Sunday, November 6, 2011

English-medium Schools

Yesterday morning, I attended the Joint HELP-University of Malaya Toastmasters meeting where I was the General Evaluator. I had to miss my own club meeting but nevertheless, I did not regret it because I enjoyed myself immensely. Some HELP members even came in costumes because the meeting was Halloween-themed. More importantly, the speeches were good and so were the evaluations. The people. The food. Everything was superb. And there were also other Toastmasters from other student clubs, i.e. TAR College, Monash University, Multimedia University and Stamford College. An awesome meeting that I would gladly give a score of an 8 out of a 10.

Picture by Choo Choy May

I have refrained from commenting on this increasingly strident debate over the use of English or Malay to teach Science and Mathematics in Malaysian schools. I recognize that there will always be two schools of thought on this divisive issue and both are right. Anyway, Muhyiddin had made his firm stand on behalf of the government that Malay will prevail. And as expected, groups of (presumably English-speaking) parents are up in arms against this decision. In fact, on Sunday, the chairperson of the Parent Action Group for Education (PAGE), Noor Azimah Abdul Rahim had bluntly told the BN government that they risked losing votes in the upcoming general election if they continue to bar students from learning science and mathematics in English. The next day, she admitted to holding the government to ransom over this issue, reflecting the snowballing grief of many parents who are advocating English.

Of course, not all parents are opposed to teaching Science and Mathematics in Malay. The Education Ministry showed a survey report and pointed out that more than half of the parents responding to the survey supported the policy. However, according to another survey conducted by PAGE, 54 percent of parents nationwide supported teaching Science and Mathematics in English and, in some urban areas, the percentage had even hit as high as 90 percent.

Why don't we consider English as we consider Mandarin and Tamil? Since we allow vernacular schools in this country, why don't we treat English the same way? We can have English-medium schools for those parents who choose to have thier children educated in English. After all, we must recognize that in many homes, English is the primary language spoken.

Really, to depend on English for just two subjects will not make anybody proficient in English - so why are we even kidding ourselves? English is so important that it should be taught properly and correctly and not surreptitiously under the guise of other subjects. Malay can be taught with equal emphasis with English, Mandarin, Tamil and other mother toungues - doesn't this really represent the rich and abundant diversity that is Malaysia? Think about it - English-medium schools. This is a win-win solution for everybody!

1 comment:

- Lifes Good - said...

Are Malaysians still that narrow-minded? *shrugs* I really agree on this: "to depend on English for just two subjects will not make anybody proficient in English – so why are we even kidding ourselves?" I grew up speaking English at home, while learning and using the Malay language in schools. The real problem here is not whether students can adapt from one language to another. In fact, kids learn new things like sponge! Test them for yourself!

The problem really lies in the education system itself. If an educator is not even knowing what he is doing, how can the students understand what is going on? Some of the educators are forced to spoon feed students because they have never been trained while they were still a child to work on their own, ie, the educators have been spoon fed themselves as a student. How can we learn if we are told to memorise answers and are given "techniques" to answer questions (such as, "the longest answer in an MCQ would most probably be the answer" *rollseyes slapself knockheadonwall*)?!

Another thing is, using the language. While we cannot blame parents for not knowing the English language (especially in rural areas, it is completely understandable that not all citizens attend schools as they could not even afford rice back then), but it is very true that if children do not converse in a language somewhat often (eg: at home), they will never be truly fluent in that language.

My whole point is, why debate on the language? We'll adapt. I have been fine learning numbers in Chinese during kindergarten years, Maths and Science in Malay during primary school years, and finally in English during my secondary school till university years. I learnt more than another who learnt it all in the same language (boring!). Language is not the issue; change the education system, train the educators (properly!), stop arguing on which language to use and move on with life! Let the authority decide! (...on whether to let the country move forward, or backward.)

Adults (in general; maybe not you, Sir!) are really good at confusing the kids, or underestimating students' "natural talent" for learning! We aren't that dumb, really, just curious because we want to find out about anything and everything we touch! I just can't understand the reason for a teacher to say "don't ask" to a student's "why?"

Oh, and people should really leave politics out of education. (Why not vote if there is no change back to PPSMI??) Honestly, I do not think they are of a very good mix at all.