Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The teaching of Mathematics and Science in English

I was asked to pen my personal opinion regarding the issue to revert the teaching of mathematics and science from English to Malay. For the record, I was first educated in the Malay medium (standard one to four), then transferred to the English medium schools.

I was taught "kira-kira" (ilmu hisab) in the Malay language while at the Sekolah Melayu Kelawai - standard one to four (1956-1959), and in English when transferred to Westland's Primary School (Special Malay Class One, and Two and Standard Six - 1960-1962) and Saint Xavier's Institution (1963-1967), in George Town, Penang.

(Due to lack of pupils arising from the forced migration of the Malay population in and around what is today Persiaran Gurney, Jalan Edgecumbe and Bagan Jermal, the Sekolah Melayu Kelawai was forced to close its doors in the early 1970s. The school was later demolished to make way for a 15-storey apartment/flat - the Menara Yayasan, Jalan Kelawai, George Town, Penang)

The education system then was perfectly in place and it was up to parents whether to register their children in the Malay, English, Mandarin or Tamil medium schools.

The English medium schools were multi-racial and popular among urban and semi-urban population while the Malay medium schools mostly located near or in the Malay populated areas.
The Mandarin schools were in the urban areas or Chinese New Villages while Tamil schools were mostly in rubber estates.

As for the Malay pupils in Malay medium schools, they were required to sit for a special examination, when in standard four, to be selected to continue their education in the English medium schools. The Special Malay classes were created to enable them to study in the English language particularly when in secondary schools.

The system was working well and benefitted the rakyat until politicians decided to change it to the present system. Most of the politicians' children, however, were educated overseas - either in England, Scotland, Australia or the United States.

Personally speaking, I am in favour of teaching mathematics and science in the English language, in fact, I would like to see the return of the 'old education system'.

One of the reasons why Singapore is way ahead of us is their education system. Singapore leaders were bold and forward looking when they abolished Malay, Mandarin and Tamil medium schools in favour of a single medium school in the English language. Malay, Chinese and Indian Singaporeans were given a choice to study a second language as a subject. They are free to pick either their mother tongue or one of the three languages - Malay, Mandarin or Tamil.

Indonesia, a nation proud of it's "Bangsa and Bahasa Indonesia" and whose people are more nationalistic than us, realised the importance of the Enlish language and so did China and Japan.

One of my readers submitted the following observation on the subject of teaching mathematics and science in English, and I am in full agreement with him.

He wrote and I reprint in full :

"Dear Brothers and Sisters,

From my point of view, there's nothing wrong of BM be our National Language but we must realise something... WITHOUT GOOD COMMAND in ENGLISH, we cannot go far, we cannot compete internationally. I believe most of you will agree with me on this.

Lately we hear lot of people making noise and want Maths and Science to be taught in BM. Do all these people still remember why previously there was an issue where more than 60,000 graduates were unemployed??? The answer was very straight forward..... They either couldn't communicate or poor in English. Due to that many company find very difficult to employ them as ther key person or executive staff.

So, for all the parents out there... let me ask you this question... Do you all want this to happen to your kids??? Think again... Without good command in English, our kids only can be the "Jagoh Kampung". They CANNOT compete internationally not only that, they also couldn't further up their studies abroad and definitely can forget about working in foreign countries.

Instead of protesting the teahing of Maths and Science in English, we should encourage the government to find more ways to teach our kids and improve their command in English.

If you're financilly poor, don't forget this... The only choice that you have to give a good and quality education for your kids is through the normal schooling system that they're going through now. So like it or not, they have to gain the maximum education and knowledge in these 11 or 12 years of their schooling time. And of course these 11 or 12 years is the time for them to master their skill in ENGLISH.

Unless, if you're a wealthy person then I have co comment. You can send your kids to overseas like how those rich UMNOPUTRAS (e.g.D.S. Hishamudin, D.S. Najib, D.S. Nazri and other) and their cronies are doing OR at least they can send their kids to MCKK (Malay College Kuala Kangsar) to gain the local quality education.

For those who always try to compare with certain (developed) countries whenever this problem arises. These people always want to compare with Japan, Korea, Germany and France. For this people I would remind them one thing... All the mentioned countries have their own TECHNOLOGY, so they can survive with their own language BUT Malaysia DON'T HAVE the own Technology so we cannot survive internationally with our language. For that we need our kids to be educated in English...

Well, the future of your kids is in your hand... if you still want to stick to your own decision which is to fully educate your kids in BM, then in next 10 or 15 years time don't blame anybody else if your kids are educated but no firm want to accept them as their executive staff.

