University student criticizes Malaysia's science language policy

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Tue Aug 9 14:30:48 UTC 2005

Letter to the Editor, The Star, Sunday July 31, 2005

Back to Bahasa Malaysia

I AM an undergraduate student in Universiti Sains Malaysia and would like
to comment on the confusing language policy being practised in our
education system. As one of the STPM (Sijil Tinggi Persekolahan Malaysia)
candidates in 2004, I was given a choice of answering the Science and
Mathematics subjects in either English or Bahasa Malaysia.

However, by that time, the teaching of Science subjects in schools like
Physics, Biology and Chemistry, and also Mathematics, was conducted wholly
in English.

So, basically, we sixth formers and also the matriculation students were
encouraged to learn and answer these subjects in English. This was a good
move to train us to master the language.

I was really thankful to the government for making such a wise move at
that time. But, when I entered university few weeks ago, things weren't
what I thought they would be like.

I was told that some of the courses like kejuruteraan matematik
(mathematical engineering) will be taught fully in Bahasa Malaysia (BM),
the exam questions would be in BM too and that it was compulsory for us to
answer them in BM.

This is despite the fact that most of the reference books we are using are
in English and that we were the first batch of students for which the
teaching of Science and Mathematics was conducted in English.

I wonder what is going on. I was Chinese-educated, so basically I learned
Science and Mathematics in Mandarin when I was in primary school. After
that I learnt them in BM when I entered secondary school. In Form Six, the
medium of instruction switched to English,

Now, I have to learn them in BM again in university. This is a burden as I
have to remember the science and mathematics terminologies in both
languages. This is not easy especially now that we are at university


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