Beyond Language Barrier: 10 Reasons Why English-Medium Math and Science Syllabus is Good for Malaysia - The Coverage

Beyond Language Barrier: 10 Reasons Why English-Medium Math and Science Syllabus is Good for Malaysia

One of the oldest problems in Malaysia is the division of its people since young age. Chinese boys shave their head, girls chop off their long hair; Indian boys oil their hair, girls put on pottu; Malay boys bring Songkok, girls don baju kurung. Off we all go on different paths, speaking our very own vernacular with our friends and teachers.

Most of us are then joined in secondary school. Some parents may tell us not to mix with the other kids, but we never listen. We are too young to discriminate. We only struggle to talk to one another. Most of us don’t master English and only the Malay are proficient in Bahasa Malaysia.

As the years go by, we start to get better in our languages. We become friends only for a few short years. By the end of Form 5, we bid goodbye.

Everybody loves secondary school better. Different is good. For boys, we exchange profanity, we discuss who is the prettiest girl in class regardless of race. For girls, we share gossip, we go to the toilet together. We truly love one another although our time spends together is short.

This may not be your education journey, but it is for the most of us. According to ex-National Education Advisory Council member Prof Dr Teo Kok Seong, only four percent of non-Malay students were sent to national primary schools.

What if we can improve unity at secondary school at a faster rate? We all have different mother tongues, so why not make English our second common tongue?

Not only we can converse better across races with the mix of English and BM (go Bahasa Rojak!), we are also preparing ourselves into the English dominated global market.

By changing the language of instruction of Mathematics and Sciences (M&S) to English, we are one step closer to better economy and unity.

Before you disagree, here are 10 reasons that may make you rethink why English should be used as the language of instruction for M&S in secondary schools.

1. The opinion about English vs Bahasa Melayu as the language of instruction for M&S is changing

In 2009, 58% of Malaysians wanted English to remain the language of instruction for M&S as reported by New York Times.

Today, eight out of ten Johoreans want English-medium schools according to data from a survey conducted by ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute in Singapore.

“This support is strong across all demographic segments, even among Malay and rural respondents who in the past were not that supportive of the Dual Language Programme (DLP) to teach mathematics and science in English,” said ISEAS.

The survey, which was released on November 13, said the support was highest among Indians at 88%, followed by Chinese (87%) and Malays (77%).

2. Dual Language Programme (DLP) schools are producing good results

DLP, introduced in Budget 2016, allows schools to use both Bahasa Malaysia or English as the language of instruction to teach M&S, Information Technology and Communication.

The program started with 300 schools last year, the number has now increased to 629 secondary and 585 primary schools in June, about 10% of schools or 40,000 students nationwide.

More schools are expected to roll out DLP after seeing its success, said Deputy Education Minister Datuk Chong Sin Woon in last Tuesday.

The program has improved students’ command of English in over 1,200 primary and secondary schools. Ministry of Education Malaysia (KPM) reported that between 18% and 95% of students have improved their grades in the subjects.

The improvement is unlike the findings reported in 2011, where Universiti Perguruan Sultan Idris (UPSI) found 70% of Form Two students faced difficulties learning M&S in English and Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) found a drop in performance in the two subjects. Due to the findings, the prior English-medium school system was fully abolished in 2012.

However, for DLP to roll out, parents need to sign a letter of consent to approve the complement, the schools must score high marks in BM and equip with enough facilities and English teachers.

The abolishment of previous English-medium schools (PPSMI) raised concern among the parents in 2009. Seeing 10% of schools to implement DLP approved by parents now, it stands to show that Malaysian parents’ concern about English quality in their children prevails.

3. Improve employability of fresh graduates

In the Salary Surveys 2016 by Malaysia Employers Federation (MEF), more than 90% of respondents responded that Malaysian graduates need to improve their English proficiency in order to become more employable.

The executive director of MEF, Datuk Shamsuddin Bardan, continued that the freshies could not even construct proper sentences nor convey a message during conversations.

Other ministers, successful businessmen, former prime minister and more have stepped out to raise concern about Malaysians’ English proficiency numerous of times.

We all know how bad it is. With the lack of English as the language of instruction in M&S, we further limit the practice of English.

4. Students still have to pass Bahasa Melayu and Sejarah to get SPM cert

From initially one subject to two compulsory subjects to pass in Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM), the implementation of Sejarah (history) as a compulsory subject to pass came in 2010.

