IN the initial years, it was the politicians who were having a field day lashing out against the policy of teaching Science and Mathematics in English. But lately there has been a resurgence of attacks on the policy — this time by educationists and academicians.
The latest and most substantive attack is the study and research by Universiti Pendidikan Sultan Idris, which shows that the majority of primary schoolchildren find it difficult to follow Mathematics and Science lessons in English.
Whether the study reveals the policy’s flaws or the study itself is flawed has to be seen in the light of further research by the Education Ministry’s Curriculum Development Centre.
The research study does not represent the total number of Year Five pupils (in the range of 500,000 each year). However, the total number of Year Five pupils in the research study was fewer than 2,000 children. This number sampled does not even represent one per cent of the total number of children in Year Five.
Secondly, the research should have taken into account the urban and rural setting of the different types of primary schools (national and vernacular).
The report states that there was a mix but does not reveal the actual statistics. It is possible more rural schools were used in the survey than urban schools.
Thirdly, the test questions themselves do not reveal any startling revelation that students performed badly due to poor language proficiency.
Even questions using only numbers, such as (6 x 7, 72 ÷ 8, 4/5 - .... >7/10, 36.45 ÷ 5 >) showed a mediocre score.
The children were weak in Mathematics because they did not know their multiplication table, fractions and divisions.
Mathematical questions that used words and sentences in English showed a poor score. But there was a mathematical problem question using words and sentences in Bahasa Malaysia that also showed a poor score.
Therefore, the conclusion we can draw from this is that, irrespective of the medium of instruction, the children generally had problems with mathematical questions.
Moreover, Mathematics is a problem subject for many children, irrespective of the language used.
Instead of doing a more comprehensive and thorough survey in future to gauge children’s performance in the two subjects, we can use the UPSR trial examination results from the various state education departments to compile and analyse their performance in Science and Mathematics.
A study of the results of the two subjects for the different types of schools and their locations would provide a more detailed, reliable and valid method of gauging the children’s performance.
To expect phenomenal success in the two subjects over a short span of time is indeed to expect too much.
I hope the government will be wise and look beyond short-term results and facts and not lose out on reaping the benefits of the language reversal in the long term.
After having spent a whopping RM5 billion, it would be ludicrous to let the fate of the English language policy hang on the data of an examination done by a few 12-year-olds.
The greatest tragedy of Science, after all, is the slaying of a wonderful hypothesis by an ugly fact.
The New Straits Times Online: 10 September 2008