[lg policy] Malaysia: Language of the sciences

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Mon Nov 21 14:57:22 UTC 2011

Language of the sciences

I HAVE been a proponent of the use of both English and Bahasa Malaysia
and have been closely following the PPSMI (the Teaching and Learning
of Science and Maths in English) policy over the years. I now observe
with renewed interest the comments made by Deputy Prime Minister and
Education Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, as well as the view of
others on the policy.

Most of the comments miss a very important aspect of PPSMI, in that
there is a considerable difference between a graduate who qualifies as
a Science, Engineering, Medical or Mathematics graduate compared to
one who graduates with an Arts degree. Starting out from an estate
primary school and attaining both an engineering and accounting
degree, I must say that I had to invest more time and effort
especially for my engineering degree.

The success of the many advanced countries in science and technology
is due to the importance given to produce graduates in the field
compared to those seeking a degree in the arts. Malaysia has been
producing more arts graduates than those majoring in science courses.
A good number of our science graduates have migrated overseas for
better job prospects, rewards and recognition.

With regards to the PPSMI, there is the view that urbanites are more
inclined to support it compared to rural folk who would prefer their
children learn Science and Maths in their respective mother tongues.

This is because of the mistaken belief that rural children are not
capable of mastering two languages, as well as the bias of the
policy-makers against English, which they consider as a colonial and
foreign language.

The bias against English was the main cause for the transformation of
our education system and that resulted in teachers being proficient in
only one language today, compared to more than 30 years ago when the
country produced teachers proficient in both languages.

I am an example of a rural student who has achieved proficiency in
both languages, and who has earned two degrees and was an ex MIC

Coming from a poor family, I was lucky to get scholarships to complete
my secondary school and university education.

My mastery of the English language at an early age helped me to seek
further knowledge through books from the school library.

I am relating my experiences to tell rural folk that they too can
master English. They must also realise its importance in the sciences
and as a global language.

Another question often raised is why Malaysia cannot succeed in
science and technology when countries like Germany, Russia and Japan
have achieved tremendous success in both fields without using English.

It must be pointed out that these languages have been in existence for
over thousands of years and the development of scientific terms again
took several hundred years.

With a comparatively new language such as Bahasa Malaysia, one can
imagine the number of years it will take for the authorities to come
up with the right terms.

Even countries which have a predominantly Chinese population such as
Singapore see the importance of English as the medium of instruction
at schools and as the language of communication globally.

Former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, a medical doctor had
the vision to moot the PPSMI policy upon realising the growing
importance of English as a language of instruction in the sciences.

While the Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin has said that the government’s
stand on the policy reversal is final, I still think that it is not
too late.

It would be best for people with science-based backgrounds to play a
key role in looking at the policy again.



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