[lg policy] Malaysia: PPSMI Policy must continue as an option

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Sun Nov 13 17:53:58 UTC 2011

Policy must continue as an option

HOW well a student learns depends on his or her level of proficiency
in the language of instruction. In particular, students learn Science
and Mathematics, or any other subject, better in the language of
instruction that they are more proficient in.

This basic principle of learning implies that the abolishment of the
PPSMI policy – the teaching of Science and Maths in English – is
unfair to two groups of Malaysian students. The first group, which is
growing in number, comprises students of diverse ethnic backgrounds –
including Chinese, Indians and Malays – whose first language is
English. A person’s first language is the language learnt as a child
at home.

The second group comprises students whose first language is neither
English nor the main language of instruction in their school, but who
are more proficient in the former than the latter. There are many
students in this group, for example, who are far more proficient in
English than Bahasa Malaysia.

Students from these two groups learn both subjects better in English
than in a language they are less proficient in. If other Malaysian
students can learn Mathematics and Science in the language of
instruction they are more proficient in – either in Bahasa Malaysia or
Mandarin or Tamil, why are students from these two groups denied the
same opportunity in our national school system?

Why handicap their learning of the two subjects by forcing them to
learn in a language they are less proficient in? Why increase the
likelihood of them losing interest and not doing well in the subjects?
Denying these students the opportunity to learn the two subjects in
English discriminates them in education on the basis of language. This
discrimination contravenes the 1948 United Nations (UN) Universal
Declaration on Human Rights.

The UN, in its various declarations and conventions, has also
continually affirmed the universal right to an education where the
language of instruction is the first language. The argument for PPSMI
as an option for the two groups of students is therefore not about
improving the standard of English. The standard of English must be
dealt with in the teaching of the language itself and is not about
learning Science and Mathematics in the lingua franca of the subjects.

Both the subjects can be learnt in any language that the learner is
proficient in. The argument for PPSMI as an option is fundamentally
about equality of opportunity. It is simply about giving the two
groups of students the same opportunity as other Malaysian students to
succeed in their learning of both subjects, which are important for
careers in the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering and

Equality of opportunity is one of the hallmarks of democracy. Equality
of opportunity to succeed in learning both subjects is why PPSMI as a
blanket policy for all is rightly abolished. Otherwise, students who
are more proficient in Bahasa Malaysia or Chinese or Tamil would be
disadvantaged in learning the two subjects.

Equality of opportunity to succeed in learning Science and Mathematics
is also why PPSMI as an option must not only be allowed for a limited
time only. Equality of opportunity to succeed in learning both
subjects can only benefit the country in the long run.



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