Khamis, 11 September 2008

Teaching of science and maths in english: Don’t deprive children of the exposure


A CRUCIAL decision is to be made on the language of instruction of Science and Mathematics after the results of the Ujian Pencapaian Sekolah Rendah (UPSR) this year.

I was an English teacher in the 1970s when the phasing- out was done and I am still teaching the language as a tuition teacher to secondary students.

It was such a pleasant experience to teach English then — an enjoyable and rewarding task. There was absolutely no sense of grind or hard labour about it. Every student, irrespective of race, operated well in the language and I am proud to say they are still proficient in the language today.

I can’t say that of my experience today. Every tuition lesson these days is a chore, an uphill climb. It is laborious to have to explain and teach them the rules of grammar and have them understand perfectly at that point of time.

But the very next minute, when it comes to applying what has been taught in essay-writing and speaking, all these rules don’t seem to be of any use.
I don’t remember having to teach my students of yester-year many grammar rules. Even if I did, it was minimal.

This then, is my take on the matter: Language is caught and not taught.

In those days, the language was widely spoken so that the students, right from primary school, had the necessary exposure. They heard the language being correctly spoken and they imitated and used it themselves. They picked it up automatically and had no need for rules to be explained to them.

I believe many people of my time who went through the English medium of instruction can straightaway identify an error in the language by using the “sounds correct, sounds wrong” method.

If you were to ask them why it was wrong or right, they would probably not be able to explain the reason to you, for they might not know the rules although their English is flawless.

Royal Professor Ungku Aziz said one has to learn English according to the rules of grammar ("Wrong to learn English this way” — NST, Sept 4).

I am sorry to differ in my opinion. I concede that explaining the rules may help in better understanding the language, especially at the upper secondary and adult level, but it is a very slow, painstaking and often a non-productive process.

Understanding is one thing. Using a language is a different matter altogether.

I once taught a group of Japanese expatriates and came to know from them that the education system in Japan places great emphasis on the English language. But, sad to say, their standard of English is generally sadly wanting.

Why? To me, it is because their country did not have the advantage of exposure to English as Malaysia did.

Sadly, that exposure was slowly lost with the change in the medium of instruction in the interest of national unity.

But ever since we adopted the policy of teaching Mathematics and Science in English, I have noted a marked change in my students — their willingness to use the language more as they have more exposure to the language, albeit in their less-than-perfect English.

I agree that teaching Science and Mathematics in English may not contribute directly to the improvement of the language, as claimed by many quarters. But if we take away even this limited avenue of exposure that has been created, what else do we have?

Educational policies have been swinging like a pendulum and the school machinery and system have been subjected to much stress. Please do not change again. Stick to teaching Mathematics and Science in English.

I agree with Hassan Talib ("Bring back English-medium schools” — NST, Sept 2) that continuing with this policy is the best we can do, unless the government is willing to bring back English-medium schools.

He wrote : “Since this policy has been in effect for the past six years, we should continue with it by stepping up efforts to improve the understanding of English among schoolchildren.”

The New Straits Times Online: 10 September 2008

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