Please DON'T FORGET THIS... this language issue arise because of politicians.. Last time when the education was in English, the politician used this issue for his personal gain, so to achieve that he provoked ordinary people and he gained the popularity. Now the politicians still using the same language isue to provoke us and this time to revert back the teaching of Maths and Science in English to BM. well, for your info, both of this situations is created by the politicians for their personal gain. So please don't be the instrument for them.

Take care and make a good and wise decision."

That was his sincere observation and I thank him for that. On the other hand, a former university professor provided a more enlightened observation.

The professor wrote in response to the article "Can language bring up or down the HUMANS in any racial group OR will the mastery of Science and Technology raise the humans in that race to global standards? Which is more useful?

He wrote:

"I believe the government media have been successful in misleading the public on the issues at hand. The UMNO leaders, incidentally not supported by some of the other BN components such as MCA and Gerakan, have been accusing those who oppose the teaching of Science and Mathematics in English as anti English Language, anti Bilingulism and anti Science and Mathematics.

Nothing can be further from the truth.

Please take note that a number of those opposing the scheme are professors in the field of science and Mathematics.

To cite an example, would you say Professor Shahril Mohd. Zain who retired as Professor of Mathematics as one who doesn't think that Mathematics is important for human well being and progress?

Would you term Professor Muhammad Haji Salleh who was a Resident Writer in Harvard, who writes poetry in English and Malay and recently translated Hikayat Hang Tuah into English as one who is anti English Language.

Has it been proven pedagogically any where in the world that learning Science and Mathematics would enhance one's command of the language used?

It is common sense that one would find it easier to grasp any new subjects in the language that he or she is already conversant with. This project of teaching Science and Mathematics is, at best, experimental. And who are the guinea pigs? Our young kids.

What the ministry should do is to develop the most effective methods of teaching English to our kids, not by making them learn Science and Mathematics in the language.

Our Ministry of Education has adopted this particular project without prior studies or pilot projects. It was a political decision. And now since the oppositions have supported the opposition to the project, they have no choice but to defend it, right or wrong."


Sharifah Rashidah bt. Syed Ahmad said...

Salam Tn Syed,

I am a supporter of PPSMI. Since the inception of PPSMI, I have contributed as a master trainer to conduct courses to help the science and maths teachers to improve their teaching skills in english. Many have benefitted from the courses. However, sadly there are also many who just refused to improve themselves and just simply gave up. In my years of teaching, I believe that the problems of PPSMI are not really caused by the students but they are actually caused by incompetent teachers. When teachers refuse to improve their students can see right through and follow suit. In my humble opinion, to solve this matter, the best step to take is to revert to the old system where parents and students have the choice whether to learn science and maths in english or BM. We can have a PPSMI stream and PPSMBM. And I strongly believe that majority of the PPSMI protesters will choose to send their children to the PPSMI stream. If you ask the children, many would prefer to continue learning science and maths in english. I know because I am a teacher.

bendahara said...

salam tuan,

saya tidak menentang anak-anak belajar bahasa inggeris tetapi menentang cara ia dilaksanakan

matematik dan sains adalah ilmu universal. ia boleh dipelajari dalam bahasa apa sekalipun

namun begitu, memaksa anak-anak belajar sesuatu yang universal tanpa tahu NAHU bahasa, maka susah lah ia

tuan belajar di zaman 50-an yang terdapat pilihan aliran, saya pula belajar dalam tahun 80-an yang secara total nya bahasa melayu

adakah ilmu sains/matematik saya jauh berbeza dengan tuan? dan ianya berbalik semula kepada PILIHAN!!!

saya belajar di itm menggunakan bahasa manglish, namun bahan rujukan kami semuanya adalah dari bahasa inggeris

saya tiada masalah untuk memahaminya kerana saya tahu NAHU walaupun tak tahu bercakap dengan fasih

sekian sahaja, tuan

Anonymous said...

I totally agree that teaching of Maths and Science should be continued in English. Our children must be able to compete internationally. I am now based in the mid east, and was impressed with the grasp of the english language by the arab kids alike. They are very fluent and are able to bring forward their arguments in English unlike our children back home. I am also glad that my children were able to fit in well with their peers and comprehend subjects taught in school as they studied Maths and Science in english back in Malaysia. I also obeserved that migrant workers from the Phillipines and India were well sought after because of their command in the English language. They are definitely more marketable than any of our 'mat rempits' back home.

Anonymous said...

Dear Tuan Syed,

Thank you for posting my comment together with your writting.

