The English language issue

By Dr. Mathew

It is now just about 7 years or so since English was made the medium for Science and Mathematics in schools. That was a well-thought policy by our former Prime Minister, Dr Mahathir Mohammad. Everything was set in place and was running well. The children were doing well and were coping well. This was definitely a step in the right direction for their further education in the universities whether local or foreign.

Now all of a sudden, some language protagonists for what hidden agenda I have no idea whatsoever, have started making noise both in public and private. This has shaken our government so badly so much so they have been thrown off balance. It is all topsy-turvy as far as our children are concerned. It is one thing today and another tomorrow.

Let me remind you about what happened many years ago in Malaysia. We had excellent schools like the La Salle schools and the Convent schools that produced outstanding citizens of all races in this country. These schools excelled in producing the nation’s top students both academically as well as athletically up to Form Six. Nobody could beat the sense of dedication of the teachers of these schools and the sense of pride enjoyed by these students is indeed nostalgia for today. Then, the government of the day found reason to derecognize these schools and decided to abolish and turn them to National-Type schools. The golden era of education ended abruptly to the chagrin of many.

Today, English Language being used to teach Science and Mathematics is being debated and the government is being thrashed to smithereens to discontinue this. It insults my intelligence to listen to some of the rationale being espoused by some of these so-called protagonists. Below are some of them:

  1. Malaysians should be loyal to our national language
  2. Rural students are finding it tough to cope with Science and Mathematics being taught in English
  3. Because of this many are finding it hard to seek admission in local universities as they can’t get good grades in School.

Well, what in God’s name has loyalty got to do with education?

The bottom line is knowledge.

If knowledge has to be acquired through education then seek out the knowledge. That knowledge is available from the millions of books all over the world. Most of the best books are available in our own libraries. Let us not kid ourselves by telling ourselves that books can be easily translated into Bahasa Malaysia and therefore it should be taught in Bahasa. If translations are done for the sake of translations then where is the depth of knowledge? Do we have enough bahasa intellectuals to do perfect translations of professional subjects? Even translators would suffer an anathema in the process of translating.

Our children, or rather all children, should have the privilege of the best textbooks available in the world for the acquiring of knowledge. That is how parents can be proud of their children’s education.

Let us look at an example for illustration purposes. Note, this is strictly hypothetical:

You want to send your child to Australia for Medicine or Engineering. The child comes home after 5 years with a medical degree or an engineering degree. Can you imagine the state of his mind and emotions if he comes home with a medical degree where all the medical subjects were taught in the Australian aboriginal language; where all textbooks required to complete the education were translated from English to the aboriginal language!!? We say our Bahasa Malaysia is far superior to their aboriginal language and have been around for the last 40 years. Let us not kid ourselves. The English Language has been around for the last 1000 years or more. Some of the world’s best learning institutions are taught in English and not in the Australian aboriginal language or any other.

English Language is so universal it is spoken by almost every country in the world though in some non-English-speaking countries it is at least spoken by some in mixtures of English and their native language. Many people from non-English-speaking countries like the Arabic and Iranian students used to opt for Indian universities (that teach in English) simply because they wanted to master the language and have done very well in their studies. Furthermore, these are the very same graduates who were given top jobs in their own countries in spite of English remaining a non-spoken language in these countries.

I hope Malaysians can see my point in the correct perspectives. As far as Malaysia is concerned, English is not an unheard of language and almost all people do speak a few words or at least do understand some if not in full. Take a taxi driver for instance. Most can at least start up a conversation or two in English. Almost every working man or woman can at least understand or speak basic English. So it is not an alien language. If one wants to seek knowledge in its entirety then seek them in the English Language textbooks. It is the inherent knowledge that gives you the right intuition, the right intrusion on the subject matter and the ability to develop the right creativity skills on the profession or subject that you have studied.

If a student feels it would be to his disadvantage if he studies in English, then the same excuse can be used in learning the subjects in any other language even in Bahasa Malaysia. A disinterested student can never make the grade in any language.

I remember those days in the sixties when the Remove Class students from the Chinese medium schools entered our English language schools. They did exceptionally well in the Science subjects and more so in Mathematics. It was a pleasure having them around and most have become professionals. Some have even become professors in the local universities.

In short, it is not a question of whether one can manage to follow the teachings in English. It is whether one has the aptitude and the right mind to study and excel. Otherwise, what would happen is that we might as well lower the passing mark to 25%. And are these students and their parents going to feel good and proud about their grades? The bottom line is that we have to get things right in its correct perspective.

From the video recordings shown on the Internet of the recent protest demonstrations in KL against the teaching of Mathematics and  Science in English, it did look as if most of the demonstrators did not appear to be serious-minded students hell bent on acquiring knowledge but rather more like the Mat Rempits in town causing havoc to residents and the neighborhood. Surely we can’t use these chaps as a yardstick to decide on what is best for our younger generation of students who are more interested in bringing pride to themselves and their parents.

If there are people who are hell bent on creating problems for the government, then the solution is simple. Just give them the option of choosing the language of their choice. It can either be in Bahasa or in English. In any event, most teachers do teach Science and Mathematics in a mixture of English and Bahasa. So it does not make any difference. With the choice available on either in the national language or in English, then those wishing to acquire further education, be it in local or foreign universities, would be smooth flowing. However, please do not deprive those who wish to seek knowledge to be ostracized due to language maniacs.

Finally, I wish to propose to the government that every trade or job be tied up with proper certification. This means that if one wants to be a brick-layer for example, then he should be certified as one. The same goes for food handlers, chefs, masons, electricians, motor mechanics, etc, etc. This is how it is done in Australia or any of the developed nations. Any student who has no aptitude in studies should be advised accordingly and each should be encouraged to take up certificate courses before he /she is allowed to take up a trade. Let them not take up an education that is going have them end up unemployed.

My love for the country is inherent and it is not dependent on the knowledge that I seek.


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