Malaysia: English or Bahasa Melayu for Science and Maths?

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Tue Nov 18 18:42:00 UTC 2008

English or Bahasa Melayu for Science and Maths?
November 17th, 2008 | by bongkersz |

Warning: A long and wordy post. Brace yourself.

I had a long teh tarik session with Noktah Hitam and Aeropama on
Friday night. It is a normal thing now, hanging out from 10pm - 4am.
We bitched about many things that came to mind and oogled at girls at
the same time. (yours truly did, not sure about those two.. I know
they checked out a ladyboy sitting on the next table at one time :P)

One of the many topics we talked about was 'English or Bahasa Melayu
as medium for Science and Maths?' Yes, we talked about such things
over teh tarik, because we need to pretend we are smart people and
care for the nation. We also talked about Nora Danish, Emilda Rosmila
and cheongsamlover's blog but I will spare you the unnecessary
gossips. (We can always arrange for another teh tarik session for

This topic has been going around for so long, often politicised and
used by self-serving politicians to fish for votes rather than serving
the nation's interes and looking at the bigger picture. Our fickle
minded government and its famous policy of flip floping to gain
popularity has caused many problems to students and parents. The
government should stop toying with the future of the nation by
experimenting with such important policy, treating students as guinea
pigs. (Hear that Hishamuddin Hussein?)

I am agnostic on this issue. Both English and Bahasa Melayu language
has its own advantages and disadvantages. I am actually advocating for
finding ways to improve its implementation instead of doing another
U-turn. Allow me to generalise here, by making blanket statements for
both proponents and opponents for English or Bahasa Melayu as medium
for teaching Science and Maths.

Bahasa Melayu

1. It is our national language, it's our duty to uphold it. If we
continue using English, what will happen to Bahasa Melayu?

2. It is easier for students from rural or non-English speaking
background to understand the subject (especially Malay students). If
they cannot understand English in the first place, how are they going
to understand Science or Maths concepts?


1. It is the lingua franca.

2. It is the language of knowledge.

After much deliberations, taking into account of my own experience and
points raised by Noktah Hitam, Aeropama and some other friends, here
is my opinion.

There is no right and wrong or clear cut answer for this question. It
is not fair to pick one language over another because I think the
actual issue here is about which language is better or more effective
to teach Science and Maths.

The objective of teaching Maths is to impart Maths knowledge to the
student, likewise for Science. The teaching of the subjects should not
have anything to do with the language. Let the teachers use whatever
language would better serve the students, whether it be Bahasa
Malaysia, English, Mandarin or Tamil. As long as the objective of
imparting knowledge of Maths and Science is met, then language
shouldn't be a barrier.

Now on the issue of falling English standard among Malaysian students,
hence the decision to teach both subjects in English. The real cause
of falling English standards among Malaysian students is the way the
English subject is taught, it is the syllabus itself. The problem lies
with the implementation and most important, the educators.

Stupid teachers create stupid students. You have merit-less students
making it to teaching schools or universities, become teachers just to
fulfil certain quota, this is what you get. Idiots beget idiots. In
the very first place, to improve English, improvement should be made
to the English syllabus, not making other subjects as scapegoats.

I am going to repeat it again, IT IS NOT THE LANGUAGE THAT IS THE
PROBLEM! The problems are the teachers and the parents. The teachers
are not interested in teaching the students and in the students'
future or they are too dumb to teach and parents don't spend time with
their children to encourage them and help them in their studies but
thinking that by sending their kids to tuition classes, it is the sure
work magic solution to get good results.

We should just keep the Bahasa Melayu as the main language for
education, just like last time and find ways to improve the standard
of English, rather than making stupid decision of just teaching
Science and Maths in English. Why not History? Geography? Not that
important? Huh! It is pointless to debate on what language is better
really, we should learn both languages, or as many as we can.

But, since we already walked down the lane for the past 5 years, let's
keep it that way and stop flip flopping. it will do no good, this flip
flop policies. Be firm. Bahasa Melayu or English? Stick with one.

That said, I am against the decision to gamble our students' future
again by changing it back to Bahasa Melayu. Keep using English as
medium for Science and Maths. Just make necessary improvements to the
current system. Making an U-turn and start again with a totally new
policy, is a waste of time and stupid. Gradual changes to the
continuing policies is acceptable, but abrupt change of policies
should be avoided.

Now, if I am the Minister of Education, here are the things that I
will do. If I become the Minister of Education, lah!

1. Revamp the whole education system and make English the main
language for our education system.

If you teach the subjects in Bahasa Melayu, at one point you will
still need to switch back to English especially when you are
continuing your tertiary education. This is based on my own
experience. Imagine knowing 'jisim' for all the years only to know it
means 'mass' in English? How about 'penghabluran'? Crystalisation
anyone? Reference books in Bahasa Melayu is very limited, and if any
most are directed lifted/translated from English books. So you want to
read the original or the translated version? Mind you, reading Bahasa
Melayu translated books especially forsubjects like Science and
Mathematic is extremely confusing.

Now, some people opiniate it is easier for you to change to another
medium of language when you are going to do your tertiary education. I
do not agree. It is only true to certain extent. For some, it is
easier because normally those who are qualified for tertiary education
are considered 'smart' students and they are fast learners and can
pick up new language. It is still a hassle, imagine using Bahasa
Melayu as medium since Primary One to Form 5 (almost 12 years), only
to change it later.

