Monday, September 8, 2008

M'sian politics: teaching of Maths & Sci in English

The British set up a very successful system of education in Malaysia. After Independence, we used to have mainly the English medium schools; and we also had the Malay, Chinese, and Tamil medium schools for those who chose to go with their mother tongue. Over the years, the rise of nationalism led to the conversion of all the English medium schools to the Malay medium. Concurrently, English in the Chinese and Tamil schools was also de-emphasized. This change successfully removed English as the language of trade, commerce, and governance.However, the importance of the internet and the impact of globalization has forced the government to revive the proficiency of English in the younger population to prepare them for the future.

In 2002, the government made a sweeping change to introduce the teaching of Maths and Science in English, starting from Year One. Yesterday a detailed study reported that this change has been a failure. Quote:
“The mean scores of Malay and Orang Asli pupils were also much lower than those of the Chinese and Indians, said study leader Professor Emeritus Datuk Isahak Haron.
Isahak has called the policy a failure, particularly in terms of its impact on Malay students in national schools (Sekolah Kebangsaan), and is asking for a return to the teaching of Mathematics and Science in Bahasa Malaysia.”

The report leads one to believe that the main disappointment was that rural Malays who form two-thirds of the student population surveyed, have experienced a decline in the study of Maths and Science. Also, they have not improved in their command of English as hoped. This is exacerbated by the fact that their study score is much lower than demonstrated by their Chinese and Indian cohorts.

I pose this question: if the medium of instruction affects the ability of the students to progress, then why is it that the Chinese and Indians continue to do better, be it in the English or the Malay medium? Neither English nor Malay is their mother tongue, yet they can adapt and do well. Surely the policy makers can do better than to keep harping on the language issue. In the long run, they are not doing the rural Malays a favour. If the recommendation of the said report is carried out, Maths and Science will revert back to Malay. This will entrench the younger generation, especially among rural Malays, in knowledge deprivation in the Internet Age where hardly anything is written in Malay.

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