Long piece from The Star on PPSMI but has a highly relevant perspective-
The reversal of the policy in the teaching and learning of Mathematics and Science in English two years ago left many dismayed, but there may be light at the end of the tunnel.
ADIB and Haikal have been studying Mathematics and Science in English since they were in Year One and can’t imagine learning the subjects in Bahasa Malaysia.
To Adib who is in Form One, the transition from one language to another is going to be difficult.
Mathematical terms like multiply and divide come easily to him but its Malay versions of darab and bahagi will be more alien.
“The terms in Bahasa Malaysia are not so recognisable to us especially since we are not taught in the language,” shared Adib.
He foresees more problems with Science as students have to write out in full sentences in the subjective section.
“Most teachers teach students a certain ‘format’ to answer these questions, but all that will be redundant once the change takes place. “Once again, back to square one,” he added.
Haikal who is in Form Three, faced a problem when he scored a place in a residential school after his excellent UPSR results.
When he studied in a national primary school, he was taught both subjects in a mixture of English and Bahasa Malaysia.
“But at the residential school it was only taught in Bahasa Malaysia so the transition was hard for me. There was also less emphasis on English,” added Haikal, who is now studying in a secondary school near his home.
Understandably both boys are worried since they are the direct stakeholders affected if the reversal of the teaching of Mathematics and Science in English (better known by its Malay acronym PPSMI) goes ahead.
Chan Siew Mei was in the pioneer batch of Lower Six students who studied the two subjects in English in 2003.
She said she was actually relieved that the subjects were taught in English because it provided a good foundation for Form Six students before entering university,
“It was absolutely fantasic to study the subjects in English and we had more reference materials — from the Internet and A-levels textbooks.
“However, I must say that my classmates and I were lucky because our teachers were able to teach the subjects very well in English. There were positive vibes among students to learn the subjects in English,” said the homemaker who feels parents should be given the option to decide on the medium of instruction for the two subjects.
But there just may be light at the end of the tunnel if the Government decides that the subjects could be taught in English in selected schools without interrupting the teaching and learning process.
Although the news is welcome by many who have been asking the Government to either reconsider the reversal in 2009 or provide them with an option of choosing the medium of instruction — English or Bahasa Malaysia — in national primary schools, a thorough study of the matter and viability has to be carried out soon.
Are schools able to offer two mediums, are there enough competent teachers and more importantly, parents and students who want the two subjects to be taught in Bahasa Malayia or Chinese and Tamil as stated after the reversal of the policy should be able to do so.
Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak said the Education Ministry would study if it was possible for the subjects to be taught in English in selected schools without interrupting the teaching and learning process. (see table for chronology of events)
An official who previously served with the Education Ministry believes that it should be possible for this to be carried out as long as the minutes and teaching materials on PPSMI are still archived at the Curriculum Development Division.
The ministry, she added, would have to monitor the situation carefully and redeploy English teachers to weaker schools if there was a need.
“The Government has invested so much in this policy that students who are able to cope with the subjects in English should be given the option to do so while those who can’t cope or are weak in the language can opt for Bahasa Malaysia in national primary schools and Chinese or Tamil in vernacular schools.
“We cannot stifle performing students and drag them down,” she explained.
Concurring, Malaysian English Language Teaching Association (Melta) president Dr Ganakumaran Subramaniam said it was a sensible move for the Government to study the possibility of the use of dual mediums for the teaching of the two subjects in English.
The PPSMI policy was initiated by former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, and implemented in phases, beginning with Year One, Form One and Lower Six students in 2003.
Thanking the Prime Minister and his deputy for considering the use of the two mediums, Parent Action Group for Education Malaysia (PAGE) chairman Datin Noor Azimah Abdul Rahim said PAGE hoped Bahasa Malaysia and English can be made an option for parents to choose from, in national primary and secondary schools.
“We suggest that the Education Ministry offer the options available to every parent as is provided for in the Education Act 1996 and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the United Nations which states that ‘children are to be educated according to the wishes of their parents’,” she explained.
Malacca Action Group for Parents in Education (Magpie) chairman Mak Chee Kin said parents should take this opportunity to discuss and take a stand on this issue at their parent-teacher association (PTA) meetings.
“We hope the school authorities and education officials will not be overzealous and allow parents to do so. In this way, we should be able to gauge the actual response of schools which are for it, or vice versa,” he said.
PAGE deputy chairman Sulaiman Mahran suggested that each parent should indicate the preferred medium of instruction to the schools their children go to. “The school will collate the preference which will determine the number of Science and Mathematics classes to be conducted in Bahasa Malaysia and English,” he said.
