PAUL CHANG, Retired Federal Chief Inspector of Schools Former School of Education Studies director, USM Penang writes:
IN discussing ways to improve the standard of English, Mathematics and Science, we need to take into account the following:
Language is an instrument for communication and acquisition of knowledge and skills. Before a language can be used to acquire knowledge and skills, a minimum level of proficiency must first be attained.
Learning a language is different from learning Science and Mathematics. Each requires its own special intelligence.
Educational research has firmly established that besides general intelligence, there are different types of special intelligence such as language intelligence, Mathematics and Science intelligence, aesthetics intelligence, psycho-motor intelligence, and human relations intelligence.
A person possessing a high level of language intelligence may not be as intelligent in Mathematics and Science. Conversely, a person having a high level of intelligence in Science and Mathematics may not excel in language. This diversity of intelligence accounts for people excelling in different professions.
These principles – which apply to all children, irrespective of whether they attend national or national type schools – must be considered in drawing up the school curriculum.
Improving the standards of English and gaining knowledge in Science and Mathematics are two different objectives. The time taken to achieve each objective varies according to the mental development, aptitude and capacity of the students.
At primary school level, education policymakers have two options. First, they should allow children to gain proficiency in English before learning Science and Mathematics in English.
The second option is to require all students from Year One to learn English and at the same time be taught Science and Mathematics in English.
If priority is given to learning English at the primary school level, Mathematics concepts and stories of scientific discoveries can be incorporated in the curriculum to arouse interest and to motivate the use of English to learn Mathematics and Science at a later stage.
Learning is a lifelong process. Motivation is a crucial factor. At the primary school level, children are too young to understand and appreciate the economic value of the different subjects in the school curriculum. To them, learning must be a joyful experience. Teachers have a vital role to play in motivating children (each according to their aptitude and capacity) and designing ways and means to meet their needs.
Improving the standard of English, Science and Mathematics is an educational issue. To politicise such an issue will only generate more heat than light and lead to unnecessary wastage of limited human and financial resources, time and energy.
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