Monday, June 15, 2009

Science & Maths In English, The Feedback

Such a hot topic, sure got plenty of views. The first one by swifz on "freedom of choice" has been aptly answered by Smoking Gun. My other replies in purple.
swifz said...

Totally disagree with you. There is no freedom when you impose your will on others. This is like when you think kissing corrupts the mind. So no kissing in the movies. This is like thinking that dressing short skirt invites rape, so you ban short skirt. What is right what is wrong? Are you more wise to decide this?

I always believe in freedom and the strength of diversity. Let every one teach using their way. The parents will decide what is best for their children. Learning different methods ensure that if one method fails, we can count on other methods to survive. It is just like planting rice, you don't have the whole country planting the same species because if a disease strike that species, the whole country will die of hunger.

If parents think that English have its strength, then they will send their children to English school and other type of school will slowly lose out the students. The idea is that we let the parents to make the decision. This is what free economy means. It is not good to have the government control every aspect of our life. This makes us become like communist.

Freedom of choice!!!!!!

SmokingGun said...

We elect a govt as a steward for this generation and to lay the foundations for the next. Which includes debatable education policies such as this even though some quarters may debunk the wisdom of teaching the two subjects in English.

The reasons for objections cited include absurd reasons such as national pride, losing one's Malaysianness, etc, which Dali has so eloquently argued otherwise.

Freedom and strength in diversity is an aspiration and good ideal.. but it will only prosper within well defined and stipulated boundaries, or structures.. Especially in small developing nations like Malaysia, with a substantial rural population, there is a need for the government to act as a shepherd. Total freedom is suicidal.

Parents that are illiterate or monolingual, will tend to perpetuate the cycle, as they are keeping within own comfort zones.. meaning that their children and future generations shall find it difficult to break out of. Govt are supposed to be there for the people, and they are given the mandate to lead them... not for the people to lead them... The poor parent often makes uninformed decisions (often wrong ones), and if it was left on their own, most kids would be out of school..
(The rich wouldnt even bother cos it doesnt affect them.. All their kids are overseas studying anyway)

Malaysia is a small country.. and the language is relatively new.. it would take a herculean effort to translate all the existing scientific texts out there, not to mention the new dissertations and journals appearing everyday in English (and Chinese/Japanese). Better to teach our young to fish (English/Chn/Jap/German/whatever) than to feed them everyday (translate into BM)

This policy has already been in place for a few years already.. if i am not wrong, the statistics has not shown that the overall grades has been affected. It is just politicizing and posturing by certain quarters. The more this issue rages on (which it has gone on for a long while, and has seen some fiery and racist overtones), the more I believe that the future of this country is shrouded with bigotism and close mindedness.. already the livelihoods of many are threatened by the recessionary clouds that hang over us now.. but we seek to deflect this and argue to overturn policies that will reverse our progress and undermine our competitiveness...(its no longer our "cheap" labor..and no, we are not that high up the value chain to be supreme innovators... its our English speaking workforce, stupid..!)

And you wonder, why so many middle-class folk think bout migrating...


SS - PLEASE do not look down on those who cannot speak coherent English, it doesn't mean that you are smarter and superior than they are, it just shows that you don't understand what is 山外有山,天外有天。 p/s: Zhang Xin Yu & JJ probably cannot speak coherent English as well, you still like them, don;t you? Is it because of their looks or just double standard ?

SS dear,
I do not look down on people who do not know English. My mum does not know English, but I am certain her choices and options in life would be enhanced if she did. No, I don't look down on my mum. We are all victims and creatures of our surroundings, environment and conditions - if you were born during the war period, you'd be lucky to get any kind of education. I am not against learning Chinese or Malay, go do it by all means... but for heaven's sake, learn English as a priority. I have explained why Science & Maths are so important to be taught in English - its the business, finance and research language of the world. What kind of parents are you to deny your kids, why curtail your child's options. By all means, study history in Chinese, or even Social Studies, or even Ethics, or even Asian History, go and learn calligraphy even ... but do not be blinkered into NOT studying English as a priority.
SS, you are barking up the wrong tree when you use the girls knowledge of English as a predetermination of liking or not liking someone, that is so shallow and unnecessary.

