Give everyone a choice in education
ANALYSIS by BADARAN KUPPUSAMYOur education system is heavily politicised and needs to be de-politicised to offer good, simple and advancing education for all citizens – one they can be proud of.
SCIENCE and Mathematics were taught in English until all subjects switched to Bahasa Malaysia in 1970 under the national education policy.
Former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, worried over the decline of English and the poor employability of graduates who had been taught in Bahasa Malaysia, then decided to revert to teaching the two subjects in English, beginning in 2003.
Now, the Education Ministry, under persistent pressure from Bahasa Malaysia advocates, has decided to go back to teaching Science and Mathematics in the national language.
From English to Bahasa Malaysia, then back to English and again to Bahasa Malaysia.
We should not be playing kick-ball with the lives of young students who are subjected to enormous stress by such policy changes called by special interest groups.
Parents too are subjected to horrendous pressure as policy shifts come and go at the drop of a coin.
Parents want the best for their children; they want a good, simple and advancing education that arms the children with knowledge to compete in the world and succeed.
They want their children to be on par with other societies, like in Singapore or Hong Kong, which had inherited a colonial education system but decided to build on it, rather than pull it down.
Malaysians from Johor travel by bus in the early hours of the day to study in Singapore, while their parents take courses to keep up, communicate with and help in their children’s studies.
The world has become that competitive.
There was a referendum in Hong Kong after the former British colony was handed back to Chinese sovereignty in July 1997, whether to continue in English or switch to Mandarin.
Parents wanted to maintain English overwhelmingly.
In Hong Kong today, there is a system of dual languages, where Mandarin is taught along with English, attracting an international student clientele to Hong Kong.
Parents are important stakeholders in the field of education and know better what their children should get by way of a modern education.
Democracy offers alternatives and choices. You do not shut the door on any stakeholder.
The Parent Action Group for Education (PAGE), which is fighting to retain the learning of Science and Mathematics in English (PPSMI) policy, is spot on in pursuing its goal.
While the group is strongly supported by the MCA, MIC and Gerakan – all component parties of the Barisan Nasional – many in Umno also see the promise that an education in English holds for the children.
PAGE has submitted another memorandum to Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak, asking for special schools to teach the subjects in English. Najib will have to decide on the request because it is becoming a political hot potato.
Najib had said the era of “the Government knows best” had been long over. He has emphasised this several times to indicate that policymakers have to listen to all stakeholders and not go on a tangent of their own.
But his deputy Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, who is also Education Minister, has said the situation would be “chaotic” if the ministry were to provide facilities for the teaching of Science and Mathematics in both Bahasa Malaysia and English.
But there are practical solutions, such as hiring Indian teachers from overseas. They have a good proficiency in English and can teach well.
Our education system is heavily politicised and needs to be de-politicised to offer a good and simple education for all citizens – one they can be proud of.
Given the chance to decide, even parents in rural areas would vote for PPSMI as it gives their children a leg up in today’s competitive world.
Our society has developed many alternatives to the Bahasa Malaysia-only policy – private education, home schooling and international schools – which the Government throws open to all.
These centres of excellence in education come at a price. They are expensive and the poor cannot afford it.
So, the rich – of all races – escape our Bahasa Malaysia-only policy, study in alternative schools and eventually move overseas to continue their education and then stay back to work and live there.
There are, ironically, Africans, South Americans and other Asians enjoying a multi-cultural education in English in Malaysia.
If we insist on teaching only in Bahasa Malaysia, we will eventually have just Bahasa Malaysia-speaking students in a society that privately offers English-language education for anyone who wants it.
An estimated one million Malaysians have left for greener pastures abroad and we are now wooing them back through Talent Corp and also offering incentives to bring them back.
Never mind if things are initially “chaotic” – it is the Government’s responsibility to provide for all its citizens.
Eventually, we should aim to democratise the cluttered and over-burdened education system that is pulling various ethnic groups asunder. We need to provide choices for all – rich and poor.
English standard of undergrads still not up to par
Dr Marie Aimee Tourres, a senior research fellow at the Department of Development Studies, Universiti Malaya, said it was crucial for graduates to have a good command of English to ensure they would be able to compete effectively, in the global job market.
