Monday, July 13, 2009

English for maths and science

Language switch may be counter-productive

After prolonged debate and uncertainty the Cabinet has finally decided to revert back to Bahasa Malaysia to teach mathematics and science in national schools and the pupils’ mother tongue in national type Chinese and Tamil schools. However it has acknowledged the vital role of English in the world today and promised to increase its efforts to improve the standard of the language.

It has proposed to increase the time for teaching English, recruiting more trained teachers including bringing back retired English ones, improving infrastructure and possibly making it a compulsory subject in the Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia(SPM). In fact the government has allocated about RM5 billion towards that aim which is commendable.

The main reason for discontinuing the teaching of Science and mathematics in English was that it had failed to produce the desired results especially in rural schools, where the standard of English continues to remain poor despite the English policy being in force for 6 years.

The decision of the cabinet has not gone down well with the majority of Malaysians who are skeptical of the true motive of the government. They opine that the move is ill advised and would result in a further decline in the standard of the language among the younger generation.

While it is good that the government has considered the welfare of the rural students but how will cessation of English improve its standard in rural schools? On the contrary it is the increased use of the language in reading, writing and speaking that will elevate its standards not decreasing it. Instead of increasing the usage of English in rural schools, it is unfortunate that the government has decided to decrease it by doing away the teaching of the two subjects in the language. This will be counter-productive and detrimental to the students from rural schools.

By discontinuing the use of English, its proficiency in urban schools too may now decline. It is sad that instead of strengthening the use of English in rural schools to raise its standard to be at par with that in urban ones, the government has taken a step that will bring down the standards in the latter to that of the former. What we will achieve is a lose-lose situation in both urban and rural schools that would not augur well for the future generations.

The world that was once a vastly expansive globe has now contracted tremendously due to highly enhanced communication and travel around the globe. In this contracted global world, mastering multiple languages, especially English which is today the international medium for science, technology and commerce, gives one the added advantage in the acquisition of knowledge and skills in these fields. Unless we are fluent in English, we tend to lose that advantage over others.

We have no special love for English or its masters and the fears that mastering English will undermine the importance of the national language is unfounded. All Malaysians accept Bahasa Malaysia as the national language and one has to obtain a credit in order to pass the SPM, the basic qualifying examination for all purposes. Gaining knowledge through English would make one a better Malaysian, regardless of ethnicity, better equipped to face the competitiveness in the global world.

Over the last two decades the standard of English in the country has been on the decline and we are already beginning to feel the effects of that today. Job opportunities for our young graduates are limited as they do not have a good command of English. If we do not check this decline and take proactive measures to improve the standard of the language very soon we may soon become irrelevant among the leading nations of the world.

If we want to bring honor and glory to our nation we do not have any option but grasp all available means and opportunities that will bring progress and development. Under the prevailing conditions today, English is a vital tool in that pursuit of progress and unless we master it we will be final losers.


Dr.Chris Anthony

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