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Sunday August 25, 2013 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Sunday August 25, 2013 MYT 7:36:50 AM
by noor azimah abdul rahim
Students who benefited from learning Science and Mathematics in English at Form One are now reaping the fruits of their labour.
AS we lament the fate of national schools, there is little to despair yet for our children do still succeed in many ways and continue to excel, not just at home but also abroad.
They may not be award winners or gold medallists or even Oxbridge material but they have been inspired to give their best. And we, as parents, hope that they will in turn be an inspiration to other children to impact even more of the younger generation to continue to push Malaysia to the forefront of the global arena in every sense of the word.
The belief that the teaching of science and mathematics in English was a total failure – to the extent that the only solution after a mere six years of implementing it was for it to be abolished, with not even an attempt to salvage it – was merciless.
Calls by irresponsible groups and people of influence for parents to enrol their children into international schools if one wanted an English education lack maturity and a nationalistic spirit. Reversing to Bahasa Melayu, Chinese and Tamil or so-called mother tongue has caused not just a loss of confidence in national schools but also a deliberate shift to expensive international schools for those who can afford it, not to mention the flow of funds out of the country to accommodate this burgeoning need.
Conversations continue about students who have endured national schools and come out a little scathed, and wishes linger on that more can be done to address the situation that has befallen their younger siblings with the abolition of the teaching of science and mathematics in English. These students benefited from learning these two core subjects at Form One and are now reaping the fruits of their labour. With the excitement of support from the public for English-medium schools, could there be light at the end of the tunnel?
The United World College welcomed Johan Mohtarudin, who went to day school, to Costa Rica to pursue the International Baccalaureate under its scholarship, further excelling to major in Anthropology at the liberal arts Bates College, Lewiston, Maine in the United States. While he benefited in the application of English in the two subjects initially, it was an even “a bigger boon” in higher education where the language is “omnipresent”.
Naim Aziz, an undergraduate in accountancy at the top-ranking University of Lancaster, England, was asked by his lecturer, who had expressed a deep concern for the Malaysians there, about the situation with the teaching of science and mathematics here. We also share his view that accounts as a subject, and economics too should be taught in English at secondary level and Sixth Form.
MRSM thoroughbred Sarah Ibrahim, now Sime Darby scholar en route to University of Cardiff, Wales, said that although a large majority of MRSM students are from a rural background, they are just as capable as those from the urban areas to handle English in learning the sciences, and even more if they had been exposed from much earlier on so that transition would have been seamless into secondary school. The perception that rural students are less capable than their urban counterparts, all things being equal, is clearly untrue.
My daughter Alysha Azan, who has been accepted into University of London after meeting stiff entry requirements for Biology, Chemistry and Mathematics, said that had these subjects been taught in the national language at secondary level, she would not be packing her bags now!
These are some of the success stories that the Education Ministry may never know as records are not kept of not only these students but also those who have come and gone who are not recipients of government scholarships. It would have been wonderful to see more of these success stories unfold in the near future. Unfortunately, it will come to an abrupt end in 2021 when the English policy is stopped.
While we will still see students pursuing education abroad, more will comprise Malaysians in international schools, as national school students will struggle with language proficiency in the sciences. The Education Ministry has to address this situation. Its initiative to provide a new career path for science teachers is welcomed. They will be offered chances to do masters and PhD courses, but as an incentive, these pursuits are best to be done abroad for the exposure and world view. Incidentally, the Education Ministry continues to let its scholars pursue degrees in pure science and mathematics at highly rated universities all over the world.
It is a shame that when these students graduate, the ministry may not be able to optimise on the costly investment made on them.
Professional detractors too have to realise that it is not an issue of language but the need to acquire knowledge, in this case the scientific kind, which happens to be in English. It could have been Chinese or Spanish even, but at this point in time it is English and we are not even thinking of romancing the “colonial hangover” or re-living the era. No one person should have the right to prevent anyone from acquiring knowledge. Putting all our eggs in one MBI (Strengthening the English language) basket is risky. If it does not meet its intended outcome, another generation will bite the dust.
As we approach the nostalgia of Aug 31 again, and for the 56th time, we are reminded of the words of Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Al-Haj who, in his book Looking Back (1975), had poignantly stated: “Another matter, which is causing me concern, is the need to provide our people with the right type of education, bearing in mind that the official language of this new nation is Bahasa Malaysia. At this stage of our development, we cannot afford to do away with the core of higher education, to which every parent and studious boy and girl aspire. So whether we like it or not, the study of science and mathematics should be continued in English for a long time – perhaps for many, many years to come”. This was written as English-medium schools were being abolished one after the other.
The first prime minister further reminisced: “I maintain that the education we give our people must continue to be in English, making full use of the knowledge acquired in that international language.”
Maybe if we had listened hard enough, it would not be as daunting an experience to transform “science” teachers into “scientists”!
Happy Merdeka to all!
> The writer is chairman of the Parent Action Group for Education Malaysia (PAGE) and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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