What the former university professor has mentioned also a genuine facts. The actual guinea pigs in this matter are a) Students b) the Teachers

a) The Students have to struggle to pick up the English Skill in order to study the Maths and Science in Secondary School. We know it's not that easy.

b) The Teachers whom was educated and graduated previously in BM has to struggle more horribly to improve their standard and communication skill in English first before they can teach their students in English. This is also not easy.

These are the 2 groups of the guinea pigs or lab rat for the Politicians that has screwed up the entire education system more than 30 years ago. Tuan Syed, you're absolutely rite when you mentioned that this is one of the reason why Singapore are ahead in many fields compare to us.

For your info I was working in Singapore for many years and I personally faced lot of difficulties because of my communication skill in English was very poor due to our "failed" education system.

Because of their greedyness, our politicans has ruined the life of many Malaysian. Almost every parents particularly those from poor back ground, the students and the teachers are suffering terribly just to change and to absorb the changes made by the politicians.

To be honest, English is not an easy language to learn within 1 or 2 years time and at the same time it is an important language if we want to survive internationally or professionally so we cannot effort to ignore it.

Tuan Syed, if you ask me WHEN and WHAT is the best solution to overcome this problem, I think I have an answer for that question BUT it need all the Malayisans to be very OPEN MINDED, other wise it will be another useless suggestion.

I strongly feel that the teaching of ENGLISH will be very successful if we emphasized it in the Primary School. So once these students entering Secondary School, English as a language is no longer a burden or obstacle for them. If this idea can be been implemented, the secondary school can teach all or partially the subjects in BM or ENGLISH because these students are ready for it.

Even if the MOU think the students should study in BM in secondary school, it's not an issue anymore because orignally our students already can command in BM and English fluently due to their earlier "preparation" from the Primary School.

Honestly speaking it is much much more easier to teach not only the English but any other subjects when the kids are small. So when come to teaching English,Primary School is the best option. Bak kata pepatah Melayu "Melentur Aur Biar Dari Rebong"

What MOU should consider is to teach "seriuosly" English, Bahasa Malaysia, Jawi, Mandarin and Tamil in Primary School. In another word, during the first 6 years in Primary School,

1)A Malay Student should be mastering in English, Bahasa Malaysia, Jawi, Maths and other subjects.

2)A Chinese Students should mastering English, Bahasa Malaysia, Mandarin, Maths and other subjects.

3)An Indian Student should mastering English, Bahasa Malaysia, Tamil, Maths and other subjects.

So, once these 3 groups of the students entering Secondary School, language is NOT AN ISSUE anymore and the teachers no need to crack their heads because of their poor command in English. Now they can seriously and freely concerntrade on the teaching the subjects fully in BM. And as usual teach English subject in a quality English.

For Chinese and Indian students, make sure the mother tonque is a COMPULSORY subjects in Secondary School as well. If our Government can give this assurity, I'm sure the idea to have all students under one roof can be achieve very very soon.

So, once these students leaving the secondary school, eash of them probably will have a good result and more important, they can communicate well in Bahasa Malaysia and English.

Trust me, if these suggestion can be implemented now.. in next 10 or 15 years time, education wise,easily we can stand parallel with Singapore

Tuan Syed, hope to hear your honest comments.

Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Pak Tuan Syed,
I can't agree more with you. I was at the same boat with you i.e a special malay class student.
For a Malay stuedent studying in English does not make him or her less Malay so goes to other races. Instead if you can comand a good English you are a better Malay than those Malay who speaks or knows only malay language.
The question is whether there is enough teachers that can speak and teach the two subjects in good english?

Anonymous said...

Tuan Syed,

Ramai komentar di blog-blog luar sana menyokong PPSMI berdasarkan kejayaan dan pencapaian anak-anak mereka di dalam mata pelajaran berkenaan.

I would like to tell them not to narrow their scope. Look at the other children as well.

My kids are good in these two subjects taught in English too. But I personally think that for the primary schools, these two subjects should be taught in the language that the students can understand.

My children are fortunate because their father is bilingual although not very rich. Their father have to struggle to afford them tuition classes. Not just any fly-by-night tuition classes. It cost their father a lot of money and he is balding while these tuition teachers are upgrading to Civics, Altiss, Accords, Camrys and even Mercs and Beemers.

Kesian kat anak-anak orang miskin. Anak-anak yang ibu dan bapa mereka tidak menguasai Bahasa Inggeris. Mereka dan generasi mereka akan terus ketinggalan dalam arus kehidupan. Jurang di antara yang miskin dan yang kaya akan terus melebar kerana yang berada dan berkemampuan akan terus memonopoli segala-galanya di negara ini.

Do you fail a student if he cannot answer "Five plus Five" correctly, when he can give a correct answer to a more difficult question in Bahasa Melayu???

