All riled up and nowhere to go

Posted by Penarik Beca Saturday, March 14, 2009

Those who are protesting against the continued teaching of Science and Maths in English should look at the root causes of why rural pupils are lagging behind.

The Star (12/3/09): Remember Vision 2020, the blueprint that is supposed to transform this country into a developed nation? It looks like a distant mirage, now that the global economic slump is upon us.

As for the other lofty aim of creating Bangsa Malaysia, the road to get there is getting longer and all the more winding with each passing day.

Despite the dramatic shifts that have taken place in the political landscape, it’s clear that some things in our social structure remain resistant to change or progressive thought, like when it comes to discussing ethnicity, culture, religion, language and education.

Like a cursed haze that can’t be blown away, politics permeates everything. It blurs or bars frank and divergent views needed for rational debate.

A 20-year-old song by Bob Dylan is apt for our situation. Just substitute “world” for “country”.

We live in a political world,

Turning and a-thrashing about,

As soon as you’re awake,

you’re trained to take,

What looks like the easy way out.

And the easy way out is what the protesters who marched to Istana Negara last week to demand that Bahasa Malaysia be again used as the medium of instruction for Maths and Science took.

It was a surprise to see several celebrated literary icons in the motley crowd that included Opposition leaders and supporters.

And it was ironic that their strongest allies in the cause were Chinese educationists who, not too long ago, were reviled as obstacles towards true national integration and unity.

Datuk Dr Hassan Ahmad, the most vocal champion of Bahasa Malaysia (or is it Bahasa Melayu, as some insist on calling the national language?), who heads the movement against English for teaching and learning of Maths and Science, vehemently denied that the march to hand over a memorandum to the King was masterminded by certain groups, including the Opposition parties.

“This is not a shadow play directed by someone. I am not a puppet. This is an insult to me. I can think, I’ve got knowledge, I’m not a monkey,” said Dr Hassan in response to Education Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Tun Hussein’s questioning of the presence of Opposition leaders, the manner of the demonstration, and the timing of it.

That’s the beauty of Malaysian politics. Usually composed academics, poets, and writers can get all riled up and become bedfellows in a flash with rival politicians who are ever busy planning how-low-can-you-go strategies against each other when it comes to defending issues deemed to be ultra-sacred.

For the politicians, of course it’s always about the votes in the next contest, all the better if the cause is against a common enemy.

Dr Hassan says the movement is not politically inclined but solely aimed at reverting to the teaching and learning of the subjects in BM in national schools, and in the respective mother tongues in Chinese and Tamil schools, claiming there had been no problems in the national education system in the past.

Surely the dear old Datuk hasn’t forgotten why the decision was made at the urging of former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad seven years ago?

That was when the Government realised that the standard of English in the country had dropped to such embarrassing levels, no thanks to an education system heavily hinged on misplaced pride on BM and on unfounded fears and suspicions that Article 152 of the Constitution, which stipulates the special position of the national language, would be compromised.

The bold decision was made to check the trend, and ensure that our younger generation would be able to grasp the scientific and technological changes taking place at breakneck speed in the globalised 21st century.

Forget the silly argument of comparing Japan, South Korea, Germany or France to Malaysia and saying that English is not necessary for this.

Yes, we have our share of homegrown PhD holders but, unlike these countries, we don’t have long records of scientific and technological breakthroughs using the native language.

As for Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka, has it honestly offered any long-term plans to turn BM into a language suitable for acquiring knowledge, science, technology or ICT, besides translations?

While we are at it, does progress in the language mean conveniently turning every other old Malay word into a new anglicised term?

Words like “kualiti” for quality when it should be mutu, “cif inspektor” for chief inspector when it is ketua inspektor. Or how about one of the latest in the list – “ori” for original when it can always remain asal or asli?

In any case, why the clamour to reinstate BM for the teaching of the two subjects now, when the Cabinet had not made its final decision?

These champions must be aware that the Government, guided by the Zahid Higher Education Report 2005, has been increasingly pushing for the usage and teaching of English at tertiary levels?

The rising numbers of unemployed graduates amid the looming recession is reason enough for the Government to continue tweaking the policy towards more studies using English.

Moves to bring back BM for the teaching of Maths and Science were kindled in January last year in the wake of a Universiti Pendidikan Sultan Idris (UPSI) report on a study of pupils who had undergone five years of studying the subjects in English.

That report, despite its flaws in sampling and questions, was quickly brandished as a weapon to switch things back.

The study indicated that rural children – who make up 70% of the numbers – were lagging behind because they could not follow the lessons in English, leaving them disadvantaged against the 30% in the urban and suburban areas.

But has UPSI or any other body undertaken a study on the implementation of the policy, focusing on those who are teaching these rural children?

It cannot be denied that the proficiency level of English among these teachers is generally poor, even after they had undergone specially tailored language classes. This is one of many fundamental flaws in our education system, and it must not be swept under the carpet.

Many of the these teachers are being re-taught by senior English teachers in training colleges. Exams are set periodically to gauge their proficiency, using a model styled on the Malaysian University English Test (Muet), with Band 6 as the highest level and 1 as the lowest.

Sadly, it seems that some 80% of those who pass can only attain a Band 3 level with the rest being assessed at Band 2.

So let’s not be quick to condemn something without looking at the root causes of why it is not working as well as it should. We owe it to the future generations of Malaysians to get our focus right.

Associate Editor M. Veera Pandiyan likes this Czech proverb: You live a new life for every new language you speak.


  1. Anonymous Said,

    we love bahasa malaysia in mathematic $ science...


    stop looking over ppsmi..

    thank god..


    not anymore

    Posted on July 21, 2009 at 11:23 PM

  2. Anonymous Said,


    we love bahasa malaysia in mthematic & science..

    please remove ppsmi..

    thank god..

    there is no ppsmi anymore..

    we love our culture,our style,our destiny,

    proud to be truly malaysia.asian.

    you got new life every new language you speak..

    but, it does't show you have 2 forget your 'OLD LIfE'..

    -love malaysia inside&outside

    Posted on July 21, 2009 at 11:32 PM


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