Wednesday, February 25, 2009

I agree with this

What he has written is lucid, articulate and well-reasoned.

No one can refute the point.

At least, no one with a reasonable disposition.

Read Zainul Arifin's NST op-ed piece entitled, Every language has a role to play.

Everything is there. I enjoyed reading it. And, I agree with it.

Our cultural and ethnic identities are embedded in our genetic make-up already. Our ability to compete globally, on the other hand, is not encoded in our DNA. The process of getting there requires a medium of communication. And, what that medium of communication is - Well, that is what Zainul Arifin articulated so well in the op-ed piece. Please read it.


walla said...

A: 'Where's walla?'

B: 'He's somewhere, consumed by something.'

A: 'Something ate him?'

B: 'No, he's hunched over the old liberace piano, trying to make sense of those musical notes in this blogger's previous post.'

A: 'Any luck so far?'

B: 'No, he said he prided himself he could read any code but that one had beaten him. He said even his notebooks on the music of Beethoven, Chopin and deBussy were no help. He said each time he tried to play those notes, the sound came out garbled, like, you know, some suspicious grunts.'

A: 'He should get help.'

B: 'You mean a shrink?'

A: 'No, someone who can read those notes.'

B: 'He said he tried with a winsome music teacher but she just blushed. Then she hit him on the head with an umbrella.'

A: 'Poor man, does that mean we can't depend on him to help with this new piece by the blogger on science and maths in english?'

B: 'Looks like it. We will have to do without his wild language, some say wild thoughts.'

A: 'How shall we start?'

B: 'The writer has written something reasonable and persuasive, no?'

A: 'I would focus on the writer's argument that those who wanted Bahasa back in those subjects should instead focus more on the vernacular schools who wanted to maintain the medium in their own languages. To me that says it's still a zero-sum game, doesn't it? And do you know why? For years, people have been pushing Bahasa until it became the main medium even in the public universities while they had quietly conducted courses in english in some institutions that were open exclusively to one community, furthermore funded from taxes collected primarily from the others. Now don't you think that forebodes ill about the whole matter?'

B: 'Anything else?'

A: 'The second thing the writer wrote was to equate national competitiveness with command of the english language. I think it's also about command of other languages, particularly the chinese language. Even as i speak, the US secretary of state is in Beijing trying to persuade the Chinese to buy more US treasuries to shore up their recovery plan. The world has changed. This global financial meltdown has shifted polarities from west to east, right to left. Whatever you may want to say about the Chinese also facing slowdown, you won't want to be too hasty to write them off as the next megapower if you had even seen what they have done in the last thirty years.'

B: 'Thinking like that may cause a reaction from some quarters here that we can ill-afford at this stage.'

A: 'On the contrary, i think the government is pragmatic enough to realize the gravity of the situation we are in and how the geopolitics of the world has changed. So let me ask you, if you want to do business with people in China, especially for trade and projects, don't you think it's unwise to dethrone the present status of the chinese language back home?'

B: 'But we are just talking about science and maths in english, not any other subjects nor about competency in it enough for business dealmaking. Surely you won't disagree that english is the main bridge to scientific and mathematical knowledge and that's what we need for national industrial progress. Even the Chinese there are increasingly focusing on english in order to gain western knowledge in those subjects, although i must confess that for maths, they are considered at least equals to the west in many areas.'

A: 'Then let me ask you back. Why should a policy change affecting national schools be also implemented in vernacular schools? If you say it's because the government also funds vernacular schools and conducts national science and maths exams, then where is the independence of vernacular schools, something we should be celebrating for being ahead in standards of teaching compared to those of national schools, especially in science and maths, if i may add? Try answering these questions but tie your answers back to all those years of zero-sum game-plays on language for communal catchup by benign neglect. Isn't that sort of shiftiness even more deleterious to national competitiveness? Do you understand what i am saying?'

B: 'But Bahasa is the official and national language, so its primacy should be made evidential.'

A: 'No doubt you can do that but let me argue back like this. I would say that Bahasa is first another vernacular language before it is what you said. There's a subtle context to what i have just contended. Secondly, when you say something is official, what does that mean? You use it during official ceremonies and forms, true? Official communication, official broadcast, and so on. Forms of government. But let me also ask - does official equate to national? And don't try to bring back 1957 because people will now say it was 1953. I don't want to go into that. Furthermore, some people want to use official and national and whatever else their suddenly fertile minds can think of to slide in the primacy of one community over and above the others and when you probe a bit deeper, it's all traceable to fear of losing the past inasmuch as it is not about soberly preparing for the present and the future in the real world.

