Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Science and Maths in Malay: Points to ponder

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

"Give unto orphans their wealth. Exchange not the good for the bad (in your management thereof) nor absorb their wealth into your own wealth. Lo! that would be a great sin." (Qur'an: An' Nisa (Women): 2)

ALMOST all of my siblings are lecturers and teachers. So, one of the main topics of discussions when they gathered during last Raya (Eid) was about the switching of language from English to Malay for the teaching of Science and Mathematics in school which would be implemented in 2012.

“Please listen,” says a sister who teaches Biology at a secondary school. “They said the switching would begin in 2012. Even though in that year it only involves Year One and Form One pupils or only Year One (as suggested by Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin who is also Education Minister), in my opinion all Science and Mathematics teachers should be ready and gear up for it. But as far as I am concerned, we were not informed anything about it.”

She said switching back to Malay from English would be a great exercise, those involved should get work started for it is not only about readying textbooks for Year One and Form One, but enriching the education world and society with good reading and reference materials in that language.

“It is not about teachers and pupils only,” she said. “This transformation should be met with eagerness from all sectors of society. But one sad thing is that we are just taking a stroll on the issue. Reference materials in Malay are still scare, so how are we teachers and those involved going to get ready for it?”

Accessibility to these materials, even at primary and secondary schools, is important if our students are to learn the subjects beyond standard school textbooks and revision notes.

The teacher complained that the switch from Malay to English in 2002 and then now back to Malay made many teachers disappointed, angry and mad; many had abandoned their old books in Malay, now with the new policy; they would have to refresh their minds and teaching materials.

Another sister who was a lecturer in a local university was cautious about the readiness of the authorities involved, saying not much was done for that big exercise.

“We are dealing with the future of our coming generation, they are human beings not machines that could be adjusted at any point or time we wish,” she complained.

She pitied students because they had to switch to English once they entered tertiary level. Even Sixth Form students too would face dilemma; in Form Five they learned the said subjects in Malay but for STPM it would be in English.

Students were treated as though they were guinea pigs; those bright ones hopefully would overcome this unnecessary mess, but about the weaker ones? Hopefully they would ploughed through, their burden and hardship rewarded.

In my opinion our education system is sliding into a state of chaos, all because of dirty hands of some selfish politicians. These people are looking for political mileage with the future of young generations at risk. In 2002, the then Prime Minister, Mahathir Mohamad forcefully introduced the teaching of Science and Mathematics in English (known by its Malay acronym PPSMI).

Then, after fierce resistance by the ‘rakyat’ (people), newly elected Deputy Prime Minister, Muhyiddin Yassin in the middle of last year (2009), announced the abolition of PPSMI, saying the implementation would begin with Year One and Form One pupils in 2012.

The ‘quick solution’ by Muhyiddin was said to please the masses after Umno-Barisan Nasional was given a thumbs down in the 2008 general election. Even though the teaching of Science and Mathematics has been reverted back to Malay, it was only up Form Five level whereas before the implementation of PPSMI, the language of instruction at tertiary level was in that language.

My lecturer sister told me that English should be the language of instruction in universities especially in fields regarding science and technology but her main concern is how students are readied or geared up to adapt fast in the change of language, from Malay to English.

“Perhaps, the authorities concerned should introduce a new subject where English terms for Science and Mathematics would be familiar to pupils. Hopefully they would be ready before the switching begins at upper secondary or tertiary level,” she said.

Yes, we are switching back to Malay for the teaching of Science in Mathematics up to Form Five level, but what had the relevant authorities done so far?

A reader, Liong Kam Chong in the Letters section of the New Straits Times (September 13) writes: “With the announcement of the abolition of PPSMI last year, the assurance was given that greater effort would be made to source for other reading and reference materials. However one year down the road, what do we have?

“I remember only reading in the newspapers the assurance given by the director-general of the Education Ministry that the textbooks for Year One and Form One would be ready when school term opens next year, the year the switch back to bahasa Malaysia (BM) is scheduled. (The exact year of the implementation would be 2012 not 2011, writer)

“Getting ready the textbooks seems to be the only preparation the Education Ministry has prioritised. What about the other reading and reference materials? Has any project or translations or original writing has been carried out?

“Also, the market publishers are not seen to be doing any promotion on getting general Science and Mathematics reading and reference materials in bahasa Malaysia into the market.

“It looks like we will be sadly back to learning Science and Mathematics the ‘textbook and revision book’ way. Are we progressing or regressing?

“Unwittingly, we have entrapped ourselves in a unique situation here. Our primary and secondary students will study Science and Mathematics in bahasa Malaysia the ‘text and revision books’ way because little reading and reference materials are available in bahasa Malaysia.

“On the other hand, our Form Six/matriculation, college and university students will be studying the subjects in English the ‘lecture notes’ way because they would not be confident enough to use the vast amount of reading and reference materials written in English.

“Are we in a mess because we have been hasty in our PPSMI decision?”

Another sister of mine who teaches in a primary school says the Government should help pupils especially in the rural areas to have a good and sound knowledge of both Malay and English in those subjects so that they would not face much problem when they enter tertiary levels.

“They should be equipped with all the necessary tools for learning, like extra tuition, better learning conditions, or even computers, better exposure or even basic stuffs like better quality books and learning materials.

“I am not taking about textbooks only. What I mean good general and reference books especially in Malay that we are lacking now. How are going to inspire our pupils in science and technology when there are only a few of such books around?” she asked.

Finally, my lecturer sister put pressure on me, saying: “You were one of those who demonstrated against PPSMI. Now, may I ask you, what action or steps you and your gang have taken to rectify this situation? So, please don’t just only demonstrate. Do something now…”

Perhaps this article would be an eye-opener!

1 comment:

Ms Hamka said...

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 8 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’?