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Is it beneficial reverting to teaching Science and Mathematics in Bahasa Melayu..?

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

By Ahmad Hambal Noorsham

In the early 2012, the Malaysian education system reverted to teaching Science and English in Bahasa Melayu. English has been the language instructed to be used to teach these 2 subjects since 2003. Pengajaran dan Pembelajaran Sains dan Matematik Dalam Bahasa Inggeris (PPSMI) was implemented by then Prime Minister, Dr Mahathir Mohammad, in an attempt to improve students' command of English and ,hopefully, their future employability.

The decision to revert to the pre-2003 system was made as it was found out that the average students' grades for Maths and Science has fallen since these subjects were taught in English. Rural students were reported to suffer the most as their proficiency in English was not as strong as their friends' in urban schools.

So what do you think? Do you agree with the government's decision, or should we go back to the previous system..?

Personally, I like the previous practice better. I myself suffered during my university days as the medium used was English. When I was in secondary school, everything was taught in BM (except English class).As a result, I received very low marks during the initial semesters as I couldn't understand the lessons being taught, let alone answering the questions in English correctly. It took me a long time to get my grades on track, and suffice to say, I wished I had enrolled in an English-medium school, just like what my parents had.

If I had been taught in English for Maths and Science subjects during secondary level, I'd imagine that the transition to the tertiary level wouldn't have been that difficult. Additionally, we would have another avenue to practice listening, talking and writing in English. The fact is, for most schools in which BM is the medium of teaching, the only time we (like most Malay kids who don't speak English at home) practiced using English were during English language classes, and those were only like 3-4 hours, per week. Do you think that is enough to improve a student's command of English? I don't think so!

I'd think the solution is simple, if you want to produce students who have good command of English, they should be attending schools in which English is the medium of teaching. Why do a lot of our parents and grandparents have good command of English? It's because they went to English medium schools. Why do some Malay students can speak Mandarin fluently? Because they went to Chinese schools! However, I do understand the problems we had with the previous system. Although what Dr Mahathir Mohammad wanted to implement,in my opinion, was spot on, there were not enough teachers who can actually teach Science and Maths properly in English. If teachers themselves have difficulty teaching subjects in English, how do we expect our students to be good at it (understading and answering exam questions in English)?

PPSMI Teaching in English  *image from Portal Pendidikan Utusan

An interesting comment was given by a father who lives in a village, when asked by a reporter about his thought on this issue. His answer was, "Apa yang kerajaan nak buat ni bagus.. tetapi kalau murid-murid sendiri tak tahu Bahasa Inggeris , macam mana mereka nak faham apa yang diajar dalam Bahasa Inggeris..?" Translation: I think you know what he said! =D That is actually the second problem, which is the students' lack of proficiency in English. The father's answer explains the issue itself. I'd like to suggest that the government provide another type of public school which uses English as the medium of teaching. Parents who would like to have their children learn lessons in English will then have another option. (They can always send their kids to private school, but I'd think most middle and low-income parents would not be able to afford the fees)

As an owner of a home tutoring agency and a tuition center, I've seen a trend in Malaysia recently in which more parents opt for home tuition or home schooling. Instead of sitting for the SPM exams, parents now prefer for their child to sit for the IGCSE exam. (please click the exam names to know more about it). As IGCSE syllabus are entirely in English, parents now get to ensure that their child will continue to learn subjects in that language. Since sending the students to most international schools or private schools do cost a lot, parents now choose to teach their child themselves or hire tutors for subjects that they do not master. Home schooling is a popular trend in developed countries and I think more parents in Malaysia will adopt this system in the near future.

So what do you think? Feel free to leave your comments as I'd love to read your opinions. Thank you for reading.

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