After Bahasa Melayu, Sejarah is the next subject that puts students’ BM proficiency to extreme tests. As widely agreed in academia, language learning is also cultural learning. What more to say that Sejarah is the most culture-dense subject.

By having the two of the most cultural-representing subjects as compulsory subjects to pass, I honestly don’t see how teaching M&S in English is a threat to national identity.

Not forgetting Pendidikan Moral, Geografi, Kemahiran Hidup, Prinsip Perakaunan, Perdagangan, Ekonomi Asas and more are still in BM.

The irony of all these is that KPM introduced English for Science and Technology (EST) subject for SPM taking in 2003 and it persisted until today.

As the name suggests, it is basically science and technology knowledge taught in English—nothing more, nothing less.

If you do good in English and Sciences, EST is basically a free A for you. Its presence is merely a water-down version of the two subjects combined and acts as a practice of English discourse in science topics.

If the ministry thinks English is so important in science, then don’t just introduce EST. Change the language of instruction of M&S into English.

5. Most scientific journals are in English

A group of Malaysian literary scholars came forward in 2009 to remind us that many Nobel Prize winners do not come from an English speaking country. Yes, but most of them publish their work in English!

Nobel Prize Paper Language
Source: Research Gate

I could not believe myself when I heard that. How could scholars give half the truth just to convince the government to abolish English medium schools?

Based on the data collected by Research Gate above, most Nobel Prize winners in non-English speaking countries published their work in English.

Nobel Prize Paper Language Global
Source: Research Gate

Even Asian countries, such as Taiwan, Korea, Japan, published their work in English (except for the 3 out of 68 papers in Japan).

Rise in English scientific papers
Source: Research Gate

Matching findings with a BBC report as well, English has become the language of Science ever since 1900, overtaking German.

if a scientist is going to coin a new term, it’s most likely in English. And if they are going to publish a new discovery, it is most definitely in English.

That is just how things are for over 100 years now. 

Scientific papers are the highest level of materials for science students to possess new scientific knowledge. If the students’ command of English is weak, they would spend more time learning the language through the convoluted paragraphs rather than grasping the information from the research.

This is not an unusual occurrence. Many times, students will make mini translation while they study. “Substantiates” to “memberikan bukti untuk menyokong kebenaran/证据来支持事实/உறுதிப்படுத்த” etc.

You get the idea. 

By exposing the students earlier in English as the language of instruction in M&S, they are better off prepared to digest complicated information and come out as a better graduate.

6. UNESCO: mother tongue as the language of instruction is the most effective learning method for children. What about after the children stage?

From 2009 until 2012, the government cited UNESCO’s research repeatedly, saying that abolishing English-medium schools was good for the students.

  • Oh, if you don’t teach your children in mother tongue, they will lose interest in the subjects very quickly.
  • Our children’s brain is too young and it does not have the cognitive skill to understand the academic work effectively.

Yes, I get it. I agree too. According to UNESCO, if children do not receive at least six years of formal education in their mother tongue, they tend to fail to excel in the subjects that are taught in a second language.

What if English is one’s mother tongue then? It is not uncommon that Chinese, Indian and Malay parents speak to their children in English these days. Many of these parents are the product education system prior 1970, where English was the language of instruction in schools. This will generate an eternal downstream of the same kind of students. Do you ignore this group of students?

If that is so, never mind then. According to the same research, it is also found that by the time students enter secondary school, they can make an effective transition from mother tongue language medium syllabus to a second language medium syllabus.

One example UNESCO illustrates was the case of colonial South Africa and Namibia’s education system during apartheid ruling from 1955 to 1976. The students of that period were forced to study their mother tongue followed by a transition to English. The intention of this education system was to divide African peoples by ensuring none their children speak a common language.  In secondary school, children went on to receive English medium syllabus (page 28 here).

Unintentionally, the system produced better graduates. In 1976,  the secondary school leaving pass rate was 83.7% whereas after abolishing the transition system, it dropped to 44% in 1992.

So why only highlight one part of the research? Making English transition as the language of instruction in secondary school is proven to be effective. 

7. Misplaced of National Pride

In a letter published on Malaysiakini, the writer cried out the government’s indecisiveness and unresponsiveness have hurt Malaysia’s future outlook.

No amount public outcry can warrant a change. It has something to do with the national pride, patriotism etc and not the vision of our children’s well being and providing them the key to success locally and abroad. – Malaysiakini.

Understand that government and UNESCO want to retain our tradition and our culture, but changing English as the language of instruction for M&S is not a threat to our heritage.

