MANY tertiary students are against the government’s decision to revert the teaching of Maths and Science to vernacular languages and Bahasa Malaysia.
Students who had studied the subjects in Bahasa Malaysia and are now pursuing Maths and Science-related courses in English at local universities said it was a struggle as they could not understand the terms.
Benny Ong Zhu Venn, 23, a recent Multimedia University graduate said he studied both subjects in Chinese during primary school and in Bahasa Malaysia in secondary school, and did his electronics engineering course in English during university.
“Some terms in English were difficult to understand and I had to refer to a dictionary.
“I feel it is better if Maths and Science are taught in English, so it won’t be so hard for us to ‘catch up’ in university,” he said.
Biomedical engineering student Muhamad Zulfadli Muhamad Razali from Universiti Teknologi Malaysia said reference books and materials were mostly in English.
“Many of my friends have a hard time coping in university and are just memorising the notes because they are in English, but the lecturers teach in Bahasa Malaysia,” he said.
He said that even his parents had picked up some English as his younger siblings — one in Form Three and the other a university undergraduate — had benefited from the English for the Teaching of Science and Mathematics (also known by its Malay acronym PPSMI) policy.
Universiti Teknologi Mara accounting student, Norsyahida Adila Sopki, 22, said it took a few years for her to grasp English.
“I feel both subjects should be taught in English from primary school so that it will be an easy transistion for students by the time they get to tertiary level,” she said.
She added that one of her peers had to extend her engineering course in order to take up English classes and others had failed their courses as they couldn’t answer their papers in English.
Taylor’s University College student Christine Cheng Ka-Yan, 18, who underwent the PPSMI process at secondary school, said students who grasp concepts in English have a fighting chance to apply to top-notch foreign universities like Oxford or Cambridge, which have stringent entrance requirements and interviews.
“If the interviewer asks ‘what is a covalent bond’, how will the student answer?
“You can’t learn all the English terms in three months. It’s ridiculous,” she said.
Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) Chemistry lecturer Prof Dr Yang Farina Abdul Aziz said she believed students would achieve greater heights with English.
“I can see (former Prime Minister) Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s point because it’s not about the language per se.
“If you want to understand science and technology at a higher level, you need to understand the technical language used to communicate,’’ she said.
Since international research papers are read and written in English, Prof Yang Farina said time spent translating papers and books from English to BM and vice-versa, could be used to read or write more papers and books.
UCSI University President and Malaysian Association of Private Colleges & Universities secretary general Peter Ng believes it is a “a real shame” that the government would revert on PPSMI, as Malaysians would lose out in the international scientific and business world.
“This has nothing to do with being non-nationalistic, we just want to make people competent on the international platform,” he said.
“At UCSI, we could already see students coming to us more proficient at English, and now, out of the blue, it’s back to BM,” he added.
“We’re not playing toys – one day BM, one day English and the next day BM.”
However, there are some educationists who are of the view that while the English language should be improved, it should be done through other avenues too.
“It can be a win-win situation where subjects are taught in Bahasa Malaysia, but the teaching of English is intensified through other forms, like reading and speaking,” said Malaysian Academic Movement chairman Dr Wan Abdul Manan Wan Muda.