Friday, March 13, 2009

English in Maths and Science: What he said

Using the famous phrase used by judges when they agree with something another judge has said, I concur with the view and reasons offered by Dr M here.

And as Stan Lee, the genius behind the Marvel superheroes like to write, 'Nuff said.


Pat said...

Spoken like the true science-based person that he is. Reading that reminded me of why I was happy with him as premier - I may not have liked all he did, but he let me show my face proudly, wherever I went.

Having said that, I do believe that the premise on which the idea is based is sound. It is the implementation that went all wrong.

And right now, the best thing to do? CHANGE NO MORE! Just leave it and it will only get better. Changing back and forth is truly messing with our children's minds!

We have come so far that this discussion can go on till the cows come home. It is no longer about Science and Maths in English. It is about politics. And only politics. So, how can we make a sound decision now?

So: Just leave things be.

mekyam said...

hi ct and pat,

agree absolutely that the problem was with the implementation. and the current politicising of the issue adds to the confusion as well as needless aggravation.

but the root problem also has to be the malaysian unrealistic attitude towards education, i dare say from the leadership down to the general populace.

malaysians imho are still stuck with the idea that education equates a piece of paper or letters behind names that serve to assure them that they are now "educated" or "have learned" instead of realising the more pragmatic implications of learning, of being educated.

hence many seem to close their ears to the more practical reasons for PPSMI which was to help with our children's competitiveness in the more demanded technical fields when it looked like our "new" education system had reduced our once high standard of english and bilingualism (that malaysians were so proud of) to pathetic and unusable in modern global context.

i've touched on another reason "why science and maths in particular" in satd's blog. rather than rewriting the same here in different words, le me just c&p the relevant part.


on a more serious note, there are those who keep harping abt some UN/UNESCO report, which pronounced that children learn best in their native tongue, as one of the more compelling reasons to reject PPSMI.

certainly that's a natural fact but that does not negate that children don't find it any more difficult learning (anything!) in a foreign tongue either. it's a biogical fact that children are wired to learn, a lot and a lot faster. just look at babies. that "sponge" ability dwindles with the years and is replaced with a different type of learning and retention ability.

but even without such facts and backing stats, malaysians who learned every subject in english before anwar "bakued up" [clumsy pun quite intended] education in malaysia (including anwar himself and highly likely those old literati who joined the demo themselves, for whatever that's worth) can provide ample proof of this in themselves.

if general scholarship is the measure, i dare say the older generation (those of our parents up till those born before the 70s) who acquired knowledge NOT in malay but in english more often than not come across more "educated" or more roundedly so.

don't have to go far, just look at their standard of both english and malay in the blogs. the oldies don't just articulate well, in either language, their cogent arguments shows that they are more well-informed and well-read. let's face it, how well-read and well-informed can one be in just malay?

these people also seem to ignore the fact PPSMI pick science and mathematics because the language involved in those diciplines is the kind where the necessary vocabulary is easily acquired by recognition and rote.

in other words, there are hardly any connotative words involved in the vocabulary of science and mathematics. no double meanings, no layers of meaning, no subtle registers and nuances to trip the students, as you would find in the language of other diciplines, particularly those in the humanities and social sciences.

all the words used in science and mathematics are easily understood by their definitive meanings. the children only need to know/recognise them once and those meanings stay with those terms for the rest of their lives. unlike terms in literature and economics, for example, which can acquire all kinds of added meanings over the years through popular usage.

that is just one of the reasons why that UN/UNESCO report should not be used as a blanket "catch-all" to abandoned the PPSMI.

apart from that, most of the technical terms (not just in science and mathematics) translated thus far by DBB follow the conventions decided by the MABBIM (majlis bahasa brunei, indonesia, malaysia) panel of distinguished linguists which more or less malaysianise the terms by changing the endings and making the terms more pliable to malay affixes (imbuhan/penambahan). they are however still recognisable as foreign words and terms. and for the kids learning them in science and mathematics, they will still be new words!

this means the kids are going to learn unfamiliar terms anyway. while these terms are not in english anymore, they are not really malay in any sense of the word either. so there is not even the argument that the children will have the recourse of intuitive familiarity with the words here.

i wish i have the time to locate those reports and studies that provide arguments against taking that solitary UN/UNESCO report as the last word in what is the correct language medium for knowledge acquisition in children, particularly technical knowledge. but i'm sorry, i don't.

however, i think it behoves the government, particularly the MoE, to find them and explain the findings in simple language to malaysians to assuage their concerns and doubts. they ARE out there, you know!

walla said...

