[lg policy] On what basis was PPSMI re-introduced?

Harold Schiffman haroldfs at gmail.com
Mon Apr 15 11:21:17 EDT 2019

On what basis was PPSMI re-introduced?

BK Song & Tina Neik
<https://www.malaysiakini.com/a?language=en&q=BK%20Song%20&%20Tina%20Neik>  |
Published: Today 4:22 am  |  Modified: Today 4:22 am
A+     A-

LETTER | The recent inclination from the Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad
to re-introduce English as a teaching medium for science subjects at the
primary level in all schools was not welcomed by local Chinese
organisations including the United Chinese School Committees Association
(or Dong Zong).

While this knee-jerk response is not something quite unexpected, we, too,
are not clear on why this re-introduction should be made. In 2009, the
Ministry of Education reviewed the overall effectiveness of PPSMI and
concluded that the programme failed to reach its desired outcome thereby
the decision was made to abolish PPSMI after consultation with various

A quick literature search on PPSMI found three UKM studies showing positive
views for the programme, where improvements in the command of English
language and the mastery of science subjects were observed at tertiary
levels (see their articles in Social and Behavioral Sciences published in
2012). Besides the UKM studies, there is little information on the in-depth
studies on the teaching of science and mathematics in English at the
primary level.

Before the implementation of a new policy, have we asked, was there enough
quality research done to study the effectiveness of the policy in the past?
As educators, we are concerned that we are not able to ascertain whether
the re-introduction of PPSMI will bring benefit or jeopardise yet again
students and teachers like what happened in the past.

Assuming the majority of students in most national schools do not have a
strong command of English, the concern for PPSMI not only revolves around
the questionable effectiveness of using a non-first language (or mother
language) to learn science and mathematics, but that teachers may also
dilute the teaching content to suit the student’s ability to cope with the

A survey that targeted pre-university level students showed that the
teachers struggled to deliver the subject content in English because they
were trained using Bahasa Malaysia (study published in the journal English
Language Teaching in May 2009).

A big question is do we have quality research and sufficient data to
support the return of PPSMI policy? Was the re-introduction of the PPSMI
policy supported by any scientific research or was it merely based on a
leader’s personal opinion?

In the year 2009, the then minister for education Muhyiddin Yassin admitted
that the change between “before” and “after” PPSMI was merely 2-3%, and
that “the majority of the 60,000 teachers who taught the two subjects in
English did not have sufficient training to be able to teach effectively”.

With this data, did the ministry or academics conduct any research to
scientifically look into the effectiveness of the policy? If yes, was the
data published in any report, reputable journal or discussed during
conference proceedings like how the UKM researchers did for the PPSMI
effectiveness at tertiary level?

More importantly, has our students' and teachers' command of the English
language improved over the years? Did any researcher run a study to support
the return of PPSMI? The proposal to re-introduce PPSMI at the primary
level should be thoroughly evaluated and assessed using evidence-based
research. In this context, the paramount need is to establish an autonomous
and highly-reputable institute of education (e.g. National Institute of
Education, Singapore; Finnish Institute for Educational Research, Finland.)
to bringing together researchers, educators and policymakers to conduct
comprehensive research.

This can then be translated into formulating educational policies to
develop an effective and innovative educational system as well as better
ways of teaching and learning practices.

In this era of big data, policy-making should be supported by strong
research-based data and evidence. It is unwise to ignore these evidence,
scientific data and analyses lest we repeat the same mistake of
implementing an educational policy that is not sustainable.


The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not
necessarily represent the views of *Malaysiakini*.


 Harold F. Schiffman

Professor Emeritus of
 Dravidian Linguistics and Culture
Dept. of South Asia Studies
University of Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6305

Phone:  (215) 898-7475
Fax:  (215) 573-2138

Email:  haroldfs at gmail.com

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