Halimah Mohd Said


IT’S not difficult to get one million people to petition for the reinstatement of the teaching of Science and Maths in English (PPSMI) in the national education system when the issue is close to the people’s heart and the arguments for the policy seem compelling enough.

The popular reasoning is that because the huge knowledge base of these two subjects is in English, students who are taught in English are better equipped to understand the concepts and handle the subjects academically. Added to this is the thinking that English language proficiency will be enhanced and communication skills improved as students are widely exposed to English in Science and Maths classes. Their command of the international language, it is argued, will stand them in better stead in their future careers.

Surreptitiously appended to the PPSMI petition is the call for parents to be given the right to choose the medium of instruction which best suits their children’s needs. The proponents of education in English argue that, in addition to the national schools in Bahasa Malaysia, Chinese schools in Mandarin and Tamil schools in Tamil, there must be national schools in the English medium. The country has only to gain from a liberal education policy which produces school leavers fluent in English, they add.

Being academically qualified in English language, literature and linguistics and professionally trained to teach these subjects in schools and universities for more than thirty years, I would be the first to list the virtues of an English education. There’s no doubt that at the personal level, a good command of English allows access to tremendous information and knowledge, and builds the confidence to communicate effectively in speech or writing wherever English is the operating language.

However, I would not hesitate to support the development of Malay as a modern language of knowledge and communication, of science and technology. Having instituted Bahasa Malaysia as the national and official language to forge the educational agendas of nation-building, national identity and unity, the Razak Report and the Rahman Talib Report formalised in the Education Act of 1961 firmly established Bahasa Malaysia as the medium of instruction in national schools and its teaching in national-type schools.

As a result of concerted efforts to ensconce education in the national language since the 1960s, Malay has grown from its status as the lingua franca of everyday communication to the formal language of administrative, academic and literary discourse. Through the work of Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka, its vocabulary, spelling system, grammar and pronunciation have been modernised and standardised to a level that has not been achieved even by the English language. To meet with advancements in the major fields of knowledge, terminology in Malay has been growing by leaps and bounds enriching the language further.

Malaysians who doubt the ability of the national language to deliver a sound education system in all academic subjects including Science and Maths must be reminded of the giant step taken to establish Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia in 1970. Since then UKM and other public universities have continuously produced graduates educated in Malay. They are among the country’s outstanding academicians and professionals who effectively add value to the national treasury of skills and expertise.

Parents who think that Science and Maths can only be effectively taught in English must be reminded of the basic pedagogical principle that among young children, concepts and notions are best acquired in the mother tongue or language of constant exposure in the school system viz Bahasa Malaysia. If they want their children to be educated in English there is a wide choice of private schools, colleges and universities to choose from at home and abroad.

It is a fallacy to link the abolition of PPSMI to the falling standards of English or to argue that learning Science and Maths in English will boost proficiency in the language. Even among those educated in English, it is not the scientists and mathematicians who are the most articulate but rather, those educated in the humanities. It is subjects like English Literature, History, Economics and Law which provide ample opportunities to read, speak and write in English.

What the proponents of English must urge for is the total revamp of the English curriculum, including the syllabus and teaching methodology. If the teaching of existing subjects in English runs contrary to the national education policy, the Education Ministry must seriously consider bringing in English Literature as a strong component in the English curriculum.

Rather than adopt the hop, skip and jump strategy when handling important educational issues, concerned parents must synergise with teachers, English Language Teaching/ Learning experts and ministry officials to propose a fresh model for ELT benefiting both teachers and students in the short and long terms.

A much lamented issue is the insufficient number of trained English language teachers and that those assigned to teach English are themselves not proficient in the language.

Rather than be circular and heap blame on the poorly qualified English teachers who teach their children, parents must get around this issue and press the government to provide continuous in-house training to bring teachers’ language proficiency up to par. Teachers must also be weaned off outdated language teaching techniques and be retrained in innovative methods of effective language teaching.

If the government can come up with a comprehensive plan of action to allay the apprehension of parents and NGOs representing them, much will be gained. Rather than exacerbate the chicken and egg situation that the Malaysian public is good at playing, the egg must be cracked with a bull’s eye and the bull taken by the horns.

5 Responses to “PPSMI”

  1. November 4, 2011 at 8:07 pm

    nak share in my fb boleh?

  2. 2 ninitalk
    November 4, 2011 at 8:20 pm

    Of course! You are most welcome

  3. 3 kamarudin
    December 11, 2011 at 12:25 pm

    Thumbs up!!

  4. 4 Zaharuddin Dato' Badaruddin
    January 5, 2012 at 11:17 pm

    Last week, me and my kids were having teh tarik in Linggi, a rather noisy Kedahan was there lamenting in thick northen ascent about unreliable workers and sounded so uncouth and crass. a few unassuming Linggians came over gave their salams, long haired and all started prattling away in English and joined later by two big bikers. See, i said to my kids, english is still spoken widely there. I wish i have had my camera with me, that person looked ‘aghast’ with his open mouth expression – he left the scene ( feeling small i suppose ). Once i won a bet ,- a colleague who insisted that the folks here speak with a heavy accented negori slang. only to his surprise, first person he spoke to answered back in impeccable English ( orang tua labuh duduk kat ulu depan rumah tok samad/ tok ketot – who taught pak teh kuning a.k.a cikgu aziz , english ) . Then met my father, ex british navy – he was blown away. PPSMI was implemented when Dr.M was baffled by the low proficiency level of english amongst Malays in 1997 ( due to the economic downturn then it was shelved momentarily ), EPU was given the task of looking into it later, – to a Linggian ( you might know him as Ayang or Mohsein or Iskandar- died a few years back till the end, still making money for the gov…. ) thus it got implemented until now. ….

  5. 5 ninitalk
    January 6, 2012 at 9:15 am

    Yes Zaharuddin – unknown to most Malaysians especially the more boisterous Malays, we Linngians have a quiet presence. We are a small group with a strong tradition of learning and education. Our forefathers were learned Sufis and Linggi sons and daughters have made their presence felt in the nation’s development in English and Malay education. We must revive some of these traditions among the younger generation.

    This is why my brother Yusof, Taufik Abdullah and I are planning a Linggians getogether in Linggi probably in mid February. Will you join us?
    I’d like to distribute a copy of the recently published revised edition of Dr Said’s memoirs entitled Dr Mohamed Said: My Early Life to each family.

    We can also seriously start the geneology of each strand of the Linggi community

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