I believe, if you expose students to English language since Primary
One or kindergarten, there is absolutely no problem for any of the
student to understand the language. Yes, they may have problem going
back home asking their parents for helps in their homeworks if their
parents do not understand English. But, this is not actually a

Back in the old days, there were many illiterate parents but they
still 'produce' successful sons and daughters. My father cannot read
English and Bahasa Melayu, my mother cannot understand Bahasa Melayu.
I am a Chinese, so based on this argument, I should have problem
understanding Bahasa Melayu and English, since I had nobody to teach
me back home because I am neither from Bahasa Melayu or English
speaking background? Somehow, I think I am doing fine??

The problem lies with the teachers. We must have good teachers,
regardless of what language is used to teach. If we are going to use
English as medium, make sure all the educators are capable enough to
teach in English. If they are not, send them for courses, make them
master the language inside out before they are allowed to teach.
without the proper command and understanding of the basic English
language, how are they going to teach the students? If teachers are
still not competent to teach in English, the blame lies with the
Education Ministry and the incompetent teachers. After so many years,
they could have produced thousands of teachers who are trained to
teach using English.

Blaming the students from small towns and kampungs unable to grasp the
English language is basically covering up for the teacher's inability
to teach in decent English. Well, that is what we get when most of our
new current batch of teachers are those jobless grads who cannot speak
decent English and hence had to join the teacher's college in order to
make a living.

Children are like sponges and they absorb any information taught to
them very easily, provided the teachers know what they are teaching in
the first place. So, let the students have their subjects taught in
English from the very first time they set foot inside the school and
get good teachers to teach them.

Then we will have no problem of students finding it is hard for them
to switch from Bahasa Melayu (or Mandarin and Tamil) to English if
they continue their tertiary education. But, by doing this we have
another problem - putting Bahasa Melayu at its disadvantage as a
national language. I will deal with this point later in this post.

Using English as medium suits well in our multi-racial country, as it
does not discriminate any race. The Chinese cannot say the government
is eroding Chinese language and identities, same goes to the Indians
and the Malays. But, I am damn sure there are many who will come out
and politicise this issue saying it is another form of Western
occupation, degrading and insulting the national language. Some
extremists will again bring out the issue of Malay Chinese, Indian
supremacy, rights and priviledges. Supporters of Bahasa Melayu for
sure wills say by using English as the main language in school, it
will weaken Bahasa Melayu. My head, Bahasa Melayu has so many words
borrowed from the English itself, as well as many words from different
languages. These scumbags can rot in their delusional communal
shitholes. Just please do not politise the issue.

2. Only one type of school, that is National School.

I am proposing for just one type of school - national school with
English as the main medium and other languages as second
language/elective subjects. The Malays can bask in the pride and glory
of Bahasa Melayu, the Chinese and Indians can go about protecting and
keep their 'cultural identities'that way. You still can learn your
Tamil, your Mandarin. I will throw in Spanish, Japanese, Korean if the
budget allows me to do so, so you can watch yor favorite dramas at
ease. Come on, you are not going to be less India, Malay or Chinese if
you are using English as the main language at school or by learning
other languages.

In relation to this, Bahasa Melayu must also be taken as a compulsory
subject, acknowledging it as the national language. It is important
for all the students to master Bahasa Melayu as well in order to
preserve its status as the national language. Any correspondence with
the government must be carried out in Bahasa Melayu. To make sure
students master Bahasa Melayu, a set of requirements must be meted out
say, a student must score certain passing mark in the basics of
reading, writing and speaking the language. By doing this, hopeful we
can uphold its status as our national language.

Bahasa Melayu has yet to put itself as a language of knowledge to be
taken seriously. Ask yourself and be honest, are we really equipped
linguistically to use Bahasa Melayu for Science and Maths? This is the
most important question to ask. Are there enough reference books
written in Bahasa Melayu for our students to refer to?

But, this is a tricky situation. If we are going to introduce English
as the medium for teaching, Bahasa Melayu will remain as nothing but
'cosmetic' and this is sure not going to help to make it is as a
language of knowledge.

Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka (DBP) needs to do some soul searching here on
how to tackle this matter. We need more linguists, more publications
in Bahasa Melayu especially on technical subjects. Translating
directly from English reference books is totally unacceptable. Even
the terminology used are borrowed from English pronunciation. For
example, biology and biologi. An English dictionary at least states
the etymology of the word as bio- life and -logy study, sadly the
Kamus Bahasa Melayu says nothing. The correct word should be Ilmu
Hayat, idiots. Hire me to work for DBP better.

So, DBP must do its job properly and politicians must stay away.
Nothing good comes from the politicians, especially from Malaysian
politicians which most of them can't even string a proper sentence in
Bahasa Melayu or English to begin with. Some can't even converse
properly without the 'aah… err….eee… uuhh' 'you know…' interjections.
Look at the debates in our august house, see any good parlimentarians
that able to articulate their points properly without reading directly
from the prepared texts? Idiots.

No matter how, if we are sincere enough to make changes to improve the
usage of Bahasa Melayu it can be done. Look at the Japanese, Korean,
Chinese, and many other countries and how they incorporated their
language in Science and Math.

3. Do away with too much emphasize on exam-based education system. Get
rid of those cut-throat tuition classes that thrive on this policy.

Hmmm, I am going to continue this post in other time. This post is
getting super long and I bet many of you collapsed halfway reading it.
Stay tune if you want to hear more from your future Minister of
Education hahahahaha!
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