.

    When will Malaysia advance and not hold on to race and language as stumbling blocks but embrace our differences as advantages?

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