I am not looking down on anyone, I am just scolding them and hope they will consider the broader picture. If after all that, you still want to drop English in those two subjects, then go ahead... as they say in cantonese, "you want to die, why should I stop you from dying..." (lei ngoi sei, ngor ngm bei lei sei meh) ... but before I make that statement, I hope to at least shout in anger about the consequences and bigger issues surrounding the matter. If after all that, you still want to "kill" yourself, then go ahead by all means.

Thanks to "random" for replying to SS' queries.


random has left a new comment on your post "Teach Syains & Madds In Engris, You Im-be-ci-les":

lol SS wtf is wrong with you?

If you are so adverse to profanities you should stop reading the post instead of emphasizing the use of the word FUCKING (there's already a disclaimer put out)

This is not about looking down on anyone.. this post is about arguing the point that those who study Science and Maths in English will have a competitive edge in the real world.

Please don't bring your inferiority complex here.

kinwing said... How about Taiwan of which population is only as big as us? So the English standard of most of the Taiwanese is not as good as us but they are integrated with the world well. There is another case from the former British colonial, Hong Kong. I think normal Hong Kong people do not master English very well, at least at the same level with Malaysian. But their competitiveness is much better than us!!! So I think mastering English is not a rocket science of making a person smarter just because he/she knows how to read reports in English. It is the determination of becoming success and attitude are the keys. By the way. I was chinese educated all the way from the primary (Sekolah Cina Kebangsaan), secondary (Chinese Independent High School, SUWA) to tertiary (New Era College, created by a Chinese association, i.e. Dong Jiao Zhong) education. And I only started to seriously learn about English when I was at college. Still I was able to manage to keep up the English standard though I can't say I am mastering it perfectly.

Kin, you are right in citing Taiwan as their population is 22m, but you should also know that there is a huge gravitation of their students to do their degrees in the US. Mastering English DOES NOT make a person smarter, thats not my point at all. Your kids will have an equal chance of being an asshole or a lazy bum or an under achieving good-for-nothing even with English.

At least next time, ask for bribe also can ask in English la...

... oh btw, there are plenty of retired teachers who have an excellent command of English that you can tap on a part time basis. They will be more than happy to help out, just double their last pay scale.

And finally, a sobering commentary from an actual English teacher ....


Follow up message
Arn has left a new comment on your post "Teach Syains & Madds In Engris, You Im-be-ci-les":

The best way to learn and master the English language is to learn and master the English language itself. Learning Science and Mathematics in English will, by itself, not improve one's standard of English. I should know because I actually teach English.

I can tell you that the best way for anyone to improve their English language skill is to read more books and magazines, and to speak it as much as possible. Forcing children to learn Science and Mathematics in English, when they don't yet have a grasp of the language itself, is of no significant advantage.

The Japanese, Taiwanese and South Koreans are technologically more advanced than us, but the average Japanese, Taiwanese and South Korean can barely hold a decent conversation in English. I should know because I have met Japs, Taiwanese and South Koreans, and talking to them is a real chore at times.

When I was but a wee lad, I studied Science and Maths in Bahasa Malaysia, and I do not believe that I have been disadvantaged in anyway as a result. What I did do was read lots of Beano, Dandy, Spiderman, the Star, NST, WW2 comics, and anything else I could get my hands on, besides watching English language programs on TV and radio. I also spoke English all the time with my schoolmates. Now this is where Malaysian children today are different from us grown-ups; they are more likely to speak their mother tongues instead of English. The Chinese kids will watch HK serials and movies and speak Cantonese or Mandarin with their peers, the Malay kids will stick to BM and the Indian kids will likely be speaking Tamil.

