In 2003, the Government decided to teach Maths and Science in English, so as to bring the schoolchildren up to speed with the rest of the world. This was opposed by proponents of the vernacular languages; Malay, Chinese and Tamil. It was the first time since Malaysia was born that these normally fighting factions got together to oppose a common enemy.
On July 8, 2009, the current Deputy Prime Minister, Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, said that the government was abolishing the policy and that instead, they would increase the contact hours for teaching English and hiring additional teachers to handle the workload, looking at possibly pulling teachers out of retirement. Their reason behind this decision seems to be rather flimsy: rural students were losing out to urban kids and this had to be addressed immediately.
The general consensus, no matter where you go, is that the policy is very poorly-thought out. The majority of teachers teaching Science and Maths in English cannot actually speak English to save their lives, much less teach. They are products of the all-Malay curricula that began in the 1970s, where English was also marginalised because it was the language of the colonisers.
Unless your family were native speakers or grew up studying in a English-medium school, there is a high chance that your command of the English language would be rather poor. I know of a few colleagues who got to where they are today despite originally having poor command of the language by putting the language to use regularly. These are the rare ones, the ones who motivate themselves to study and understand how to use the language.
Most Malaysians have a “it’s just enough” attitude when it comes to English. Their reasoning is that as long as their command is enough to understand others and have others understand them, there’s no need to improve it. After all, when you’re a designer, what use is there to know the difference between “a SMS” and “an SMS” when it’s the copywriter’s duty to do so?
This, however, is a fallacy. My take on this is simple: having a working knowledge of the language is a must! In Malaysia, that means Bahasa Melayu and English, especially when you consider that the country is also a tourist country, you should ensure that your citizens are able to answer and understand simple questions like, “Can I get a refill?”
It does not apply to just those in the service industry. It applies to everyone. Having a working knowledge of English is essential to understanding clients and colleagues. In a globalised economy, you cannot afford to marginalise one language over another, especially when the language you are attempting to marginalise is spoken by millions around the globe. You cannot also afford to marginalise a language spoken by BILLIONS to preserve your own diminishing political power.
I for one, agree to abolishing the philosophy, but only because those implementing it are expecting instant results and any surveys done had no real control groups. The Maths question posted (I cannot remember on whose blog I saw, but I did remember seeing it) in English and Bahasa was widely different. The English question had fractals, the BM question was a straightforward division question. So tell me, how can that survey be equal? Or conducted without bias?
In nation building, the government, I believe, is responsible for creating policies that will satisfy those who put them into power, ie. the voters. It is with this idea and thinking that I propose the following (being a voter myself):
Bring back English-medium schools.
I went to Stella Maris for my Form 4-5 studies. It was a private school, and one that spoke English all the time. Everything was conducted in English, from our science lessons (this was before the advent of the Teaching of Science and Maths in English, by the way), our Moral classes and our Geography lessons too, I think. The only time we spoke BM all the time was when we were in BM classes/BM co-culrricular activities. All our classes were in English otherwise.
Give parents the choice to choose whether the kids learn in English or BM or Mandarin or Tamil. If not, then let us have the option to have private schools that will do so.
Teachers are NOT administrators.
I do not believe that teachers are administrators. They should not be the ones to collect the fees for their classes, they shouldn’t have to be the one that plans the whole Sukan Day thing and they should not be the ones to write mountains of reports. They shouldn’t be the ones to come up with a million and one activities to fill up the school’s calendars. That’s what you have the school administrator and clerks for. Teachers should be teaching, not administrating.
Please lighten the burdens of teachers and let them be teachers, not administrators.
I am out of ideas for now. I do have them running around in my head but that will be in another post.