Maths and Science in English – A rocket which will never take off!

Art Harun analyzes, dissects and critiques in his inimitable style the proposal to teach Science and Maths in the English language and the opposition to it and gives Pakatan Rakyat a deserving spank on its stand on the issue as well.

I have written about this topic on Navel Gazing no less than twice. Since the issue has now transformed into a full blown political one, complete with a demonstration, the proverbial tear gas and all, I think I should write about it again.

First of all, I wish to make it clear that I support the freedom of expression. And this includes the right to assemble peacefully. I support the right of all the people who assembled in Kuala Lumpur last Saturday to make known their stand against the teaching of Maths and Science in the English language in our school.

That however does not mean that I support their cause. I also do not support their reasons or rationale for their cause.

As I understand it, the purpose of their assembly was to voice their objection against the teaching of the two subjects in English and the reason for their objection is that the move would relegate the status of Bahasa Malaysia (or is it Bahasa Melayu? or Bahasa Kebangsaan? or Bahasa Baku? whatever lah!) and reduce its status as the official language of Malaysia. Bahasa Malaysia, apparently “mestilah dimertabadkan”. As if language is something that can be put on a pedestal, moved around and idolised like some Maharajah! The whole cockamajik about this can be read here.

It is a great disappointment to note that even the National Laureate, Bapak Samad Said, joined the bandwagon. It is of even greater concern that Pakatan Rakyat made this issue a political one during the Kuala Terengganu by-election.

Pakatan Rakyat should not descend into this lowly gutter politics! In seemingly championing this issue, it has descended into the lowness of hypocritical BN politics and reduced itself into a pragmatist political outfit which is ready to exploit whatever issue(s) which would bring it political support for the day; that is living for the moment without any clear plan for the future. That is politik lalang, in the Malay lingo. And I find that nauseating! If you all would permit me, itu politik murahan!

But is it any wonder that Anwar Ibrahim is championing this issue? After all, it was during his tenure as the Education Minister in the BN government not so long ago, who championed this and that in Bahasa Malaysia. Road names were changed into Bahasa Malaysia. Birch becomes Tun Perak. Jalan whatever becomes Maharajalela. Even the names of Victoria Institution was to be changed in Bahasa Malaysia name. I wonder what it was to be. Institusi Gambir? And it was all in the name of “memertabadkan Bahasa ibunda”. The sad state of the level of the English proficiency among our students now is, to a certain extent, contributed by Anwar Ibrahim and the policy of the Education Ministry he helmed before. And so, wonder no more.

If the objection against the usage of English for the teaching of the two subjects is premised upon the fact that it is demeaning to the status of Bahasa Malaysia as the official language, I would like to ask:

  • all these years, when Bahasa Malaysia is the lingua franca of our schools and universities, how many great literary and academic works in Bahasa Malaysia have been published?
  • how many great works in other languages have been translated into Bahasa Malaysia for the benefit of all our students who now don’t even know the different between ‘go’, ‘went’ and ‘gone’?
  • how many great works in Bahasa Malaysia have been translated into other languages for the benefit of the rest of the non-Bahasa Malaysia speaking world?
  • lastly but definitely not the least, what is the extent of the usage of Bahasa Malaysia in the commercial world?

The truth is, the pride and dignity of a race is in its achievements. Not its language. Or the way the people dress. Or the way the people scream and shout about how lofty its language is. Or whatever. In the olden days, the Arabs learned Latin, Hebrew and even Greek just so that they could learn the old and established works of the Greek, the Jews and the Romans. And did the Arabic language vanish into oblivion because of that? I just cannot understand why the fuss over this.

As for the Education Ministry’s move to teach the two subjects in English just so that the English standard may be improved among our students, to this I say, ‘You all are laughable in your stupidity!’ Just imagine a Form 2 student. All his school life he has been taught Maths and Science in Bahasa Malaysia. That means 8 years of his life. Then one fine day he wakes up and goes to school and “campur” becomes “add”; “tolak” becomes “subtract” and “pecahan” becomes “fraction”. In science, “buah pinggang” suddenly becomes “kidney”; “karbon dioksida” morphs into “carbon dioxide” and “khatulistiwa” becomes “equator”. How in heaven does that make his command of the English language better?

And what about the teachers? All these time they are teaching Maths and Science in Bahasa Malaysia. On that same fine day they have to switch to English. And don’t forget, they are also the product of a school system which taught them in Bahasa Malaysia. It’s like the proverbial buta leading the buta! Are you all nuts?

Please. If the thinking is that the standard of English would suddenly improve by teaching these two subjects in English, don’t even bother. It is not going to work! A more total and holistic approach is needed to achieve that objective. This is not going to work.

As simple as that.

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Posted on 10 March 2009. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0.

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6 Responses to Maths and Science in English – A rocket which will never take off!

  1. chan pak wen

    This subject of Malay as the official language of schools is full of crap. The educated Malay politicians (who by the way are proficient in English largely because they learnt English in school and sent to England since they were 12) created this policy so that they and their family can continue to proper while their 10 m poor folks from the kampungs will continue to know only Malay with hardly any English. So, they remain poor and unattractive in the working world. And the rich successful politically motivated Malays continue to harp on the importance of Malay while they send their kids and wives to public schools in England even before their kids reach puberty.

    Ask how many of our Malay ministers send their kids to a government school and learn ONLY MALAY?

    The strategy is to keep the masses poor and let them think you are their defender of the Malay language and religion. Give yourself a datuk and the kampung folks will adore you. In the meantime, your kids will always get scholarship to England because they are Malay and they will be relatively "more intelligent" than the kampung folks. Your kids are bi lingual and that is the key. Your kids will pass the English test (TOFEL) of course.