If you do, you are not being fair to him.

Dia akan ketinggalan dalam pelajaran, gagal dalam peperiksaan dan terlepas peluang untuk masuk universiti. Maka gelaplah masa depan dia.

Anak tersebut mungkin seorang yang bijak dan mampu menguasai sains dan matematik jika diajar dalam bahasa yang dia paham iaitu Bahasa Melayu. Dia boleh berjaya dan maju dalam kerjaya profesional dan masa depan keluarganya akan terjamin.

A bright student may be deprive of a future just because he does not understand English since he was brought up in a family who speaks only Bahasa at home and mix with Malay speaking friends.

Teach the primary school children the English language properly first. For six years, they should be taught the language until they are proficient.

When they enter secondary schools, they can easily understand the Science and Mathematics subjects taught in English.

Mentang-mentang anak-anak kita telah dididik bahasa Inggeris dari kecil kerana kita berkemampuan dari aspek ilmu dan kewangan, janganlah dilupakan mereka yang serba kekurangan dan tidak bernasib baik seperti kita.


Anonymous said...

oh come on....most of all politicians and their children are quietly taking their education in english, either overseas or studied the old english system....they already can communicate with all people around the world.... how come "the narrow minded" people cannot see this??

This is not to boycott malay language.... we just want our children , or malay children , to learn the internatianal language in all subjects.....so they can compete overseas

Anonymous said...

Bendahara says " saya tiada masalah untuk memahaminya kerana saya tahu NAHU walaupun tak tahu bercakap dengan fasih"

you already admitted your handicap here.....so funny to hear this.

We want the children to excel, not 50-50 ok la education.

By the way , I wonder can you write in english what you had posted?? I am not trying to be rude or something, just wonder can you write proper english ?

Anonymous said...


1 - There is a lot of misconception about English and "Technical" English. If you want to uplift English, go read English Litriture. Teaching of Science & Maths in English will do very little, if any, on uplifting the standards of English.

In fact, in Russia for example, Medical students to undertake Latin, as it would be much easier to understand medical terminology. Thus, when it comes to Scientific terminology, it is much easier to do it in English, as most terminology are in English, though the root may be from Latin or Greek.

2 - There are great misconceptions that only UMNOputras sent their kids "Offshore" for education. When I touchdown in Heathrow, a great number of Malaysian students are Chinese! If not for government scholarships, I probably be selling burgers right now.

3 - Go to Tambak Johor on every weekdays. What do you see those yellow buses carrying? Kids who wake up at 5AM! to go to Sinkapoh's school.

4 - Do not mistake "policy" with inadequate or shortfall in "implementation". Policy ia your objectives, implementation is your execution to meet the objectives or policy. If it is the implementation that is at faulyt, then address the shortcomings. Do not blame the policy. But, if the policy is deemed valuable, you cannot go on debating unless you know what is good for you own benefit.

5 - The scientific progress is moving very, very fast now. What is known today, is circulated round the globe in minutes. It helps greatly if time is minimised from "lost in translation". How many bookks DBP or Institute Terjemahan Bahasa produce? And, the age of the books?

MRSM Kalae Chepo 66/73

Anonymous said...

Ooops .... just to clarify

I got P8 in English 119(?) for my MCE, but scored A1 - C3 in all technical subjects then. I thik it was still under Cambridge Examination Board then.

I secured JPA Scholarship to read medicine from A-levels in UK, but unfortunately pussy hunting sidetracked and made me a Navel Architect.

I came from a very poor family, 8 siblings sharing 4oft X 40ft Flat Rumah Murah. Thus I am not an UMNOputras. Though, I admit there are some that I have met during my studies, but that is nothing compared with the numbers of Malaysian Chinese....

MRSM Kalae Chepo 66/73

bendahara said...

to anon

why bother...wether i can write properly or not

i can understand english when others chat with me... the only thing matter is that it will look like 'ayam bercakap dengan itik'... but the 'point' noted by each others

bahasa Melayu are the fourth most spoken language in the world

why dont we make it number 1?

i rest my case

Anonymous said...

Dear all,

Dalam membuat keputusan, tanya anak-anak yang terlibat. Kajian sudah dibuat dan menunjukkan ramai yang memilih menjawab dalam BI subjek yang diperkata dalam peperiksaan mereka.
Anak saya pun begitu,selepas 6 tahun, dia berfikir dalam BI untuk menjawab soalan Maths dan Science.

Jadi tak kesianke pada mereka jika cara pemikiran dan pembelajaran mereka ditukar balik?.

Lagi satu kenapa setiap kali menjelang perhimpunan agung Umno perkara ini timbul?

