Malaysia: If one is a tooth and a whole set are teeth, then why shouldn't booth in the plural be beeth?

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Tue Sep 16 17:28:42 UTC 2008

Monday, September 15, 2008 If one is a tooth and a whole set are teeth, then
why shouldn't booth in the plural be
The Government's decision on whether the teaching of Science and Mathematics
currently in English, should revert to Bahasa Malaysia will reveal yet
another flip flop policy that is being treated like a political football to
be kicked around.

In a sense the decline in the proficiency of English was inevitable
following the switch in the medium of education from English to Bahasa in
1968. But really the extent of the decline could have greatly reduced if
there had been a clear policy to the future role of English in our education
system where a certain degree of bilingualism could have existed in our
schools. Instead what we saw was the almost total elimination of English as
a medium of instruction and almost 40 years after the tabling of the
National Language Act 1967, there is still no clear direction as to the role
of English except calls for it to be relegated to just another subject in

Khairy Jamaluddin had recently recommended for the policy to be ditched on
the grounds that rural students due to their poor command of English had
failed to grasp the concepts of science and mathematics, compounded by the
fact the teachers themselves are facing difficulties in teaching in English.
Khairy then posed this question How do you expect to answer exam questions
in English when it is not entirely taught in English in the first place?

With the benefit of hindsight many now realise that the transitional period
for the switch to English was far too short especially since Bahasa Malaysia
is so clearly entrenched as the medium of instruction. The paramount
importance now is to ensure that students be given a solid foundation in
English from the beginning of formal schooling. Teaching methods should have
been adapted to suit the changed circumstances. Similarly teacher training
courses should have been modified to help the teachers and lecturers cope
better and faster.

Lee Kuan Yew who formulated the English medium policy in Singapore, made
this assumption explicit when he said "Language is a key to the acquisition
of knowledge. If a student is unable to understand a language, then he is
unable to receive information or knowledge in that language. It is therefore
crucial that a breakthrough must be made in the English language as early in
life as possible".

Malaysia's goal should be to create a bilingual education policy with an aim
to create a general populace who are bilingual and biliterate at a high
level. No one can deny that in any given society today, English is the
language of science and technology, while mother tongues were designated the
transmitters of cultural values and norms. English should be maintained as
the medium of instruction for Science and Mathematics as its usage would
encourage familiarity to embrace the massive corpus of knowledge available
on the Internet and reference books. The government should invest heavily
with the provision of proper infrastructure to help teachers and students in
teaching and learning the two critical subjects in English rather than to
simply ditch the policy.

On the flip side of the argument, not being able to understand English
certainly has its benefit if this following story is anything to go by:-

In 1997, the Chief Minister of Selangor was arrested in Brisbane airport
with the equivalent of AUS$1.26 million in currency in his luggage.

Australian law requires that amounts above $5000 be declared. The Chief
Minister had no identifiable source of significant wealth and had been a school
teacher before entering politics. In addition to the cash, he and his wife
were found to own property in Queensland and another six properties in New

The Chief Minister avoided prosecution for currency smuggling by claiming he
misunderstood the customs declaration form because it was in English and he
was not proficient in the language.

 Posted by N. Kiru at 8:31

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