  2. D. Raj

    What is more important in teaching of science and maths is not the language medium but the subject matter. The questions that the Ministry should be asking are.

    Is the content relevant, suitable and taken into account current developments in Science and technology?

    Are the methods of teaching these subjects interesting and motivating to the students?

    It does not matter which language is used to teach the subjects. School should be allowed the freedom to use any language to teach science and maths.

    You are not going to improve the English language proficiency of the students by teaching them in English.

    Language like water will find its own level.


  3. mak jun yeen

    1000 years ago England was invaded by the Norman French feudal Lord Guillame or William.

    His band of Frenchies defeated Harold the Saxon King and placed William on the throne.

    King William and his merrymen in one fell swoop consigned the Anglo Saxon nobility to servitude for his French men who hitherto became their the feudal lords. Many a Anglo noble had to become a famer-serf tied to the land and slave to a French Lord.

    Norman French became the language of the adminitrative institution of the land naturally as these conquerers only spoke French.

    These Anglo-French also like to meddle in their home country France and the French Kings of England desired to take the French throne one day. THus begin 800 years of intermittent warfare with France.

    As a consequence of this conquest the written language of the Anglo Saxon disappeared with no nobility to write it. Anglo SAxon became the language of county bumpkins (from the french point of view)and unsuited for "cultured" and "civilised" discourse.

    But the French lords need to talk to his Saxon servants and serfs as well as to their bedding Saxons partners of both sexes, the two languages have to produce a mongrelized version of both tongues just as they were producing half breed Anglais children.

    As the Anglais children torn between being French and tied to the soil of Albany were being defeated by their mainland brethrens, hatred for things French began to grip their hearts.

    The nascent English national movement began to clamour to remove the FRench language from being spoken in England.

    In 1350s the Statue of Pleadings were enacted to declare that the language of the COurts shall be the mongrelised anglo-saxon – french tongue call for the 1st time "English".

    To make sure that all those nobles were to understand this law, it was still written in French !!

    THis was easier said than done. THe Anglo-French nobles though most of whom by now were proficient in English the bastard tongue but they still wrote in French and converse in French in the Universities, COurts and wrote it down in their official record Books.

    THe Anglo Saxon descendants who live in the towns too have caught on this fade as the French Language was the language to get ahead. Pupils were taught in French.

    Then came the BLACK DEATH in 1500s.

    This decimated the towns and most of its Francophiliac middle class. Within 50 years Francophone doctors, accountants, shoemakers, tailors were all gone.

    THe ENglish country bumpkin speaking a variety of English began to fill the towns,. Schools had to teach English because there were no French teachers and then these Bumkins couldnt speak French as well.

    Many of those in power became to worry that the Anglais aristocrats who were now schooled in the ENglish would lose their edge in crossing tongues with their continental enemies who have taken French as the language of intra European diplomacy.

    But these people were not in the tide of history and circumstance. BUt French lingered on. The last echoes of FRench in official Court records were still being written in the 1700s.

    To this day the royal asssent on any acts of parliament in England declares "La Reyne le veult" The Queen wills it.

  4. The goverment want foreign investors to invest in Malaysia. The tourism industry want foreigners to visit Malaysia.

    If you can't speak proper English how the hell are they gonna ask them to invest…??

    How the hell are they gonna promote the Malaysia toursim industry…?

    If one have to go overseas to study medical, all is taught in English. And that's worldwide..!!!!

    So is Maths…!

    Besides the English language…, its only Science & Maths that's taught in English.

    Other subjects are in Bahasa Malaysia…!

    Mind you all…, NOT Bahasa Melayu..!

    For me, I just don't understand…!

    For 6 good years Science & Maths has been in English.

    The Goverment has come out with millions of ringgit to make sure that the teachers are "educated" to be able to educate the students in the said subjects.

    Only now they said they are having a "headache" & teachers find it difficult to master the English language….??????

    After 6 bloody long years…??????????????

    Where the Hell did the millions go to then ???

    Why didn't the Ministry of Education follow up on this "project" & make a survey after all these years…???

    Why wait till the "shit" hit the fan than only move…?????

    That's NOT the way to run the education industry…!!!!!

    During class hours some teachers go for seminars or some training. What the hell are all these..??

    All these should be done before class starts or after school hours…!!!

    And……. they call themselves teachers…!

    A teacher is a teacher when they take into consideration of WANTING to learn more & improve their knowledge to be able to educate their students.

    Now a days teacher are NOT like those days teachers. Those days the students TAKE PRIDE in their teachers..!!! So willing to learn besides teaching us.

    Very dedicated too……!!!!!!!

    Before I transfer my child, the teacher was hardly in class, not feeling well, gone for seminar (yah.. right!) & worst of all NO replacement…!!!

    When I question them, they say "Tak cukup guru!"

    I told them that's not my bloody problem & its a long standing problem which should NOT be burden by the students…!

    Moreover they even got the cheek to tell me its ok…..!

    Coz only standard 1…!

    I told them "That's the foundation of all children!!!"

    And…… they call themselves teachers…!

    And………….. that's why I transfer my child to private school…!

    There is sooo……….. much of comparison lah..!!

    Well, I am lucky then !

    I want to know where & which school does the Education Minister puts his children..??????????????

    By the way does he knows anything about the "entire system of education" …????

  5. ronn

    You learn English by studying English, not other subjects.

    We don't learn Bahasa Melayu by studying History.

  6. goh

    if we speak more english, for sure it will improve our vocabulary right?

    and if the government don't do something, it will get worst as the standard of our english/education keep falling. but anywhere the government should use other method to achieve this objective as this current method can be only indirectly improve their english.