Sometimes they will also say a common language and common school system are what are needed for national integration. But at the same time, they will also say there is no malaysian Malaysia because that's the only way they can then accommodate their special position. Betwixt the dilemma.

The world before us has changed. People can now see that even if you have national integration in schools founded on a common system and language, how are you going to prevent national integration from disintegrating later when they graduate and enter the real world of work where segregative policies create national disintegration that cannot be nullified because by then we are talking about adults with minds and eyes who can think and see for themselves? You'd postponing the inevitable and creating even more tension than acceptable. Like what's happening. Everything will become so fake no effort at national competitiveness based on cooperation can take root, let alone national integration.'

B: 'You're leading me a long way from what we were talking about, A. Shall we get back to it?'

A: 'You have to be fair, B. No house can stand without a good foundation. If we want our young to be prepared for their future when the world will be even more demanding, complex and discriminating about value, relevance and contribution, at least appreciate what i have said. What more when one is aiming for the sky with high-rises that won't crumble.

Let me tell you where we are. We are having this conversation trying to outargue each other only because some people had screwed up the thrust of our education system. Instead of seeing the world out there and how a small population like ours have to constantly work to stay relevant, they have only seen what is inside their little ponds and try to champion what cannot be used to acquire the knowledge of tomorrow today. And then you get slammed for even trying to maintain your own higher standards. Capeche? All these years and nothing but flip-flops. Do they think education of the young is fast-food processing?'

B: 'But we can't deny that if we adopt english to teach science and maths, many will not be able to follow or catch up, can you?'

A: 'The last batch of results say otherwise. So what you have just said could be politically motivated by some. But let's say i humour you. Let me then ask back. How much of it is because the switch from Bahasa to english was done peremptorily without considering whether the teachers were ready and competent to teach in proper english? In other words, is it a problem of competency of the teachers in the english language? If they cannot communicate well, of course you won't expect the students to understand.'

B: 'But in order for the students to understand, they must also be competent in english.'

A: 'Then it's about learning english as a language.'

B: 'Then we can use other languages as mediums for science and maths, and increase the intensity of teaching english as a foreign language.'

A: 'But the knowledge we want is in english.'

B: 'You mean english learnt separately cannot be used to pick up knowledge written in english?'

A: 'You can but if your mind is trained in other languages, it will be harder to absorb not only all the details but also the context enough for you to engage in the very interaction that will create networks and increase your understanding.

Furthermore, you can't expect the teacher or lecturer to stand behind your shoulders for the rest of your life. Acquiring scientific and maths knowledge in such commanding fashion comes from absorbing knowledge available out there on by your own effort and initiative through direct and confident interaction with others using that language. When one is left alone, being competent in the medium is a given paramount, agreed? Why? because the size of knowledge in all fields of science, maths, medicine etc in english, and the rates of their growth, is almost compounding year to year. For example, take just some of their journals.....

Now tell me - where are you going to find the people to translate them so that our people can read them competently enough? Remember, knowledge also grows by cross-pollination. You need two to get four to get sixteen and so on. Geometric, and that's just a quick rule of thumb.

How, B? by the tail of the cow?'

B: 'Then what about those who want to maintain their vernacular languages for science and maths? Won't they lose out?'

A: 'You can't talk about national competitiveness and then say that in order to create a precedent to ask for something else, B. If it's the Chinese or Indians, then let them keep their vernacular language medium for science and maths so that we have extra cards should China and India become the next scientific and mathematical powerhouses of this century. In fact, they already have had traditions of excellence in many of the theoretical aspects of those fields. What you won't want is destabilization caused by interference using policy side-actions. In fact, they should be funded even more to improve their resources to continue teaching whatever they deem appropriate in their own vernacular languages. After all, if the government educators have only lamentable records to show, who are they to determine anymore what parents want for their children? You mean they have suddenly realized that the other communities should now earned the right to national competitiveness?'

B: 'Then the Malays will start to clamor for science and maths to also be taught in Bahasa, which as you have said is also a vernacular language, doesn't it?'

