Language policy: 'Malaysia will stagnate'

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Thu Mar 12 19:31:50 UTC 2009

Language policy: 'Malaysia will stagnate'
Mar 12, 09 9:58am
‘In the end, it is the future generations of Malaysians who will lose
out in the international arena if science and maths are taught in
Bahasa Malaysia.'

On Keep English for maths and science

Dr Syed Alwi Ahmad: As an on-looking Singaporean Malay, I find the
rejection in Malaysia of the teaching maths and science in English to
be somewhat strange. Firstly, in today's globalised world, the
international language of choice for science and technology is most
certainly English. There are millions of scientific books and journals
written in English. Dewan Bahasa cannot possibly translate this vast
scientific literature into Malay.

Therefore, if Malaysians fail to have an adequate command of the
English language - they will have problems in the transfer of

Secondly, some people have argued that nations like Japan, China and
some European countries teach in their native tongue. But these
nations are the advanced nations.

They are scientific powerhouses and are technologically advanced. They
can afford to teach science and maths in their mother tongue. Can the
same be said of Malaysia? Most definitely not.

Malaysia is a Third World country with very little indigenous
technology. Comparing Malaysia to Japan is naive and foolish.

How many world-class scientists are there from Malaysia? How many
reputable publications are produced by Malaysian scientists annually?

In the end, it is the future generations of Malaysians who will lose
out in the international arena if science and maths are taught in
Bahasa Malaysia.

High-technology investments will relocate elsewhere. Malaysia will
stagnate. The proof of my views lie in the success story of Singapore
which has chosen English in the teaching of science and maths in her

LT Seet: The various Tamil and Chinese language schools can continue.

However, the government should set up schools where all subjects are
taught in English and where there are extra language classes for the
students' own mother tongues.

This will be similar to the school system which I graduated from back
in 1972 when I did my ‘A'-level examinations.

The parents can then decide which school they want to send their children to.

The parents will know what is best for their children and should not
be forced to accept any educational system.

In time, after a few years, the schools that do not have a minimum
student intake to meet their operational costs will naturally close
down while those schools with the healthy student intake will survive.

Therefore, let the parents decide what is best for their children's education.

AJ: I am all for the teaching of science and mathematics in English -
not because students can enhance their grasp of the English language
but to also equip them with more resources since most of the books on
these two subjects are written and published in English.

But I totally disagree that one can master English just by learning
science and mathematics in English.

I do not intend to provide examples as many have commented with
statistical reports on this issue as well as the pros and the cons.

Saying same thing many times isn't going to help at all. I would just
like to remind myself and readers here that even if we are good in the
English language, that does not mean we are good in science and

Think carefully before we write. How many of us here who are fluent in
English are good in science (physics, chemistry, biology as taught in
secondary school) or mathematics?

Either it is our own initiative or we speak the language at home.

Certainly our written and spoken English - or rather the skill that we
have obtained today - did not result from the teaching of science and
mathematics in English.

Read more, learn and understand the language and practise it. Practice
makes perfect.
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