He used oxygen to illustrate a point. If he had used kryptonite, lex luthor would be scrambling helter-skelter.

One fears it's not just science and maths.

Take, for a small example, the subject of geography. You can say it need not be taught in english. Up to secondary school level, the student learns geography in bahasa.

Then the student wants to expand his mind in the subject when he reaches the pre-university level, or even as a working adult. Let's say there is no guidance; he just wants to know because he is curious, or perhaps the boss asks for it, or maybe he needs the knowledge to do something.

Unless his command of the english language is equally confident for his mind to read geography texts direct in english when it has been for years conditioned for geography in bahasa, one should think he will have problems with something like this:

Geographies of Global Change: Remapping the World in the Late Twentieth Century.
Publisher: WileyBlackwell | ISBN: 0631193278 | edition 2002 | PDF | 480 pages | 44,05 mb

The second edition of this popular collection presents 28 specially commissioned essays by leading geographers from across the world, addressing questions about how and why the world has changed, is changing, and will continue to change.

The volume provides students with a series of critical insights into the economic, political, social, cultural, and ecological dimensions of change at every geographical scale from the global to the local.

For the updated edition several new topics have been added in order to keep the text contemporary. New material has been incorporated on economic changes relating to world trade and labor, on political changes in the post-Cold War era and geopolitics, on social and cultural changes relating to children, race, consumption, and cyberspace, and on changes in environmental governance. In addition, the editors have written a new essay to introduce the volume which provides a distinctive geographical take on globalization. Existing chapters have been revised or rewritten as necessary.


It's almost a certainty books like that haven't been translated into bahasa. Although there are at least one thousand bahasa translators that DBP can call upon, one suspects by the time they can translate even ten decently, another one thousand would have mushroomed out of nowhere. Furthermore, as said Tun, the translator must know the subject first.

Now the question is: why need so many texts when just some will do?

The counter-question could be: are you preparing to take an exam on a syllabus with a fixed content by using one standard text and a past-year exams Q&A guidebook, an approach one may already dignify as the malaysian answer to what constitutes education, or are you trying to get as many points of views and pieces of facts from as many different sources as possible in order to be prepared to argue any case that business, life and so on may throw at you at any point in your life, or the life of your business, enterprise, and so on?

In the former, it's trying to fit the person's mind into a silo set by a few minds. In the latter case, it's preparing him to take on the whole field set by the world and life.

Of course, some will argue by pointing out that there are indeed geographers in this country.

But if you take the above book scope, is geography just about drawing maps, explaining terrain formation, talking about demographics only, and presented by a few, or is it something that transcends even social science, history, culture, politics and so on, and presented by a variable many?

And then again we have another imposing challenge. Universities are ranked and lecturers are recognized for reward based on original research culminating in peer-reviewed publication in esteemed journals or monographs. Some of such works end up reviewed for prizes, titles, chairs and international recognition. Invariably, in each and all of them, the author uses and cites other past works. It's a pyramidal structure fed by a motivational system. New knowledge is clawed out from the fog of ignorance by standing on the shoulders of past giants to peer at the lighthouse and listen to the sounding bell.

Therefore, if the experts on a subject are overseas and they obviously don't know bahasa, the only people who can peer-review a local work written in bahasa would be the same group of people groomed up as the author who is limited in the amount of his knowledge only persuaded otherwise by the depth of his analytical skills which on the other hand can only be honed by extensive study of the literature on his subject. Which are not in bahasa.

So we have a situation where the growth of knowledge in this country veers towards self-pollination and in-breeding. As you would have concluded even before me, that's genetically weak and self-destructive in the long run.

We are just a small country of some 27 million, mostly young people, fifty years as a nation, fragmented by politics, challenged by economics, searching for inner character, reinventing wheels with each new generation, facing new problems without the right skillsets and mindsets to tackle them confidently, and, you can add, debilitated by looming vicious cycles. Our industries are hollowing out; they are unable to innovate into the next value-adding level because they are crimped by a paucity of human capital whose real value is what resides in the cerebrum. Our economic wealth from commodities and mining are threatened by indifferent prices and dwindling reserves. Our employment wealth from FDIs and MNCs are subject to the vagaries of people faraway who only see us as small spreadsheets for the income statement of their next annual reports. And in the present global meltdown, they are in a mean mood.