If the idea behind the teaching of Science and Maths in English is so that the children can be immersed in the English language, then you'd have to make English the standard medium of instruction, displacing Bahasa Malaysia. This means everything; Geography, History etc. I doubt if this will happen.

Another logistical stumbling block is the lack of Malaysian TEACHERS who can actually teach English, let alone Science and Maths in English.

In conclusion, the only realistic way forward is to get more English teachers into Malaysia to teach English to Malaysian children, and to encourage Malaysian children to read more books, listen to English-language radio, and speak more English.

p/s photo: Linda Chung Kar Yan


SS said...

I apologize & deleted the bad wording. Please get my points across

Dali, I do not know what actually make you so angry, is it because Science & Maths to be NOT taught in English in PRIMARY schools ? or SECONDARY schools and Universities ?

If you are referring to PRIMARY school, I do not understand why you want to deny other ppl's right to learn S&M in their mother tongue. You seriously think Primary school student can learn English & S&M at the sam time. Why force Chinese & Tamil students to learn S&M in 2 languages (yes , 2 languages now, if you do not already know, thanks to MCA & MIC). You are right that there are still 6,7, 8 subjects subjects in Malay, Chinese or even Tamil BUT teachers just do not have time for these subjects, thanks to MCA & MIC again for the same reason above.
If we are keen to improve the English for our students why not increase the English teaching time in PRIMARY school, isn't it how we shld learn our English? Since when we can learn to improve our English thru S&M and NOT thru grammar teaching? Oh yeah, another thing, those 6,7,8 subjects are not exam. subjects in UPSR so you think student will care to learn those non-exam. subject ?

On the other hand, if you are referring to SECONDARY & Uni. go ahead to change whatever subjects to English because by that time those who study S&M in their mother tonguehave already built up stronger foundation on S&M (using their mother tongue in PRIMARY school ) at the same time have better understanding in English (if we really teach good English in PRIMARY)

Little Bear said...

I think, in general, the principal of emphasizing the importance of mastering English in schools is without doubt the right way to go. But it is unfair for us to brush aside some legitimate practical concerns when it comes to the teaching of Science & Maths in schools.

I don't think choice is the right argument here, but rather one of practicality and efficacy. As one previous posted has mentioned, we do not have yet have the capacity to manage the transition to teaching in English. This is especially true in rural areas where teachers who can teach Maths & Science are already hard to come by, let alone those who can teach in English.

If this transition to English results in an overall poorer grasp of Maths & Science amongst our students due to the inability of their teachers to impart this knowledge in English, is this worth the sacrifice?

I do not have a clear picture of the statistics, but from what i've heard from my Mom, who is a counselor in a high school, the quality of teaching has deteriorated rapidly in recent years. New teachers who come in, come from the generation who were educated in Malay, and more often than not have a poor grasp of the language themselves. Please bear in mind, most of the people who end up as teachers in this country, aren't the best and brightest of their group. How can we expect them to teach well in a language that they aren't familiar with themselves?

I believe Arn hit the nail right on its head, when she pointed out that it is not the teaching of Science & Maths in English that will result in a better grasp of the language. What is required is a better teaching of the English language in schools. I too am a graduate of a SRJK(c)/SMJK(c), where the English speaking crowd (the very few of us) were regarded as freaks, and we received no instruction in English except for the 2-3 hours a week in the "Engrish" class. But i had a good base in the English, thanks to my parents, and the transition to a purely English instruction in college was not difficult.

My point here is the same as the one being made by Arn. If the learning of English is the sticking point, lets find ways to teach it better, and not try to short circuit the process by introducing plans that might help in the smallest of way, but yet misses the forest for the trees.

Lets train better teachers, who can speak and teach well in the language. Maybe we should have plans to give incentives for teachers to master the language. Maybe we should stop handing out A's in English for people who don't even have the vocabulary to read a Harry Potter novel.

random said...

