SIBU: Teaching STEM subjects of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics in English will be a more effective way to address the declining standard of the English language among students in the country, according to Parent Action Group for Education Malaysia (PAGE) founder Datin Noor Azimah Abdul Rahim
She said improving proficiency in English language merely through a subject called “English” in the school curriculum was insufficient as educational planners at the Education Ministry and teachers in schools had realised over the years.
Noor Azimah, who has been a strong advocate for the language in her presentation at Methodist Pilley Institute organised’s public lecture on “English – What is Next” on Friday night, said an international research had indicated that Malaysia’s 15%-20% instructional time in English language might be insufficient for students to build operational proficiency.
“With a mere contact time of around 270 minutes a week and with the teacher doing most of the talking during those minutes, the result would be what we are getting now,” she said.
The government, she added, had in 2003 decided to have Science and Mathematics taught in English. However, the decision was so hurriedly done with the result that there was insufficient time to plan and prepare for the change especially the teacher retraining aspects.
Noor Azimah said it was time now to raise the level of proficiency of the English language in this country to as high a level as possible, maybe to even a higher level than during the days of the English medium.
“There are signs that if we do not take this bold step now we may be lagging behind countries that did not show much interest in learning the language up to a few years ago. For example, we learn that Japan’s Honda Motor Company has decided to adopt English as its official language obviously for its continued survival in the very competitive auto industry.
“Of course the Indians and the Filipinos never parted with the English language as they decided to retain the English medium for their Sciences and Mathematics. That is one of the reasons why India has become one of the world’s leaders in the IT industry and the Philippine economy is on the rise again,” she said.
The new English curricula for these STEM subjects, she said, needed to stay abreast of content and approaches like English for Special Purposes, because employees in these industries and multi-national companies needed to be not only proficient in the English language but familiar with the special terminologies and language register associated with the business of these industries.
“Special attention should be paid to teacher training and pedagogical strategies. We should not take the teachers’ English proficiency for granted,” Noor Azimah stressed.
“They were completely educated in the Malay medium, even the teachers teaching English as a subject! There has to be a massive retraining programme because this change involves a new medium of instruction for the STEM subjects,” she highlighted.
Local conditions, teacher differentials, children’s ability and many other factors will determine the actual level of achievement especially for English as it would be unrealistic to expect every child to reach the level of BBC or Oxford English.
She suggested that special immersion programmes in English be mounted for those who were being prepared for these vocations or for those who showed interest or inclination to pursue to that BBC/Oxford level.