Kemaskini terbaru: November 3, 2011




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Teaching Science and Mathematics in Bahasa Melayu

By Wan Ramli Wan Daud

On behalf of the Akademi Sains Islam Malaysia, I would like to congratulate the YAB Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, as the Education Minister for being forthright in cancelling the flawed Teaching of Science and Mathematics in English (PPSMI) program and replacing it with the more realistic policy of upholding Bahasa Melayu and strengthening English. I think this is the right move given the successful history of teaching both subjects in Bahasa Melayu in the past and the status of English in Malaysia as a second language to Bahasa Melayu.

Education of our children is a very dear issue to most parents and I understand their anxiety and confusion when educational policy changes affect the future of their children. The parents should accept YAB Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin’s explanation over the weekend that the policy reversal is not based on the whim and fancy of the Ministry but on solid evidence obtained by education experts that a majority of our children could not understand science and mathematics in English because they were not proficient in the language. He should be given the benefits of the doubt in trying his best to solve the disastrous effects of the flawed PPSMI policy. Parents should accept his assurance that the future of the children is very dear to his heart and that he will go out of his way to ensure the transition is smooth for the sake of the children.

Reverting to the archaic dual education system of English and Bahasa Melayu streams of the early post-colonial years that bred elitism and exclusiveness at the expense of the rest of the Rakyat is certainly not the right way of improving the English language of our children. Giving parents the right to choose English as the medium of instruction of their children to learn science and mathematics in government schools would be immensely impractical and would only cause greater confusion. I think parents who want their children to be taught science and mathematics in English are spoilt for choice of the many private schools offering just that. It is unfair for a small group of misguided anglophiles to change the national education policy to their whim and fancy at the expense of the rest of the rakyat who have a greater right to a sound education system using Bahasa Melayu as the medium of instruction.

On behalf of the Akademi Sains Islam Malaysia, I would also like to welcome the announcement by the YB Datuk Khalid Nordin, the Minister of Higher Education that publishing a book in Bahasa Melayu will be an additional criterion for promotion of lecturers. This criterion was a compulsory requirement for promotion of professors in our premier universities more than a decade ago but was abandoned after the medium of instruction of science and mathematics in universities was changed to English by the YAB Prime Minister of the day.

PPSMI has been the subject of intense debate between its supporters and detractors in national newspapers since the policy reversal was finally made public in a letter from the Ministry of Education in these columns. However, the people who had been at the forefront of the controversy are mainly NGOs of concerned parents on one side pitting against NGOs of language and education experts on the other. The people who are actually teaching both subjects in schools and universities have yet to share their views on this issue in public.

As a scientist at the top of my own field and a professor in chemical engineering for 33 years at UKM, I have taught many generations of Malaysian chemical engineers in Bahasa Melayu. Most of my students have gone on to become successful professional engineers in the industry and excellent lecturers and world class scientists with many of them becoming professors and world leaders in their own fields of research.

I am sure this is also true for many science and mathematics teachers and professors all over the country, who have taught tens of thousands of students, science and mathematics in Bahasa Melayu, and whose students have become very successful in their chosen field. The fact that we have produced so many successful science teachers, engineers, medical doctors and scientists who were taught science and mathematics in Bahasa Melayu speaks for itself.

Learning English through science and mathematics, I am sure every educator worth his salt agrees, is not the most appropriate way of learning a language. If the objective is to be proficient in English, then the right way to achieve it is to strengthen the teaching of the language by having better ways of teaching it in schools. The Education Ministry should review the way English is taught and to find ways and means to improve it.

It will not be solved by simply importing so-called “native speakers“ to take over or support the teaching of English because not many Malaysian parents know that the teachers too tend to speak English in their own peculiar dialects with weird accents and usage just like a Kelantanese and a Johorean speaking completely different dialects of Bahasa Melayu. Just imagine having different groups of American teachers from the Mid West and the Bronx on one hand and British teachers from Yorkshire and Scotland on the other teaching in schools in different parts of Malaysia. It would be hilarious to hear the widely different accents and usage spoken by children from those schools and the lost in translation if they were to participate in an inter-school English debate here in Kuala Lumpur!

I think many people who spoke passionately about the PPSMI issue neglect to tell us or probably do not know the kind of science and mathematics learnt by our children in schools. Science and mathematics taught in schools are established scientific and mathematical knowledge that have been accepted by consensus of most scientists and mathematicians at that point of history. It should not be confused with new cutting-edge science and technology that a scientist and a professor like me has to deal with everyday in my scientific work. Established science and mathematics change very slowly because new scientific discoveries that would become established knowledge is rare and far between. On the other hand, cutting-edge science changes rapidly as new theories are being postulated to explain newly discovered phenomena, which are accepted or discarded after undergoing rigorous scrutiny by the scientific community. There is no need for our children in schools to learn cutting-edge science because understanding it requires the scientific knowledge of a professor.