A: 'In Malay vernacular schools, yes, if they think that's wise, but in multiracial national schools? I don't think so. Look, what does the government want to do in terms of national knowledge thrust using those vehicles under its charge, the national schools? If they want a knowledge thrust, then teach science and maths in english, as the writer has argued, but decouple that decision from the vernacular schools. That way, everybody wins. And if you're genuinely concerned about knowledge acquisition, competency in english, strategic positioning of nation before the new geopolitics of this world, on top of candid acknowledgment of where our wealth will be coming from, then support the vernacular schools for their students to gain competency in english as a language so that they can acquire more knowledge on their own. Don't interfere by trying to change their standards of science and maths in their vernacular languages. They are higher than those of the national schools, anyway, so isn't that also nationally competitive in itself?'

Look, this issue is not just about the right medium for two fields. It's deeper than that. In a nutshell, what does the Malay want for his children and the other citizens of this country in the real future, not the starry past?

Try and give real solid reasonable and realistic answers to that, not some flimflam flipflops. End those today. This world is about relevance.'

B: 'But if we take your thrust, won't that spell the end of the Malay language, one of the pillars of the community's identity, in fact the very essence of its existence?'

A: 'Of course it won't. Look, B, how can Bahasa disappear from this land when there are 237 million bahasa-speaking people across the straits? Why, when i am there, i blend into the background, just as they blend into ours when they are here. So what's the difference? I read their papers, talk their version of Malay, absorb their culture and history, eat their type of food and that taste like ours, and let me tell you their women swoon at my feet. I try my best to maintain decorum but what can i do if i am appreciated?'

B: 'Cough. I can believe that, A. Now, where's that walla?'

(walla walks in, looking triumphant if slightly dishevelled.'

A, B: 'So, dear walla, whatzup?'

walla: 'I, walla the great, have decoded those musical notes.'

A, B: 'Ahah! That's great. Are they, erh, interesting?'

walla: 'Yes! of course. It was difficult at first. Puzzling even. Certainly intriguing. But i now know what they mean.'

A, B: 'Pray demonstrate, we mean, tell.'

walla: 'Gentlemen, i have you to know those musical notes reveal the secret sauce used to make spaghetti bolognese!'

de minimis said...

My goodness. This is a potential multiple personality disorder or, the inner dialogue of a highly advanced mind. Who was it that said that the boundary between madness and genius is a thin one :D

The musical notes are beyond ordinary musical instruments. It requires organs of a physiological sort. That such notes represent a secret recipe for an Italian pasta recipe is beyond even the initial intent of the originator. But, that is the beauty of inspiration.

The language of unity and integration; the language of economic competitiveness; the language of harmony. All these may be one or many.

This discourse on medium of instruction should rightly be an ongoing discourse. But, it must be a civilised discourse.

Where the whole matter falls apart is at the point where ethnicity and uncivilised words, in any language, creeps in.

Anonymous said...

Read today about how a mathematical formula cause the current dismay of the world economic.

Cf - "Recipe for Disaster: The Formula That Killed Wall Street"

What do they keep saying about the damned statistics? Or r the blame is going to shift to the dragon seed now?

More relevant to this posting is this personal story.

Yrs ago, there were a group of nerds working with the drummer on QED (not the ending quote of a successful math proof, as we used to do in school in those day) in US.

This group was a mini UN, with one handicap. There were no professional language translators & English was hardly that common among us.

When a set of problems was written down in symbols, everyone knew about the task. We had had a deep understandings of what's at hand, BECAUSE those symbols cut across language barrier.

Our tool of communication was math/science symbols!

This comes about because we all have a deep foundation of maths/physic. Many of us built up that foundation via an non English medium instruction!

Moral of the story? Nay - someone might talk about strong/weak culture again.


walla said...

The meltdown happened because the gaussian copula function was perturbed. Here's a solution for that market perturbation:

You just need those who revel in quantum electrodynamics to finetune it post-event.

Astute of gwlnet to draw attention to that function.

Especially its middle name.

walla said...

the human factor:

Anonymous said...

Thanks Walla,

What do I know?

I'm just a simple man, who see thing as it is, by bouncing on stages like a clown!

What Lee did is brilliance. With more inputs from others, a Nobel shouldn't be far off.

Game for an entry foundation on psychohistory?


de minimis said...

All I can say is that walla and gwlnet are scary fellas :D

walla said...

psychohistory? say, historical motivation of fund managers, perhaps?

now i must return to the other one, the exploits of Jagdgeschwader 54 Grunherz (the Green Hearts Jagdflieger)