We can't let our future generations go on like this. The old formulas for national development in those halycon days of rapid growth from virgin jungles won't work in a world whose field is being leveled day by day by the emergence of new, hungry and smart players, willing, able and competent to walk the extra mile, titans of skyscrapers, milo's of hyperspace. And they're all very fast learners.

A small country like ours needs to have lots and lots of mind-agile people.

Mind-agile but taken to an internationally excellent and commercial level of credibility.

And the only way the world measures credibility is what you got that i need? Since we don't have much, then it must be what you know that i can use?

That may be the real question people should ask when they talk about mediums of instruction, position of language, value of knowledge, future of malaysia.

It's important, if only to avoid coming to first and final hasty conclusion that something like this is just about what its title says:

If the mind is free and self-expanding, it's not. It's more.

So how does one translate something like that?


It's great to read in a small insignificant place in the papers that three this year, all from one school, Sekinchan, had scored 16A's in the SPM. Why are we not celebrating that three times more than before?

In some countries, the traffic police literally bring the traffic of an entire metropolis to a halt just so that their students can be bused on time for their exams. Scholars are decently celebrated, academics held in real esteem.


I have done my part too. Was it only three days ago that i had ferried six SPM students after they had got their results? Step aside and let me gloat that for a few minutes i was transporting the highest concentration per sq. ft of A's in the world. Some 72. They're mentally confident, character matured, ambitious, vocal, cultured, achievement oriented, and focused. I don't think these are not universal qualities that better techniques cannot produce.


This post, so early in the morning, for:

- the blogger (one of the most rounded learned minds i have had the privilege to meet);

- Patricia (one of the most decent sparkling minds i have not had the fortune to meet);

- Mekyam (one of the loveliest original minds i will never have the pleasure of meeting);

- Tun and TRH and... (remember to take your vitamins);

and, last but never the least,

our young minds, alas standing on the beach, picking a pebble here, a shell there, while an entire ocean of truth and knowledge lie beyond them.

Another great said,

"No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it."

In other words (methinks), see the full picture, get out of the silo, expand all horizons.

And chase that skirt, if i may add.


Anonymous said...

Should we learn Mandarin and Russian too?I believe there is a huge body of research from China and Russia.

Is English a difficult language to learn?Can 6 months of concentrated study give one enough proficiency in the language to read and understand technical writings?

flyer168 said...

Dear de minimis,

Let us ALL look back & LEARN from our early history of this great nation & our forefather's struggles...

The British educated & trained Intellectuals, Professionals, Economists, etc (Oxford, Cambridge, etc).

- In 1957 FINALLY gained our Independence from the "Colonial British Rule" through the citizen's "concerted" struggle & the Leadership of our Bapa Malaysia Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra & his Malaysian cabinet of TRUE TUANS managing the system of Wesminster style Democracy & with the Rule of Law in 1957,

That was the old UMNO (led by Tunku), MCA (lead by Tun Tan Cheng Lock) & MIC (lead by Tun Sambanthan) under the banner of the "Alliance" government.

Is not that the "Better & Smarter" choice by the Leadership of our Bapa Malaysia Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra & his Malaysian cabinet of TRUE TUANS managing the system of Wesminster style Democracy & with the Rule of Law in 1957....

Through Political negotiations & POLITICAL SOLUTIONS leading to a "Bloodless" handover & the Independence of Malaya!

It proves a point that Educated (yes, string of degrees, MBAs & Phds mean nothing if they are not able "APPLY" & be "EDUCATED"), Intelligent, Smart & Wise leaders do not have to resort to Threats, Militancy & unnecessary Battles with collateral damage & bloodshed to the citizens!

I was there at the Dataran Merdeka to witness the occassion on 31st August 1957 - the joy, tears & jubilation of Tunku, his cabinet & every Malay, Chinese, Indian, etc citizen of Malaya !

So let us ALL accept the fact that our forefathers suffered but persevered & did not give up the struggle for Independence….until it was achieved !

Let us ALL also learn that Tunku & his Malaysian cabinet of TRUE TUANS, EARNED the RESPECT, TRUST & SUPPORT of ALL the Malayan citizens.

It was in 1969 our Bapa Malaysia Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra & his Malaysian cabinet of TRUE TUANS managing the system of Wesminster style Democracy & with the Rule of Law, was "Betrayed" with the
"13th May 1969 BLOODY coup d’état" by the "Elite UMNO Ketuanan BEGGARS"....Tun Razak & his group...

- some of those are still "Alive, Kicking & Mentoring ALL the New Ketuanan Beggar Wannabes."

