Malaysia: A Rejoinder to Khairy Jamaluddin's Regressive Sentiment

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Thu Sep 18 14:11:52 UTC 2008

A Rejoinder to Khairy Jamaluddin's Regressive Sentiment

Thursday, 18 September 2008 09:51
By Imran Imtiaz Shah Yacob

 "What we want is to see the child in pursuit of knowledge, and not
knowledge in pursuit of the child." - George Bernard Shaw

They say that true leadership requires both a clear mission and the
ability to make a difference. This being the case then very few of our
leaders qualify. Today, Malaysians are besieged by incompetent
politicians to say the least. Policy about face and backtracking is
and everyday occurrence in Malaysia's governance. And if we ever
needed another example, we have it in Khairy Jamaluddin. He has been
rooting for the so-called failure of teaching science and mathematics
in English, the importance of which is a foregone conclusion in most
parts of the world. He ascribes his view to feedback only from UMNO
grassroots members and an outright personal rejection of the policy
from the onset. What is unclear however is which of the two factors
were first in priority or if they were in fact two of the same.

The policy of the previous government to teach science and mathematics
in the English language was and still is exactly what this country
needs. Our universities have consistently been ranked down in
international rankings year on year, our human capital uncompetitive
with science and maths being the Achilles' heel of our education
system. Learning science and maths in English is not a half-baked
policy to be sure. The implementation of this crucial policy is in
reality a half-baked attempt by the present administration and
attempts to reverse this policy is akin to refusing to treat a patient
causing disability. What Khairy should instead be talking about if at
all his views were solicited considering he is not an educationist,
linguist nor a science and maths maven; is ways and means to
strengthen the structural problems in the execution and not negate the
noble and correct intentions of the policy itself.

References made to the research conducted by Dewan Bahasa Dan Pustaka
Board Member and Professor Emeritus of Universiti Pendidikan Sultan
Idris (UPSI), Datuk Isahak Haron should instead be the basis of
identifying weak spots in the delivery system and execution of the
said policy. It shouldn't instead be used as a justification to review
its implementation. That's putting the cart before the horse. One
wonders how timely this research really is considering the government
has already decided to review the said policy well ahead of the
publication of this research finding. There must not be any further
debate much less tilting on this government policy. What is needed is
a firm and resolute commitment for the future of this nation.

What is clear is that Khairy is proposing half-baked measures in the
reform of our education system and quest to master the sciences,
technology and innovation. He admits that the Rakyat is in favour for
our children to have a strong command of the English language to get
good jobs but doesn't act in any manner that is in reflection of this.

Perhaps he is unclear of what the crux of the issue is about. It is
not whether science and maths should be taught in English or Malay per
se or the importance of either language over the other. The alpha and
omega of the issue is the quest for knowledge.

A home-grown example would be our Angkasawan who had to learn Russian
practically overnight just to take a ride to the International Space
Station. Why? Because it was Russia's space programme. Their rocket
science and their technical know-how.  Fortunately he was a fast
learner with the zeal to go to space. No motions from our politicians
were made to translate the Russian space manuals into Malay…

UPSI's findings only confirm the reality that much needs to be done
for to encourage and inspire our children to reach for the stars. Like
our Angkasawan, any native Malay or Bumiputera, be he or she from
rural or less fortunate circumstances can and shall someday, God
Willing, design or create a technological wonder as cataclysmic as the
big bang machine currently undergoing truly astounding scientific
experiments to answer the very deep-seated questions about the very
existence of our universe.

However, due this very type of discouragement and 'easy way out',
half-baked and regressive measures are the reasons why our children
maybe robbed of the opportunity to move forward in leaps and bounds.

Furthermore, Khairy's assertion that only those middle-class Malays
who went to good urban schools benefit from such a policy alludes to
the assumption that Malays in rural schools or who are less fortunate
will inherently not be able to learn or speak English. This is a
fallacy. The gospel truth is that many rural or poor Malays,
Bumiputeras, Chinese and Indians managed to acquire a good command of
the English language and thence are successful in the competitive
international job market.

With regards to Chinese students perhaps Khairy would be interested to
know that Chinese schools are popular because of their perceived
stellar syllabus and teaching modules in science and mathematics.
Chinese vernacular schools are also keen on preserving their cultural
identity through mandarin. The Chinese after all invented paper, the
compass and the water clock to mention but a few. Ironically, we are
all learning Mandarin now in anticipation that it will be the next
lingua franca and medium for the acquisition of knowledge.

Also, in order to bridge the income gap between rich and poor as well
as empower the young rural job seekers, we must provide them with the
opportunity to master the sciences and the English language and not
take it away from them. Structural problems in the lack of qualified
English teachers should have been tackled instead of changing the
system altogether. Better incentives and opportunities for English
teachers should have been on the table.

The Vietnamese people and the mainland Chinese people despite not
having the advantage of English being as widely spoken as in the case
of our colonial past; pursue English without reservations. Encouraged
by the Vietnamese government and Chinese government, large groups of
university students on summer holidays in Europe and the U.S flock to
these countries to make a hefty sum of money from the craze to learn
English there. For them, it is a language for a better future, to be
spoken and to be used functionally. It is far removed from a debate of
whether it is best learnt at the primary level only for starters.

Therefore, the Rakyat must reject leaders that lack vision and the
test of leadership if Malaysia is to achieve a developed nation

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