Dear Arn,

It's not that studying Science & Maths in English will improve mastery in the language per se.

It's about getting used to reading scientific terms in English. If I ask about "jalur lebar" service in Sg Buloh, all I get is a blank stare. If I say "broadband" then I get "Ohhhh"

When you are in the technical field, it's important to understand the English equivalent of scientific terms as it is the more dominant language.

Little Bear said...


The terminology is really easy to pickup once you have an affinity for the language.

You can have all the terminology you want, but if you do not have a mastery of the language that allows you to express yourself. That terminology is useless.

In fact, most students in college now have no problems picking up the terms. The problem is, they don't understand anything due to their poor language. They know what all the terms are, but they can't apply them in any useful fashion. You'd cringe at the presentations some of the students give, they throw in the terms at the correct places and their ideas in general make sense, but the language is so poor, you'd have to struggle to read their assignments, or listen to their presentations.

joker said...


i have 2 siblings in secondary school. they completed their primary education in a chinese school. n their english is terrible from d start. 2 ask them to answer a test in english, i would bet big that they will fail d test.

well, i dont blame d school for this. i think d parents should bear more responsibility for their childrens education. if u want ur kids to be SOMEBODY, then you have to teach them about the importance of d subject from young, talk to them in english n enrol them into english courses. (if d parents always talk Mandarin or Malay at home, who d kids want to talk to in English, d wall?)

if you start talking in english from young, you have an advantage over others who start much later in life. u will have more confidence speaking english as it is your grown-up language.

i have more than enough confidence to speak in Malay or Mandarin because its my routine language from young. If you insist NOT to let your kids master english, then have high expectation 2 see them working in the PUBLIC sector, cause it is where they appreciate the Malay language.

my english is not good, and i think its because its not my grown-up language. i seldom talk in english, n my grammar is not excellent too. i am a good example of why you need to learn english once you are born. if you want your son/daughter to be SOMEBODY, then you have to do SOMETHING for them.

well, what is wrong with mastering another language that is useful around the world?? after all, you are good enough in your mother tongue.

speaking of tongue, i once asked a fried of mine to pronounce the word TONGUE. The answer is TONG KUEY. Needless to say, his english is well below par.

So.... its up to you 2 decide after weighting the pros and cons. :)


Akhramsyah Muammar Ubaidah bin Sanusi said...

I've been against PPSMI since its inception for reasons similar to SS, but focussing on the negative impact on rural Malays students. I hence celebrated the consideration of compulsory pass requirement for English at SPM level to be a positive way for the government to wind back the flawed PPSMI here:

random. There is nothing wrong with having English as the medium for Science and Maths at SECONDARY level, when nomenclature becomes important. This is no different from the use of Greek, Latin or Arabic as medium for higher learning in the past.

It will spell the demise of Malay as a language of knowledge of the Sciences though, at least the Malaysian branch of the Malay language (the Indonesians translate significant volumes into Indonesian Malay). Some may not be comfortable with this 'loss' to the Malay language.

But the overidding argument for me is the effectiveness from practical application mother-tongues for Primary level education of Maths and Science.

Arn said...


It's about more than just "getting used to reading scientific terms in English".

Apparently, the policy was supposed to "... solve two problems simultaneously. One, considering the critical shortage of textbooks, journals, and other literature in Malay, teaching the two subjects in English would facilitate the acquisition of new knowledge by our students. With the exponential growth of new knowledge, it would be impossible to keep up solely through translations, even if we were to devote our entire intellectual resources towards that endeavor.

The other objective was to enhance the English fluency of our students. Of course if that were the only consideration, there are other more effective ways of achieving it, like devoting more instructional hours to the subject." (M. Bakri Musa)

If people can understand you when you say "broadband", I doubt if teaching Science and Maths in English had anything to do with it, anymore than a person being considered fluent in English if he can understand "computer".