When compared our education system to Singapore, Malaysia language activist and lecturer claimed that although Singaporeans are proficient in English, they lose their identity, “they have a cultural problem”.

If Malaysia government wants to promote nationalism, use the media; not with the constitution.  As written in another letter titled, Pushing patriotism via films, published by The Star:

…films, in addition to entertaining the people, do play a greater role of instilling patriotism and nationalism among the people.

As the letter suggests, one way to strengthen a country’s identity is through stories or films. Stories every citizen identifies with, stories every citizen is proud of. We used to have a beacon to look up to and admire. Be it P. Ramlee or Yasmin Ahmad, they were the people all Malaysians followed. Through their work, we find ourselves, we see our landscape on silver screens.

Singapore’s identity crisis is merely their self-reflexivity overworking. Jack Neo’s work has brought their entire nation sitting behind screens for over 20 years. He addressed and resolved many national issues through his movies. Think ‘We are not Naughty’ as a film to tell parents that children’s academic result does not define them as a person and ‘Ah Boys to Men’ as a film to encourage national service. I believe every Singaporean feels a sense of pride after the movies.

So please don’t make it seems like our country’s culture will vanish after we change the language of instruction of M&S. You want us to have national pride, use the media, not through unconstitutional administration.

8. A lot of Malaysian parents are sending their children to English-based International Schools

By a lot, I mean we have the highest student counts enrolled in English-based international schools in the entire South East Asia. The research is done by ISC Research, a firm that analyses the international school market.

Students encrolled in english medium international school
Source: Malaymail Online/ISC Research

As a fair comparison, Malaysia is the fifth lowest population country among the list.

The number of international schools has doubled since 2010, from 66 to 126, too.

If that is not enough, a poll by ExpandFinder revealed that Malaysia international school fees are the eighth most expensive in the world. A student costs up to US$21,600 (RM96,433.20) a year here, just US$100 cheaper than Singapore, the Malaymail Online reports.

When asked why private schools and their enrolment are increasing every year, Parent Action Group for Education Malaysia (PAGE) chairman Datin Noor Azimah Abdul Rahim said one of the reasons is because

“The inconsistency in education policies such as the ending of the teaching of Mathematics and Science in English in 2012 is another reason why international schools are popular.”

9. Securing a good spot at Global and Local job market

According to Harvard Business Review, recruiters and HR managers around the world report that job seekers with stronger English proficiency earned 30-50% percent higher salaries than their counterparts.

English and Income
Source: HBR

Interestingly, the research also found that people possess a better English proficiency live longer, have a higher standard of living, more literate and educated.

English and Qualify of life

Source: HBR

The reason for the overwhelming benefit of English proficiency in the business world is because business leaders associate countries that are investing in English education to countries trying to fit into the global marketplace.

The leaders see English-capable countries as

  1. countries trying to attract their business,
  2. countries that have valuable talents,
  3. countries where their existing employees can relocate to, and
  4. countries that have no communication difficulties with them.

English is a passport to enter the global market. 

…knowing English is not just a luxury—it’s the sina qua nonof global business today. – Christopher McCormick, HBR

If you want your children to be prepared in the future, start by setting a standard on their English proficiency.

10. The sixth challenge of Vision 2020

We are approaching at the end of the Vision 2020 tunnel in two years time, the mission former Prime Minister Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad conceptualized. But it seems like we have not come far since its inception in 1991.

The sixth challenge of Vision 2020 is to establish a scientific and progressive society, yet we are not pushing our students to study M&S in the progressive English language.

As argued previously, we are risking our students in facing comprehension difficulties in tertiary education and producing graduates that cannot converse in English.

If DLP initiative is producing great results, why is the education ministry not training more English-proficient teachers?

Politicians that are sincere in pushing English medium syllabus must take action rather than just making political rhetoric, echoing the words by Melaka Action Group for Parents in Education chairman Mak Chee Kin.

“Though many politicians knew the benefits of English-medium schools and supported them, they could not highlight the issue as their political survival was at stake, as highlighted by the minister (Abdul Rahman),” said Mak when talked about English-medium school system abolishment in 2009.

It is the time we take this issue to the spotlight. No more producing uncritical research to disprove the benefit of English as the language of instruction for M&S, know that having more use of English language in school will not threaten national identity and heritage, and consider the issue in the eye of the Malaysian generation to come but not your political agenda.

If we do it right, we still can catch up to Vision 2020.

What are your thoughts on this? Tell us in the comment below.






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