[lg policy] Malaysia: Overhaul nation's education policy

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Sun Nov 6 17:18:36 UTC 2011

Overhaul nation's education policy
By Abdul Jalil Hamid
jalil at nstp.com.my

Proponents of PPSMI feel that doing away with the policy now could be
a short-sighted move as by 2016, the use of English around the world
will be even more widespread.

THERE are many ways to interpret the Education Ministry's latest
solution to its controversial policy with regard to the teaching of
Mathematics and Science in schools.

Many parents would applaud the ministry's decision to allow children
currently learning the two core subjects in English to continue doing
so until they reach Form Five. The "soft-landing" approach may be the
best way out of this contentious issue and gradually pave the way for
Bahasa Malaysia to be fully reinstated by 2016 at the primary school
level and 2021 at the secondary school level.

This could be enough to avert the anger of parents and pressure groups
who are opposed to the removal of the Teaching of Science and
Mathematics in English (PPSMI) policy. In essence, the policy stays
for now.
Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, who went to great
lengths to explain to editors on Friday why the six-year-old policy
was unsustainable, insisted that the soft-landing approach was

"It is a fair decision. We are very considerate," he said.

But he stressed that the interests of the children must come first in
the move to gradually abandon the PPSMI.

"We are talking about three million students (who are under PPSMI) who
are neither here nor there."

The findings released by his ministry on Friday were telling.

Since the policy was adopted in 2003, only six to seven per cent of
classrooms across the country used English entirely for the two

This meant that the majority of schools did not even switch to PPSMI
as the ministry had proposed because of problems ranging from lack of
competent teachers and the failure of schoolchildren to grasp English,
let alone Maths and Science being taught in a language not familiar to

In other words, there could be flaws in the implementation of the
policy, rather than the policy itself.

So, do we have to undo the policy or should we allow both the PPSMI
and its successor, the MBMMBI (upholding the Malay language and
strengthening the command of English policy), to exist side by side
after, of course, addressing the weaknesses?

Some say it is not beyond the government's ability to allow both to co-exist.

Proponents of PPSMI argued that the policy was never about mastering
the English language. It was about mastering Science and Maths using a
universal language.

By 2016 and beyond, the use of English around the world would be even
more widespread. Doing away with the PPSMI now could be a
short-sighted policy, they said.

As former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, who introduced the
PPSMI and finds the policy reversal a step backwards, puts it: "When
it comes to the future of our country, I have to be practical and make
the necessary decision.... If we cannot master the knowledge of
science, we will not progress."

While parents could eventually rally behind the government over the
phasing out of PPSMI, they would like to see the Education Ministry
keep its promise to strengthen the teaching of English as a subject in

Muhyiddin has listed out various initiatives to enhance the teaching
of English, including plans to bring in more than 300 teachers from
the United States as teaching assistants in schools which are weak in
the subject.

There are already 47,447 English-language teachers in schools across
the country. Thousands more are undergoing training.

The raging polemics on the medium of instruction for Maths and Science
appear to distract us from the real issue of the standards of
education in Malaysia.

What is more pressing is the need for deeper reforms to our education
system to put us back on a par or even higher than some of our close

The problem is not just peculiar to Malaysia. Even United Kingdom
schools have fallen behind Estonia and Slovenia, based on worldwide
rankings comparing standards of reading, Maths and Science in 65
developed countries.

Figures released by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and
Development late last year showed that the UK dropped from 24th place
in 2007 to 28th in world education rankings for Maths and for Science,
it dropped to 16th from 14th place.

So, it's more than just a question of teaching these two subjects in
English. An overhaul of our education policy should be on the cards.

The whole system -- from teacher training to school infrastructure and
curriculum -- will require a review to help in efforts to benchmark
our schools to global standards.

jalil at nstp.com.my

Read more: Overhaul nation's education policy


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