Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Science and Math: It is not about the 'moon' or 'bulan'

In the name of Allah, the Beneficient, the Merciful; blessings and peace be upon Prophet Muhammad s.a.w.

Surah 97, Al-Qadr (Power)
1. Lo! We revealed it on the Night of Power.
2. Ah, what will convey unto thee what the Night of Power is!
3. The Night of Power is better than a thousand months.
4. The angels and Spirit descend therein, by the permission of their Lord, with all decrees.
5. (That night is) Peace until the rising of the dawn.

My article entitled ‘Science and Maths in Malay: Points to ponder’ (posted previouly) received several feedbacks from readers. A reader suggested that all sides stop harpering on issues regarding the language of instruction for both subjects but concentrate on efforts to give the best of education to our young generation.

However another reader still holds ground, quoting an Unesco’s finding saying that when learning is a goal, the child’s first language should be used as the medium of instruction in the early years of schooling.

1st e-mail
Salam bro. LanH;

I am myself an educator who began my career as a school teacher, then a college lecturer and now for the past eight years have reverted to being a teacher, to be specific a tutor for primary and secondary school children. Be at whichever level, one thing has remained stagnant in Malaysian education system - the exam-oriented assessment! Such evaluation is a silent dictator in our education system.

Exams used as yardstick to measure students' assessments are not truly assessing comprehension of subject matters. Students merely memorize facts, figures and methods. True assessment is beyond all those. When a student is able to act on the knowledge, only then we can see true comprehension. But, are the students produced under our education system able to think critically to act on what they have learned? To come up with more math formulas after learning Math, to thirst for deeper discovery after learning some scientific facts, etc...all of which eventually bring them closer to the Creator?

Exams require quality reading materials for references. Many times when I browse for books at book fairs or bookstores I get this nauseous sensation at the quality of the books offered to our children (and teachers). They are presented adhering so strictly to the school syllabus that the teachers either simply do not have to do further readings (good for the 'lazy' teachers) or are confined from going beyond the scope dictated in the syllabus. As a result, the teachers and students do not become critical thinkers who could rationalize contents learned to further develop the knowledge they have acquired, exploring and discovering more through research, experiments, etc.

Why am I talking about assessments instead of directly responding to your 'Science and Maths in Malay' topic? I believe knowledge is power ONLY when a person can digest knowledge through critical thinking. How can we teach the children (and teachers too) to think critically when they are NOT ONLY struggling to comprehend the contents but how to comprehend them language-wise? Stop all these debates on Malay-or-English-medium-of-instruction! Teach them Math and Science so they can comprehend the subjects. AND, teach them to think critically as they learn these subjects! Japanese learn Math and Science in Japanese language. When they go abroad to further learn both in English, they have managed well despite the language barrier. Have their educators ever argued over Japanese-or-English-medium-of-instruction to teach their children? No!

More than half a century after gaining independence, we are still indecisive regarding the medium of instruction to educate our children, thus hugely affecting the expansion of knowledge through researches to produce relevant references for our children. The way I see it all, the teachers for so long have become rigid tools to 'transfer' contents in the textbooks resulting in students who in majority are not improving knowledge-wise. They too become tools to 'transfer' their knowledge onto exam papers. When are we going to wake up from our long sleep? Are we too deep in our dream of selecting the most suitable language to teach Math and Science? By the time we wake up, children of other nations are half-way reaching the moon and ours are still looking at the moon wondering what to call it - ‘moon’ or ‘bulan’? Allahu’alim! – Ms Hamka

2nd e-mail
Dear LANH,

I attached part of an UNESCO finding including a comprehensive research review carried out for the World Bank in 1997, regarding the usage of language in education.

The most important conclusion drawn from this research says: "...when learning is a goal, including that of learning a second language, the child's first language (i.e. his or her mother tongue) should be used as the medium of instruction in the early years of schooling.

"The first language is essential for the initial teaching of reading, and for comprehension of subject matter. It is the necessary foundation for the cognitive development upon which acquisition of the second language is based.

"UNESCO quotes from 'Education for All: Policy Lessons From High-Achieving Countries (Staff Working Papers, New York, Unicef': "In a situation where the parents are illiterate...if the medium of instruction in school is a language that is not spoken at home the problems of learning in the environment characterized by poverty are compounded, and the chances of drop-out increase correspondingly." - Raman

3rd e-mail

The issue is not on language but how efficient is our education system. Right now we are only creating spoon feeds new generation. Why are lacking in producing creative minds? So language is not the problem, our education system must be overhaul. - Jiwa

Regarding education and self help motivation, I received many interesting quotes sent regularly by one Dr Ahmad Mohd Anuar who was residing in The Hague, Netherlands. Among others are:

1. Reading without reflecting is like eating without digesting.
~ Edmund Burke

2. Think like a wise man but communicate in the language of the people.-
William Butler Yeats

3. I never teach my pupils. I only attempt to provide the conditions which they can learn. - Albert Einstein.

4. What is defeat? Nothing but education; nothing but the first step to something better. - Wendell Phillips

5. What we have to do is to be forever curiously testing new opinions and courting new impressions. - Walter Pater, 1873

Perhaps these quotes could enlightened or clear our minds on the Science and Mathematics issue.

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