- This great nation, its assets, its Original EDUCATION SYSTEM & its Anak Bangsa Malaysia have been abused for the last 40 years by these "Moronic Idiots & their Goons" through "Gutter Politics" & the "Law of the Jungle".

Divine Intervention Works Wonders & What goes round will come round to "Haunt" UMNO/BN baru.

Why is the UMNO/BN Government “Bodoh Sombong” still trying to “Reinvent ANOTHER OF MANY, MANY FAILED EDUCATION SYSTEM WHEELS” (Back to Square One!).....

When our EDUCATION SYSTEM “BASIC WHEEL” since 1957, just needed to be “REDEFINED and REFINED”?

If we just “Swallow our False Pride, be Honest & Sincere”, the “Whole Nation and the World” will be with us to HELP out!

We only have to “Look, Acknowledge, Ask and Learn” from our neighbour down South - their TESTED, TRIED and PROVEN Original EDUCATION SYSTEM solutions which have “ENDURED THE TEST OF TIME” - DYNAMIC, RESILIENT SUCCESSFUL for more than 50 years !

Our Ketuanan UMNO/BN Government's ego from 1969 to "Destroy" the TESTED, TRIED and PROVEN Original EDUCATION SYSTEM solutions which have “ENDURED THE TEST OF TIME” - DYNAMIC, RESILIENT & SUCCESSFUL for more than 50 years with their Malaysia Boleh version have FAILED & FAILED & FAILED for 40 years!

So 40 years later, after WASTING Billions of Tax ringgit, they FINALLY learnt that their MEDIOCRE Malaysia Boleh version has not been & is not "Recognised Internationally"....

Therefore, they now want to revert back to the "Original".....

Ofcourse their UMNO/BN "Ketuanan" supporters including the Opposition PR "Ketuanan" supporters nationwide feel "CHEATED & PROTESTED” - Their Reversion Plan Backfired & a SLAP in UMNO'S/BN's face !!!

I am not surprised UMNO/BN Ketuanan Leaders are INVOLVED in PROMOTING the most recent Protest & UMNO/BN "Ketuanan" supporters who took part with the PR supporters also got "Water-cannoned, Tear gassed & arrested" by the Police & FRU !

What I call "COLLATERAL DAMAGE" to their own "UMNO/BN Ketuanan" supporters.

As such there will be a "MAJOR Revolt" of their own UMNO/BN Ketuanan downstream Leaders & supporters against their UMNO/BN Ketuanan PM, DPM, etc at the coming Assembly !

How come the initial report claimed 124 protesters were arrested but later said that they were released released except 9 (PAS & PKR ?)

What about those released...."COLLATERAL DAMAGE"? (INSTRUCED & PAID UMNO/BN Ketuanan downstream Leaders & supporters?)

Anonymous said...

'Nuff said' indeed!

Sad that many still cannot see the simple fact (or is it THAT simple?), intellectuals(?) included!

To paraphrase someone's saying - stupid, its the economy! And I said where's the beef!

All things aside, how does one cultivate that initial spark for that interest in maths/science in school going children in the first place?

U show creative & mind-twisting SIMPLE facts to them.

Better still, in forms & sounds that the children can relate most easily.

That's how that UN studies come about - not plugged from the air or based on one's simple empirical thought, more so when it's not even professional in the fist place. R u better than those UN educators? How arrogance!

Many, in the arrogance of their past schooling experiences, FORGET that there r many OTHER schooling children in many other parts of the Malaysia DO NOT share the same basics - background, facilities, outlooks & inspirations - through one influence or another.

Most tragic of all IS that they TURN a blind eye to the cruel fact that THERE r now many hp6 teachers, with spurious teaching qualifications & even worst English commanding skill, be the initiators of of FUTURE Malaysians in many aspects of lives!

First they DON'T know how to inspire, then they speak funny, as their hp6 English show. Ya - the children will turn out queers too. A sort of lemming effect.

U want our children to be interest in math/science, due to the demand of this modern world?

Build their FOUNDATION first!

Once that stone is put in place then their self-propelled interests will take them anywhere higher, English or Swahili for that matter!

Please-lah dont tell me that U want good math/science foundations coupled with good English handling skill to be able to imparted to our young children during their forming years in primary schools. THAT won't do.

That's just like putting the cart before the horse!

'Nuff said' Indeed!


محمد إدريس said...

Teaching science and maths in English can have grave effects on Malaysia. Read my latest blog entry to find out more.