Tak kurang Melayu kalau kita berbahasa Inggeris kerana itu jugalah sikap bangsa lain yang lebih fasih BI mereka dan BM mereka daripada anak Melayu sendiri yang kononnya ibu bapa mereka pencinta bahasa ibunda.

Anonymous said...

Saya tak faham kenapa dulu Tun Mahathir tiba-tiba tukar dasar dari guna BM kepada BI.Saya belajar dalam bahasa Melayu,dari sekolah sampailah ke universiti di dalam bidang kejuruteraan.Pada saya, apa yang saya belajar di UTM sama je dengan budak yang belajar kat US atau Uk. Asasnya sama cuma bahasa yang berbeza. Belajar dalam BM pada saya tiada salahnya.Apakah semata-mata demi mengejar teknologi,kita lupakah kepentingan bahasa sendiri?Apakah kita hendak lupakan sahaja pandangan pakar-pakar bahasa mengenai kesan yang akan berlaku? Apakah kita lebih pandai dari mereka dalam soal ini? Lagi satu, kebanyakan yang bagi pandangan dalam blog2 adalah dari kalangan yang mempunyai latar belakang pendidikan tinggi.Apakah kita tidak pernah mendengar keluhan anak-anak kampung/luar bandar yang keluarganya miskin,ibu bapa berpendidikan rendah,mengenai soal ini? Jangan lupa, selain guru, ibu bapa juga adalah 'guru' di rumah. Berapa sangatlah mak bapak yang ada ijazah sekarang. Dan lagi, adakah kita lebih pandai berbahasa inggeris berbanding bahasa sendiri? Adakah kita lebih faham bahasa inggeris dari bahasa kita sendiri? Dimana jati diri anak bangsa melayu? Saya tengok orang kita kadang2 terlalu taksub dengan bahasa asing berbanding bahasa bangsanya sendiri. Agak-agak tuan kalau Pendita Zaa'ba masih hidup,adakah beliau akan sependapat dengan tuan?

Anonymous said...

Pada hemah saya, kita tak perlu tukar pada PPSMI. Yang kita perlu ialah penterjemah buku-buku ilmiah dari BI atau bahasa lain ke BM. Dengan cara ini kita dapat mengadaptasikan ilmu tersebut kepada anak-anak kita.Bukankah kita patut lebih berbangga menggunakan bahasa sendiri berbanding bahasa asing? Apakah hikmahnya Allah menjadikan pelbagai bangsa dan bahasa?

Orang dungu said...

Tak faham.Macam mana kita boleh yakin dengan bahasa inggeris untuk bangunkan teknologi atau nak berdiri setanding dengan negara maju walhal negara maju guna bahasa sendiri untuk majukan negara mereka? Dimana analoginya?Sungguh tak faham.

Anonymous said...

the main issue here in the inability of rural students to understand english. this is due to the poor english teaching methods practised. for them learning mathematics in english is like learning the subject in russian or japanese. as such most if them grow up without basiic understanding of science and maths.
it is okay for the urban families to look at tbe advantages of english as a medium of instruction. when you are blessed with opportunities and able teachers, you must not deny the majority of the people to enjoy the opportunity to have their children learn biology or algebra.
ministers and former prime ministers send the kids overseas to study. they know nothing!

Anonymous said...

Salam Tuan Syed

Disertakan pandangan saya berkaitan perkara ini. Saya mempunyai anak yang belajar dalam Darjah 1 dan 2 yang harus berdepan dengan perkara ini setiap hari.


Terima kasih.

Mencari Jalan Pulang

YiDA said...

I support ETeMs because:
1. Everything changes according to time! Most of Maths & Science are developed in English. It is clear that using BM is not an effective way to be part of the fast development!
2. U CANNOT expect a student that study science & maths in BM or English to uplift the respective language. I thought its the profession of people like shakespears and A.samad said? It is rare for science stream students to take up the holy task of uplifting any certain language
3. Dont you think it is weird to change OXYGEN into OKSIGEN? Even BM become the global language, will words like OKSIGEN & HIGROGEN & GAS sounds BM to anyone? Plus, the language in both subjects is quite technical. Learning it in BM will have minute effects in uplifting BM around the globe!

Aiyo, think in a wider angle! Dont be manipulated by some of our "over-responsible & patriotic" politician. Examples and evident from them may be limited and isolated in certain contexts. I hope some Malaysians who are affected by their "patriotism" could wake up soon.
I feel that the most appropriate measurement is to polish up the way ETems should be carried out in the future! Its brighter to use our Adenosine triosphosphate to think than to shout around, which uses even more of these valuable molecules! Be thankful, not thank-fool! Haha