Ahad, 26 Oktober 2008

TEACHING OF MATHS AND SCIENCE IN ENGLISH: Don't deny our children the chance to master English

This is an appeal sent to the prime minister and minister of education by the Parents Action Group for Education (Page) for the teaching of Science and Mathematics to be continued in English

AT the last and fourth roundtable discussions on the teaching of Science and Mathematics in English on Oct 21, the Parents Action Group for Education (Page) spoke for parents who are supportive of the policy to be maintained.

We provided a new and refreshing insight into parents' wishes for their children, the major stakeholders in this matter.

All arguments against the policy were addressed in detail, rebutted and effective solutions were recommended.

That the policy has relegated the superiority of Bahasa Malaysia is untrue.

In primary schools, Bahasa Malaysia is used as the medium of instruction for 59 per cent of school hours while English takes up 41 per cent.

In secondary schools, 62.5 per cent of school hours see the usage of Bahasa Malaysia while English is only used up to 37.5 per cent.

As Bahasa Malaysia has not been compromised at all, the issue of relegating the superiority of Bahasa Malaysia does not arise.

On the other hand, the abolition of the current policy will see an alarming drop of English language being used in schools -- in primary schools, 15 per cent, and in secondary schools, 17.5 per cent.


That English cannot be taught through Science and Mathematics is inaccurate.

There are two aspects: conversational and scientific English. The lingua franca of learning Science and Mathematics is English (terminologies are complete, reference materials are endless and the higher/tertiary education is in English).

Thus, scientific English must be learnt at the very beginning to form a strong foundation for these two subjects.

Let us not produce textbook scholars but thinkers in line with Thrust 1 (Building Negara Bangsa) and Thrust 2 (Developing Human Capital) of the National Education Blueprint.

It cannot be denied that conversational English will also be learnt along the way, as the way to master any language is continuous exposure and experience.


That Science and Mathematics must be taught in the mother tongue, as urban and rural children who are raised in their mother tongue fail due to the inability to understand when taught in English, is a misconception.

Bahasa Malaysia is not the mother tongue for all Bumiputeras. Mandarin is also not the mother tongue for the majority of Chinese children.

In any event, scientific studies confirmed that the best and optimum time to absorb languages is when the brains are still forming from the ages of 2 to 7 years. Thus there are "no bad students, only poor teachers".

Teachers and education policies must capitalise on this by continuously exposing our children to the English language for easy learning in Science and Mathematics.

The methods employed by Prof Shichida and Prof Kumon (acknowledged worldwide) have shown that the young minds are more than able to not only grasp and master the language, but also the concepts and formulas in Science and Mathematics.

On this basis, we propose that English be taught from kindergarten to maximise the propensity for easy learning assimilation of the child.

Resources should include retired English teachers. As a team, the students and the teachers will raise the standards of excellence in schools as envisioned by Thrust 6 of the National Education Blueprint.


It is questionable whether there are insufficient resources to teach in English.

We invite the Ministry of Education to relook the methodology of training the trainers.

Address the problem at the root. Take stock of investments made. Promote the profession as noble and rewarding, and not just as an occupation of last resort.

Returning the dignity to the teaching profession is in line with Thrust 5 (Strengthening the Teaching Profession) of the National Education Blueprint.

Let us learn from the Negri Sembilan experience where the royal family, through its education and welfare trusts, funded the Project to Improve English in Rural Schools.

Teachers from 34 schools were trained to teach Science and Mathematics in English effectively.

Tests showed that the teachers were more proficient in English, and the methodology improved as the teachers became more motivated and confident.

Make Thrusts 3 (Strengthening the National Schools) and 6 (Raising the Standard of Excellence in Schools) of the National Education Blueprint a reality.


That examination results declined upon implementation of the policy is not an accurate and fair statement.

The first batch of students who learned Science and Mathematics from the very beginning in English had just sat the Ujian Pencapaian Sekolah Rendah examination last month.

We recommend that in order to assess whether this policy is a success or otherwise, the basis should be their Penilaian Menengah Rendah and Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia examination results. They would have learnt the subjects in English from the very beginning. It is only in 2013 that the first full cycle would have been completed.

To eliminate possibilities of teething problems, comparisons must be made perhaps between three years -- SPM results in 2013, 2014 and 2015.

Any sooner is premature and unjust.


There is also the argument that we should follow the Chinese, Japanese and Koreans in learning Science and Mathematics in the mother tongue.

As far as the Industrial Revolution records show, Malaysia is over 100 years behind Japan and over 50 years behind Korea. For us not to lag behind any further and jump on the bandwagon of the industrial journey, the industrial language open to us is English.


The proposition that Science and Mathematics be taught in our mother tongue at primary schools but later in English at secondary schools is myopic.

As the propensity to absorb languages declines with age, leaving it to teenage years before introducing the subjects in English is a crime. It is a loss not capitalising on the optimum learning assimilation of young minds in the primary years.

There is no continuity of learning for our children. A smooth learning process is critical to ensure effective learning. To breed thinkers, encouragement must be given in their early years to take their first steps in the pool of reference materials enriched with knowledge. They are only able to do this if we equip them with the most essential tool -- the English language.

English undeniably is the language of knowledge in this day and age. With the advent of the information age, being unable to master the language clearly impedes our children's capability to further attain knowledge.

It is sad if we limit our children's quest for knowledge by denying them the opportunity and ability to master English.

We should admit the obvious; a higher proportion of excellent students are from the urban areas. This is due to the fact that urban children are given more exposure, the right pressure and adequate tuition to ensure excellent results.

As unfortunately for the most part, it is the children from non-urban schools who lack the exposure to the language, it is not difficult to foretell a future with an ever widening urban-rural divide.

We advocate this policy -- Thrust 4 (Narrowing the Rural-Urban Education Gap) -- to guarantee the education gaps between rural and urban children are bridged.

(Page, set up in September, provides a platform for parents of students to voice their viewpoints and concerns on education matters. It is driven by the PTA of Sekolah Kebangsaan Bukit Damansara. It has the backing of over 100 schools).

The New Straits Times Online: 26 Oktober 2008

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