Not many people know that established science and mathematics have already been translated into Bahasa Melayu in numerous textbooks for primary and secondary schools as well as for Universities over the past 30 years. Our children can easily gain scientific knowledge by reading them. If this is not sufficient, they can always google it and get a Bahasa Melayu translation instantly from google chrome on their laptop or Ipad. Even fewer know that the discovery of new cutting-edge science and mathematics in Bahasa Melayu is growing at the international level over the last few years with the indexing of bi-lingual Bahasa Melayu-English scientific journals by major international scientific journal indexing services such as the ISI and SCOPUS! Now scientists from all over the world can access cutting-edge scientific knowledge in Bahasa Melayu.

The whole idea of learning science and mathematics in the mother tongue is not only simply about language patriotism as has been alleged by some quarters. The central issue lies deeper than mere patriotism. It is more about being able to create new scientific knowledge from a deeper understanding of science and mathematics, which could only be achieved by learning it in the mother tongue. I am sure we are all familiar with the history of how both the great Islamic and the European civilizations first translated and then independently created scientific and mathematical knowledge of their own in their own languages.

The history of discovery of modern science tells us that many important scientific theories that form the cornerstones of our modern science were not discovered by Englishmen nor are they first published in the English language. Albert Einstein for instance published his seminal paper on the theory of special relativity, Zur Elektrodynamik bewegter Korper in a German language journal, Annalen der Physik in 1905. Max Born and Werner Heisenberg, founders of quantum mechanic published their papers, Uber Quantenmechanik and Uber quantentheoritische Umdeutung kinematischer und mechanischer Beziehungen respectively in the German language journal Z. Physik in 1924 and 1925 respectively. Out of so many early German pioneering works on quantum theory, only Dirac and Bohr in Cambridge published in English, the former only after reading Heisenberg’s lecture notes given at Cambridge. Contemporary modern science such as nanotechnology, biotechnology and space science are not new science by themselves in the sense of new theoretical discoveries but are derivatives or innovations from these two German language based theory of relativity and quantum theory.

No country in the world that is ahead in science and technology ever teaches its children science and technology in a foreign language except perhaps Ireland and Singapore. Even then, English in Ireland is now the mother tongue of most Irishmen. As for the case of Singapore, there are overwhelmingly more foreign scientists in the country than their local counterparts. A few years ago, Mr. Tharman Shanmugaratnam, the then Education Minister of Singapore lamented the fact that despite Singaporeans doing very well in A-level examinations which were conducted in English of course, very few of them became prominent scientists anywhere in the world later in life (Newsweek, January 9 2006, p. 7).

By contrast, more American children who did not do very well at tests in schools, became scientists, entrepreneurs and inventors who are more successful on the global scale later in life. Although the poor minister put the blame on the prevalent examinations oriented meritocracy in Singapore, the underlying problem has more to do with the medium of instruction. The children have to learn English, a foreign language far removed from their own culture. They are further handicapped by having to translate the English into their mother tongue in their mind in order to understand established science at A-levels and would probably fare worse if they were to invent or discover new science. The examination oriented system exacerbate it further by encouraging students to memorize and drill answering past year papers without really learning anything at all. On the other hand, American children who are taught science and mathematics in their own mother tongue, which may not necessarily be English, and encouraged to learn new things in different ways have no such handicap and are able to be more innovative, inventive and entrepreneurial later on in life.

Hence, the logic that if only one is taught science and mathematics in English then one would be more successful in later life is a fallacy. If this were to be true, then no Japanese, Korean and now Chinese technopreneurs would have succeeded as they apparently had with world-class brands without learning science and mathematics in English in their schools and Universities. A few years ago, CNN ran an interview of the CEO of Samsung Electronics by renown journalist, Ms. Lorraine Hahn on how the company was able to achieve world brand status on par with Sony. Every time Ms. Hahn asked a question in English, the CEO replied in Korean, forcing CNN to translate the reply into English for the sake of the audience. I am sure the CEO knew English but chose to reply in Korean instead to emphasize the fact that Samsung became a world brand without their workers speaking a word of English.

Finally, the Akademi Sains Islam Malaysia firmly believes that the teaching of science and mathematics in Bahasa Melayu and the mother tongues will breed a new generation of Malaysians, who if they decide to be scientists or professors will be able to discover new science from the rich heritage of great civilizations that have made Malaysia their home. We hope the government will not waver in this historic decision and will continue honoring its promise despite opposition from a small group of anglophiles. A copy of the letter on the letter head of the Akademi Sains Islam Malaysia is also attached for your reference and authentication.  Thank you.

Prof. Dr. Wan Ramli Wan Daud
Pengarah Institut Sel Fuel / Director of Fuel Cell Institute & Profesor Kejuruteraan Kimia / Professor of Chemical Engineering Jabatan Kejuruteraan Kimia & Proses / Department of Chemical & Process Engineering
Fakulti Kejuruteraan & Alam Bina / Faculty of Engineering & Built Environment Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia 436000 UKM Bangi, Malaysia
Tel: +60389217078/6038
Fax: +60389216024

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