Malaysia: The Teaching of Maths And Science In English: Study reveals policy's flaws

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Sun Sep 7 16:42:18 UTC 2008

Maths And Science In English: a failure
The New Straits Times headline:

The Teaching of Maths And Science In English: Study reveals policy's flaws

Consider how fortunate the Malaysian Science and Maths teachers are
when the policy to teach Science and Maths in English was implemented:
laptops were issued to individual teachers which they can take home to
prepare their lessons; LCD projectors for each classroom; CDs for
teaching topics covered by the syllabus at every level; crash-courses
in English; reference books; even lesson plans for each unit in the
syllabus have been scripted in English so that they could conduct
their lessons more efficiently; and to top it all, an allowance of 5
to 10% of their basic salary, with the proviso that they pass their
English language courses. Of course, nobody failed in these courses.
It is not uncommon to see teachers teach by remote control by
inserting the CD into the laptop and the computer takes over. The
teaching of Science and Mathematics has never been easier.

Now indications are that this policy after five years and RM 5 billion
down the road will be assigned to the scrapyard. If it does happen,
the loss of the critical allowance for these teachers will be sorely
felt in this trying time of high cost of living. The policy was
formulated amidst considerable opposition from both the ruling
coalition parties, opposition parties as well as academics and
educational institutions. Needless to say, Tun Dr Mahathir was a prime
minister who would not tolerate any opposition to his plan. However,
what had made this controversial, great man to embark on a policy that
would surely have made him very unpopular, not only among the Malays,
some of whom branded him as "a traitor of the Malay language", but
also the vernacular educationists? There are many anecdotes that
pointed to his decision to embark on the project, one of which was
related here. But the publicly announced rationale for such a
controversial decision was the decline in the standard of English in
the country as he saw it.

And now a professor from Universiti Pendidikan Sultan Idris (UPSI) who
conducted a research on the impact of the use of English for both
subjects has proclaimed that the policy is a failure, and thousands of
students have been victimized by the policy. His conclusions were that
there was no improvement in the language proficiency of students; more
alarming however, was the deterioration in the performance of Science
and Mathematics, particularly rural students. If that is so, why is
the UPSI's Year Five tests for both subjects showed Malay students in
rural areas and large towns did better than those in the cities (The
Straits Times, 7 Sept 2008)? And why did the vernacular schools do
better than the Malay schools? So is it a failure of the policy, or is
it the methodology, the quality of the teaching, the lack of
commitment from the teachers and school administrators since they are
the ones who opposed the move at the onset?

The professor also did not say how the students fared in comparison
with those who studied the subjects in their mother-tongue before the
policy was implemented. On the other hand, visits to schools by the
Federal Inspectorate to study the implementation, teaching and
learning of these subjects have provided a picture of significant
improvement. Who are we to believe?  It seems a foregone conclusion
the government would revert to teaching both the subjects in the
mother-tongue to please the people. The question that comes to mind
is: Is it a failure of the policy or its implementation? In this
connection Bakri Musa has an interesting take on the subject.

While we raged and screamed at the former Prime Minister over his
foolish decision, it would do well to look at the Philippine's
bilingual education policy, which uses Filipino as a language of
instruction for social studies and English for Science and
Mathematics. The country has been doing that for years, and the people
are none the worse for it. In fact, they would prefer the status quo,
although the government is in the process of making Filipino, which
will be known as Pilipino, as the language of instruction for all
subjects. An interesting digression here is that a group of some 50
Korean teachers went to the country recently to study how English is
taught as a subject and as a language of instruction for Science and

We should seriously do some soul searching so as not to throw out the
baby with the bath water.
N.b.: Listing on the lgpolicy-list is merely intended as a service to
its members
and implies neither approval, confirmation nor agreement by the owner
or sponsor of
the list as to the veracity of a message's contents. Members who
disagree with a
message are encouraged to post a rebuttal. (H. Schiffman, Moderator)

More information about the Lgpolicy-list mailing list