Thursday, July 09, 2009

Science & Maths no more in English

"The [Chinese education] boat has left the harbour and sailed too far to turn back now.”
Helen Ang in 'Di mana bumi ku pijak'

Malaysiakini Dr M turns up the heat with online poll - thank goodness the article was not penned by Athi Shankar Veeranggan wakakaka.

Dr M is pissed off with Najib’s retreat from the teaching of Maths and Science in English. One never f*'s around with any of his pet projects, whether this be the teaching of Maths & Science in English or the crooked Bridge to Kiasu Island.

For context on why some Chinese parents prefer vernacular education for their children, please read my last year’s post
A central pillar of Chinese culture ...

... to see how in the 50’s and 60’s Chinese parents actually abandoned vernacular for English education for their children, ...

... but made an 180-degree turnaround to return to Chinese medium when a succession of UMNO Education Ministers began to opportunistically kick the Malaysian education system about like the political football it then was, ...

... and apparently still is today.

I then wrote:
Frankly I personally do not believe one can learn English effectively through Science and Maths where the vocabulary or linguistic expression used would be limited to technical terms – perhaps those suspicious of the government’s intention have assessed likewise.

Apart from English language lessons per se, the best subjects requiring wide linguistic expressions and extensive employment of vocabulary would be history, literature, morals, social sciences, economics, and even religious studies - but certainly not Maths and Science.

Anyway, the language per se is not so important as the system. Look at the Japanese or German education systems in their native languages as examples of excellence.

But the problem with Malaysian system is that it’s very seldom fully prepared ... the national doctrine of 'gaya mahu, kalah ta'apa' campur with a kiasu attitude prevails, ...

... and it’s worse when the ugly hands of nationalism or politics further dirty the issue.

Whatever language we want to promote, be it English, Malay, Chinese, Tamil, Arabic, French, Swahili, Japanese or Hebrew, etc, we must have the system prepared, namely, teachers skilled to teach fluently in the preferred language, a well laid out curriculum, reading materials in the language, other training aids, support services etc.

Or, to borrow Dr Mahathir’s immortal words, it’ll at best be nothing more than a half-past six system.


  1. The urban, middle-class parents are predictably raising a hue and cry.

    But as we know, any successful implementation of a project depends on its executors, not the backseat drivers.

    Kiasu parents 'demand-complain-I want-we want', as they do in so many other areas of M'sian life, but are they willing to roll up their sleeves -- or why else don't they just encourage their own younger siblings to become teachers (so that the standard of English in M'sia is raised overall)?

    I say since the educationists prefer instruction to be in BM/vernacular whereas these English-speaking parents insist on English, why don't the latter volunteer their time & carry out a community project?

    Give their own English-loving kids, their neighbours' and friends' kids tuition and the delivery of Math & Science in the great English language so that this select group can stay ahead of the curve.

    And it would be the greatest kindness also to offer the same charitable tuition to Orang Asli kids, say a mere two hours a month. Give it a try ... a trip to the interior and the kampungs would do these English speakers good.


  2. I have attended many international conferences and I usually skip those presentations by korean, japanese and some mainland china speakers as their english are horrendous. No wonder japanese drugs are not marketable as compared to enlish speaking pharmaceutical companies!

  3. There are simply not enough fluent English-speaking teachers to teach the 2 subjects. It takes years of study in order to just comprehend the language. Take the term 'mass', for instance and its various, different meanings under different circumstances:

    1. A unified body of matter with no specific shape: a mass of clay.
    2. A grouping of individual parts or elements that compose a unified body of unspecified size or quantity: "Take mankind in mass, and for the most part, they seem a mob of unnecessary duplicates"
    3. A large but nonspecific amount or number: a mass of bruises.
    4. The principal part; the majority: the mass of the continent.
    5. The physical volume or bulk of a solid body.
    6. Abbr. m Physics A property of matter equal to the measure of an object's resistance to changes in either the speed or direction of its motion. The mass of an object is not dependent on gravity and therefore is different from but proportional to its weight.
    7. An area of unified light, shade, or color in a painting.
    8. Pharmacology- A thick, pasty mixture containing drugs from which pills are formed.
    9. masses The body of common people or people of low socioeconomic status

  4. The original intention of Dr Mahathir to teach maths & science in English was for advancement in these two fields.

    Remember he was saying the changes/advancement in these two fields were so fast and rapid that by the time translation into BM of works written in English ,they would be outdated.

  5. I agree with almost all comments arguing in favor of PPSMI (in principle though not in execution), but I believe the big practical problem is students in urban middle class areas can handle it but students in rural areas fall further behind. The urban-rural gap would widen if this continues - and this is deemed by some to be very undesirable. I don't know if it's really such a huge problem, but ok fine, let's concede that preferably we don't want this to happen.

    The BN gomen had no strategy in place to ensure that rural students could keep up. And as far as I know, noone has a better idea. The closest thing to a good idea is to allow rural students to continue using BM and urban students to use English, but of course this doesn't solve the problem of rural-urban gap, it merely institutionalizes it.

    For the sake of a level playing field, at this point in time it seems we have to go with the lowest common denominator.

  6. Language is only a tool. We must choose our tool very carefully. When we select a tool we want the best tool. That is why the elite in this country and those who can afford it choose a Benz, BMW or RR. Are this people less loyal than those who choose a Proton. No. They want the best tool and they have the money and they go for it.

    Same with education. Parents want to get the best tools for their children. And those with money are just doing that.Are they less loyal. No they are not.

    They key point I want to make is that the government must not eliminate the choice factor.We all want the best for this country and the best for our children and grand children.The sooner the leaders of this country understand this important aspect of life the sooner we will become a developed country.

    Language is only a tool and do not turn it into an ideology.Ramlax