"When you are in the technical field, it's important to understand the English equivalent of scientific terms as it is the more dominant language."
Of course, but you also need to understand all that boring stuff like syntax, grammar, and vocabulary before you can make sense of it.

seeteik said...

1. education in the vernacular was instituted by our colonial masters so that the locals can be delegated administrative tasks. do we intend to perpetuate this concept or to take the bull by the horns so as to compete with the likes of vietnam?

2. sure we don't have enough teachers for now but when will ever be ready?

3. don't compare us to taiwan and hong kong. they have China, we don't. and would anyone like to suggest that science and maths be taught in chinese?

4. learning science and maths won't produce graduates mouthing Elizabethan english. that's not the intention. it's to enable, from an early age, for future next generations to effortlessly communicate with others and also to tap the ideas of the world in these two fields.

5. doubt any low income but sensible parent would want their kids to remain monolingual. education is one of the steps to a better life.

i can understand Dali's frustrations on the matter. but it is the price one pays for genuine interest in the welfare of the country. not that it is necessary bad!

random said...

yes I understand what you guys are aiming at..

I felt I had to give my point of view before this degrades into an English speaking vs Non english speaking argument


Nice point. But it's such a pity seeing an absolutely bright interview candidate lose out just because he/she is not used to the English medium when applying for that engineer position at Intel

My point is in the working world, English is the dominant language. So students should be exposed to it at an early age. Otherwise he/she will be left out. That is the brutal truth

And yes, I do have worries that my child will forget their cultural roots if they do everything in English, hence I agree that most subjects should be taught in the mother language. However Science and Maths should be in English since it is more applicable in real life


Little Bear said...

to those of you who are for the teaching of S&M in English, do you think with the current state and quality of our teachers:
1. S&M will be taught better in English?
2. More students will be interested in S&M after the switch to English?

gotenks said...

i have been supporting the effort to put studying science and maths in english, for the following reason:

vast number of references available
If I am a father to a child, do I want my child to acquire just what his/her teacher knows or better than the teacher? Teacher (no matter what languages they use to convey the teaching) will mostly have their own limitation even in their own field of expert, and will not be able to cover everything that the universe has to offer. They will try their best to cover the school syllabus, or a bit more than school syllabus. Where else do you guys think your child can gain extra knowledge/information on a certain topic/subject? From parents, friends, or tuition teachers? The best would be books (and the internet).

Take this as an example, try to search "papan kekunci" [or], and "keyboard" [or], in wikipedia. What's the difference? The amount of information provided is the difference. Another one - "dark matter", but i don't know what is the equivalent in malay language...

Some might argue again that taiwan is not using english as their medium, but still doing great. Well, yes, because as long as they can find more references in their own language, i.e. the amount of information or references available in their own language is a lot more compared to references in malay language.

Yes, in malay language, that's my point. If you can show me that there are a lot of books/references/research papers all in malay language, then I don't have any issue with using malay language as the medium.

in fact, i will not only encourage science and maths being taught in english, but other subjects like finance, economics, accounting, etc... simply because of the amount of references one can find to enhance their understanding more rather than limiting it to just the school syllabus.

i understand that the worry is there that your kids might not be able to cope with the subject well, if taught in english. in another angle, however, what might/could your kids gain in return if he/she knows what to search and understand the content presented from the vast amount of information available readily by the internet?

do not forget that you find most of the information that you want about a company, before deciding to invest in it, from the internet - mostly. And the fact is most are written in english (not malay, sad to say).

protecting malay language is one thing, but facing the fact that the world is mostly english dominated, well, at least not malay language, is equally important. furthermore, we are now living in the era of information age! time, time, time! and most of the information is in english, well at least not malay language... yet.

solomon said...

For me, if the Maths and Science subjects are supposingly covered better in English, I don't see why it should not be in this medium rather than the lingual franca (BM).

The key point that one often miss out is the knowledge.