Agreeing with Sulaiman, Dr Ganakumaran suggested a model that involved the use of a bilingual approach which offered some level of flexibility.
“Ideally, this should start from Years One to Three, adding that the schools could review whether they want to go fully in English or continue with the bilingual approach according to the pupils’ needs when they enter Year Four,” he said.
Noor Azimah suggested that every national primary and secondary school offer a minimum of one Bahasa Malaysia and one English option class at every level.
“It should be acknowledged that children learn best when they are young,” she said.
The sovereignty of Bahasa Malaysia, she added, will continue to remain protected as the national language since it is sanctioned by the Federal Constitution.
The English policy had never advocated the learning of English through the subjects of Mathematics and Science, she added.
“It had instead intended to acquire the knowledge that is found in Mathematics and Science through English, its lingua franca.
“There is a vast difference between the two,” she explained.
Since the announcement that the Government is considering using two mediums, The Star has received many SMSes, thanking the Prime Minister for listening to the people’s pleas on the matter and suggesting ways to seek parents’ input.
Having taught in rural schools where she witnessed English become a crippling factor for students to learn Mathematics and Science,StarEducation columnist Nithya Sidhu said students need to be comfortable in the medium of instruction in order to do well in the subjects learnt.
“It was an uphill task to teach Mathematics and Science in English in the rural area because the students could not grasp the language,” said Nithya, now a retired Science teacher.
The problem, she added, was compounded by the lack of teachers adept at teaching the two subjects in English as unlike senior teachers, the younger crop of teachers did not learn the subjects in English when they were in school.
However, she points out that it is unfair to blame teachers as they would be better if they are allowed to teach in the language that they are well-versed in.
“The suggestion to use two mediums of instuction is a ‘win-win solutions’ to both camps who have opposing views on which language Science and Mathemactics should be taught in,” said Nithya, adding that those who want to learn the subjects in English should never be labelled as being unpatriotic.
Nevertheless, she pointed out that many issues need to be ironed out before the policy is put in place.
One suggestion was to start the dual medium of instruction policy in cluster schools during its initial period of implementation.
Another StarEducation columnist Mallika Vasugi feels strongly against the reversal of the PPSMI policy.
“We have made a lot of progress and the PPSMI policy has started to show some results. Reverting to teach Science and Mathematics in Bahasa Malaysia is just taking a step backwards,” she said.
Mallika said the “progress” and “results” she mentioned refers to the better grasp of English demonstrated by teachers and students who were weak in the language previously.
“I am very happy to see that my students are now more confident to converse in English, even teachers who were not fluent are now able to teach the subjects in English,” she said.
She stressed that the reversal of the PPSMI policy was making a mockery out of the effort put into implementing it since it was first introduced in 2003.
Ultimately, she said the objective of PPSMI was to provide students with a better headstart.
“Students are able to access the wide variety of reference materials in English. PPSMI also prepares them to write research papers in English when they enter college,” she explained.
Experienced English language teacher Jugdeep Kaur said the bigger problem was in identifying teachers who were able to teach these two subjects well in English.
“PPSMI failed because we did not have the right people to execute the policy. If teachers are not proficient in English, how can you expect them to teach Science and Mathematics in English?” she asked.
However, Jugdeep contends that either PPSMI or its reversal presents a dilemma to students and teachers.
“The majority of students in the rural area who are weak in English will struggle if the subjects are taught in English.
“It is also unfair to make students who are unhappy with the reversal of the PPSMI policy to learn Science and Mathematics in Bahasa Malaysia, forcing many of them to transfer to private schools which will create a different set of problems in itself as there are others who cannot afford to do so,” she said.
Sounding a note of caution, Dong Zong (United Chinese School Committees’ Association) president Dr Yap Sin Tian said the Chinese group maintained its stance on the use of the mother tongue to learn Mathematics and Science.
“The decision to switch back to Bahasa Malaysia and the mother tongue has already been decided back in 2009. Any changes in the policy will affect the children,” he said.
National Tamil School Headmasters Council president P. Doraisamy said it was important for the Government to study the matter thoroughly before introducing any new policies because any changes would affect the children’s future.
“It does not matter if it takes four or five years to come up with a decision, as long as it is a sound decision. Such changes incur cost, time and energy,” he said.
Although no time frame has been given on when the study is likely to take place and when parents’ views will be sought, Sulaiman hoped that the issue could be brought to the Cabinet for a decision soon.
As one parent said, his children were already struggling with Mathematics as it was now being taught in Bahasa Malaysia adding that he hoped the policy would return soon.
“It is a win-win situation,”said Noor Azimah pointing out that parents with children in national schools would at least be given the options to choose.
“After all, children are very precious to parents,” she added.