Malaysia: Give schools option to teach in English

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Sun Sep 14 17:40:42 UTC 2008

Give schools option to teach in English
By Nisha Sabanayagam and Ili Liyana Mokhtar


KUALA LUMPUR: Schools are expected to take a stand on whether to
support the continued use of English as the medium of instruction for
Science and Mathematics. First to come out in support of the present
policy is the Parent-Teacher Association of SK Bukit Damansara. It
obtained a mandate from its members at a meeting yesterday to appeal
to the Education Ministry to continue with the use of English.  At
present, English is used in the teaching of the two subjects from Year
One to Year Six.

SK Bukit Damansara PTA vice-chairman Noor Azimah Abdul Rahim said
members of the committee would be meeting PTAs from other schools next
Saturday to enlist their support. A report will be submitted to the
ministry. Noor Azimah said this would ensure that the ministry got
feedback from the grassroots. The on-going debate among parents,
educators, students and government officials on the use of English as
the medium of instruction for the two subjects was sparked by a report
in the New Sunday Times.

The report, based on a survey by Universiti Pendidikan Sultan Idris,
said the policy introduced by former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir
Mohamad in 2003 was flawed and should be scrapped.

SK Bukit Damansara PTA committee member Roz Mawar Zain said there were
limitations in using English to teach Mathematics and Science.
However, reverting to the national language would be too drastic. Roz
Mawar added that more time was needed to gauge the results of the
existing policy.

Noor Azimah said the Education Ministry should consider alternatives
such as improving the current syllabus and the training of teachers
instead of taking a step backwards.

"We have no intention to degrade the importance of the national
language. What we want is for the younger generation to be well
equipped to compete on a global level," she said.

Should the government decide to revert to using the national language
in the teaching of Science and Mathematics, the PTA committee members
informed parents at yesterday's meeting that they would suggest
another option to the ministry.

"If the policy is changed, schools should be given the choice to teach
both the subjects in English," said Noor Azimah.

In the long run, these schools might be considered as cluster schools
of excellence for English, she said.

Director-General of Education Alimuddin Mohd Dom said earlier last
week that the results of this year's 518,616 Ujian Pencapaian Sekolah
Rendah candidates would be one of the factors that would decide
whether or not the policy would be continued.

"Many other factors will be considered, including the views and
suggestions from various quarters through round-table discussions," he

Two round-table discussions were held in July and August on the issue.
Two more discussions would be held this month.

Alimuddin said the first two discussions, which included the
participation of teachers, community leaders, PTA members and
professional bodies, had brought forth three views.

One was that the policy should continue and its implementation be strengthened.

The second view was that it should only be implemented at a higher
level, either at the secondary level or Year Two in primary school.

The third view was for the government to scrap the policy and revert
to teaching the subjects in Bahasa Malaysia.


Professor Emeritus Tan Sri Dr Ismail Hussein, president, Federation of
National Writers Association

In those days, when the medium of instruction was English, we were
reduced to a "minority race". We need Bahasa Malaysia to unite, or it
will widen the divide between the urban and rural folks.
But we are not rejecting the English language. It should be upheld,
but teaching these subjects in English is not the answer. I give 200
per cent support to use English as an additional language. However, it
will not benefit my grandmother who lives in the kampung.

Datuk Abdul Raof Husin:,
Pemuafakatan Badan Ilmiah Nasional

I find teachers are less articulate in class because they are unable
to illustrate as well as they could in Bahasa Malaysia. This affects
the ability of students to absorb because there is less interaction
and discussion.
Studies showed that 30 per cent of UPSR students in national and
vernacular schools fared poorly in Maths and Science when taught in
Do you think there is hope for these children to improve when they go
to secondary schools? They are not going to make it if this policy

Professor Emeritus Datuk Isahak Haron:, Universiti Pendidikan Sultan Idris
Just look at how the policy came to be. The decision was made because
they found that students were weak in English, Maths and Science and
so they decided the remedy was to teach these subjects in English!
Among Malay students, more than 87 per cent say that it is tough to
learn Science in English. Science is more difficult to learn in
English because you need a good command of the language to understand
concepts and procedures compared with Maths.
Teachers find it difficult to teach in English and students find it
difficult to understand — it is double jeopardy. The conclusion from
our analysis is that the policy has brought about negative results.

Professor Dr Idris Zakaria: deputy dean, Islamic Faculty, Universiti
Kebangsaan Malaysia

Due to our haste to bring progress to the country, we put into effect
the English policy. But countries like China, Japan, Germany and
France do not use English but they have progressed so much compared to
countries where English is widely used, such as Philippines and India.
During the 7th and 14th centuries, Islam was at its golden era and
there was much progress. The scholars did not use English then.
The solution is to streamline the use of English according to the
field of study for tertiary education.

Goh Hin San:, president, Translation and Creative Writing Association

The policy now is like operating on the leg when someone is having
stomach problems.
There is no country that purposely puts aside its mother tongue to
teach in another foreign language in the main school system.
A majority of the Chinese community want the policy to be reverted.

Dr Yap Sin Tian:, chairman, United Chinese School Committees
Association of Malaysia (Dong Zong)

We urge the government to find effective means to improve the standard
of English in schools. The government should accept the negative
effects of Maths and Science being taught in English and allow us to
revert to teaching in our native language.
In this way, our mother tongue is kept alive and our multiculturalism
continues to thrive.

Professor Datuk Dr Abdul Latiff Abu Bakar:

This is a national issue. We must revert to Bahasa Malaysia for the
sake of unity and gaining knowledge.
We must understand our history and government policies, and uphold our
Constitution. The issue should not be politicised.


Anita Menon:, accountant
Both my husband and I are products of the national school system. When
I was growing up, my parents did not speak English to me.
The teachers who taught us English were proficient in the language
and, as a result, we are both fluent in English. The emphasis on
English is now lost in the national schools.
The teachers who teach Mathematics and Science are not able to teach
these subjects in English. If the educators themselves are not
proficient, how are they supposed to teach students? We are now
considering alternative schools for our children.

Rajini M.:, lecturer
I teach graduates and undergraduates. Most of the reference books are
in English. They struggle to understand even the basic terms in
I do not blame them. It is the teachers who need to be trained
properly. It is no use sending them for courses. Examiners should go
into classrooms and see what the teachers are doing and correct them.
The situation at my workplace is such that colleagues who are not
proficient in English have asked me to give them English lessons. This
shows that they are interested in learning the language.
One should focus on improving the teachers' language skills instead of
switching from one language to another.

Wan Intan Ahmad:, housewife
All parents want their children to go to university, either locally or
overseas. Most of these institutions use English as the medium of
instruction. How are our children going to catch up?
If you want to teach something, teach it well. If we revert to Malay,
how much are we going to spend this time? That is taxpayers' money we
are talking about.

Dr Mohd Ezani Md Taib, medical doctor
We need to strengthen the command of English among our students. It
seems that teachers these days cannot teach the language. If we have a
good command of English, we can learn anything in the language, let
alone Science and Maths.
I suggest we leave the policy as it is, as it gives our students an
advantage to compete better on a global scale.

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