It is just like if I wanted to know more abt the Bible / any other holy books, I can get it in English. But in order for me to apprehend further, I must know Greek or other ancient languages. So, can other people stop you if you have the passion?? I doubt.

Maybe not a good example, rather because Maths and Science are education curriculum, you fix it in a medium then our children have to complete it. If the futures are telling you it is better covered in English, why aren't we still that ignorant....come on, I doubt it is abt our pride and ego.

Maybe should we ask our politicians? Ha Ha Ha....

Sealand Blog said...

stop complaining about the gov, we knew it long time ago we can only count on ourselves

dont wait for the schools. send your children for english tuition, get them peter & jane. they will be grateful when they're 21.

when you know english, you can hook up with most of the countries in the world, you can do business and study in those countries, thats damn worth the money and time.

Akhramsyah Muammar Ubaidah bin Sanusi said...

random et al. I think you miss the point that SS, myself and other opposers of the practicalities of introducing PPSMI at Primary level are making. I for one do not oppose PPSMI because I wish to protect my cultural heritage - our Malay cultural heritage is not so shallow.

Indeed I am opposed to the quasi-nationalist line Pakatan Pembangkang and some NGOs are taking when opposing PPSMI and am disgusted with PAS trying to out-nationalist UMNO on this issue as it clouds our more legitimate argument.

The priority in teaching Maths and Science, especially at basic level, has to be focussed on what is Maths and Science! Without a proper grounding of the basics of these subjects at the Primary level, it won't matter what language is used at the Secondary, tertiary or working level, our kids won't even qualify on merit!

You have to have the engineering, finance, etc degree even to get to the interview, remember? And much as we dislike it, at Standard 1, for many Malaysians still, the comfort level for absorbing knowledge lies with their mother-tongue or language at home... which for the vast majority is still NOT English!

I've studied and worked in Europe for some 10 years, and in many countries, English is introduced as late as the 3rd or 5th grade! And the populace of said countries are sufficiently bi-lingual, and develop tech-heavy leading products with brands like Nokia, Phillips, Novartis and the like...

I hope that the point is made. Our opposition to PPSMI is not to 'protect cultural heritage', but because the PPSMI at the moment is IMPRACTICAL. And I would bet if we asked the Education ministry to be more transparent with the stats, this would be proven!

DanielXX said...

For ladies, the only language that matters is whether it's B, C or D. If it's DD, she can speak hokkien for all they care.

keng said...

It is highly questionable whether studying sciences and Maths in English will bring the desired outcome of improvement in English language. There is also the cost benefit issue that must be addressed first. Most of us have limited capacity to learn a few languages. Emphasising English could be at the expense of mastering Malay and Chinese. While some may cherish it, others will not.

The European countries achieved high technical proficiencies without having Maths and Sciences being taught in English in schools. As mentioned by others, many East Asian countries have advanced scientifically, technically and economically without resorting to the people there mastering English. What is more important is a culture of doing things well.

Emphasising vernacular language is the right approach. After all, language makes what we are. English is an important language, but not everyone can and need to master it.

see said...

Sudahlah. There are many chauvinist recalcitrants (yes, I miss Paul Keating) who would not let anyone touch their mother tongue with a 10 foot pole. Let them & their children be. What's important is you do what's good for your own child. Frankly I don't think there's political will to reverse the state of decline in English.

Philip Lee said...

My daughter is less than 2 years old and she can understand both English and Japanese, and later will introduce Malay, Mandarin and Cantonese.

I can't see why we cannot take 1 step forward to integrate the BM textbooks few years back with the current English science and maths text books. Its a lot of effort, but why move backward instead of forward. We can allow students to use either English or BM to answer in the exams as long as the maths and science principles are correct.

Some good will surely come out of the dialectics at work between both languages instead of choosing either one. We need new advancements. We need Malaysia Boleh. Not some power struggle between languages.

When will Malaysia advance and not hold on to race and language as stumbling blocks but embrace our differences as advantages?

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