[lg policy] Malaysia: Mixed views on policy

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Sun Jul 12 17:31:18 UTC 2009

Mixed views on policy

WHATEVER their personal stance on the medium of instruction for
mathematics and science in school, the education fraternity lauds the
Education Ministry’s move to strengthen the teaching and learning of
English in schools. As retired academic Datin Halimah Mohd Said aptly
puts it, English is the international language of communication,
trade, as well as scientific and technological research. “If we want
to make Malaysia an effective global player, we must focus on
improving our proficiency in the English language. “And to achieve
this we must put the emphasis back on the teaching and learning
process of the English language in our school system, not through the
teaching of Maths and Science,” she says.

The former president of the Malaysian Association of Modern Languages
believes the reversal of the English for the Teaching of Maths and
Science (also known by its acronym PPSMI) policy is the “right
decision”. “At the primary level, technical skills are easier for
children to learn and understand in their mother tongue,” she opines.
However, Halimah stresses, the right infrastructure needs to be
provided to ensure that the new “English project” succeeds, including
trained personnel. To boost the standard of English in school, the
ministry has proposed various measures such as hiring retired teachers
and teacher assistants for bigger classes, introducing a contemporary
literature component to promote reading and increasing teaching
periods for the subject.

The “hows” of the new plans for teaching English must be well thought
out as it will cost a lot to implement, stresses another retired
teacher S.G. Wong. “Extra retraining may be necessary to prepare our
English teachers to take up the additional responsibilities of
reinforcing reading and writing skills as well as cope with more
grammar and literature,” he says. The government has already invested
RM3.2bil to implement PPSMI, and will spend another RM5bil to
strengthen the teaching of English in school.

However, there are those who believe that the teaching of the English
language can be advanced without a U-turn in PPSMI.
Maths teacher M. Vasu is one who is disappointed with the policy
reversal. “Personally, I am sad with the decision after all the work
and effort we have put in to make the programme successful. “And I
don’t think that increasing English classes will be effective in
improving English language proficiency in the rural areas because many
will not be motivated to learn the language if Science and Maths are
taught in Bahasa Malaysia.

“They will have no urgency or practical reason to learn English and
many will not be farsighted enough to see the future benefits for them
to learn English.” Science teacher Razlin Ariffin concurs. “The
English medium of instruction for maths and science has proved to be
effective for many students and it will be a waste to undo the system
that we have build for more than half a decade. “Undeniably there are
problems, but I really believe that they can be solved without
dismantling the whole programme,” she says. Teacher Kong C.C. who is
teaching at a suburban school in the Klang Valley also laments the

“It is sad because we have kids at the school who can cope with
learning Maths and Science in English and they should be given the
chance to go forward. “I admit that there are gaps between schools,
not just between rural and urban schools but also between urban
schools, but these can be addressed with better infrastructure and
trained teachers,” she says. Educator Surajnaidu concurs, arguing that
there were failings in the policy because it was not implemented
properly. “One mistake was allowing teachers to use both languages, so
in the end many were using Bahasa Malaysia,” she says. “Consistency is
important in a child’s learning process,” she opines.

Surajnaidu views the policy reversal as a step “backwards”. “Why do we
want to go back to mother tongue when everyone else in the world is
going forward with English?” she says. The crux of the matter is the
quality of candidates for teacher training, Vasu points out. “The
ministry can implement various measures to improve the teaching of
English in schools, but they will not change anything if we continue
to accept candidates who are not up to mark to teach the subject,” she
says. Kong agrees that better candidates are needed. “The quality of
many new English teachers is poor.

“I think if we really want to improve the system, we need to have
teachers who are more competent.“We also need to improve teaching
conditions to allow teachers to concentrate fully on teaching instead
of the non-teaching duties that they are currently bogged down with,”
she notes.

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