Nevertheless, “in terms of education spending, Malaysia is comparable to some countries in the region based on the percentage spent over its gross domestic product (GDP) growth,” she told Bernama in an interview here.
She said Malaysia was actually spending more vis-a-vis other countries.
In Budget 2012, RM13.6 billion was allocated to the social sector, including education and training, health, welfare, housing and community development.
Dr Tourres said there was also a lot of focus given for training and re-training for graduates, which was important to continuously upgrade skilled and knowledge workers in the country.
However, the quality of undergraduates remains an issue in Malaysia, since the students find it difficult to grasp the English language.
"Language is definitely an issue,” she said, citing a recent publication by the World Bank entitled The Road to Academic Excellence, which was a study on what contributes to a world-class research university.
The study compared Universiti Malaya (UM) and National University of Singapore (NUS) in a chapter entitled The National University of Singapore and the University of Malaya: Common Roots and Different Paths.
In the report, it was stated that as NUS kept pace with the demands of a growing economy that sought to become competitive internationally, with English continuing as the language of instruction and research, UM began to focus inward as proficiency in English declined in favour of the national language.
The publication, which is based on a study conducted by two scholars, Philip Altbach and Jamil Salmi, also stated that because UM taught courses predominantly in the national language, it had much more limited internationalisation of programme, academic staff and student body.
"This generation will have to face international standard and competition in terms of job market, as part of globalisation," said Dr Tourres.
She cited Pakistan as an example, where she gives lectures.
"In Pakistan, although the people speak different dialects, next to the Urdu language, their English is better than our graduates,” she pointed out.
It made them more marketable in the competitive global environment, she noted.
"The immediate result of their English capacity is that you can find many Pakistanis who work for international organisations such as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund,” noted Dr Tourres.
She believed that even if Malaysia gave more focus in English, the national language and culture could still prosper, provided that teaching was made interesting.
"More English in school will not deter Malay, Indian and Chinese culture per se. We should not mix the issue of a command of good language and the preservation of national heritage," she said.
As for the distribution of the book voucher worth RM200 to all Malaysian students in public and private local institutions of higher learning, matriculation as well as Form 6 students nationwide, she believed that it should be monitored to ensure that it served the purpose.
This assistance is expected to benefit 1.3 million students with an allocation of RM260 million.
“That is a lot of money. Probably, it could have been done based on meritocracy to ensure that it is properly utilised,” said Dr Tourres, pointing out that there were risks of students re-selling the voucher, especially when the new targeted generation lacked the reading habit and prefered to go online to search for their study materials. -- Bernama
Importance of being earnest
ON THE BEAT WITH WONG CHUN WAIThe DPM has said it would not be possible to use English in teaching Science and Mathematics. Let’s look at other options to improve proficiency in English.
WE all know and acknowledge that our standard of English has taken a beating. We all know that many of our teachers cannot even construct a sentence in English without grammatical errors, and many of them are teaching our kids the language.
We all know that many of our university lecturers are in the same boat too, as well as some of our politicians and senior government servants. For them, it is a struggle to speak in English.
A letter, presumably written by an examiner or a parent, that appeared in this newspaper’s education section last Sunday startled me. The writer made a comparison between our 2011 Penilaian Menengah Rendah (PMR) English paper and the 2011 International Competitions and Assessments for Schools (ICAS) English Reading Paper.
The latter is used to test students’ English proficiency in private and international schools, which have increasingly become the choice of urban Malaysian parents who can afford to send their children there.
Giving detailed comparisons, the writer claimed that the PMR English paper taken by our 15-year-olds is much easier than those taken by Year Four Malaysian students in private and international schools and Year Three Singaporean pupils in similar schools.
“How can we expect our local students to compete with students from other countries if the standard of English in our PMR exam is even lower than the standard of English required for Year Four pupils in private and international schools?” he asked.
In short, the PMR English paper is too easy. We have long cast doubts on the quality of our students who earn a string of distinctions. We hear grumbles that in some papers such as Physics, the grading is so ridiculously low you just need to answer a few questions to get the A, but that’s another story.
Older Malaysians – those who sat for Senior Cambridge (Form 5), Lower Certificate of Education (LCE) for Form Three, Malaysian Certificate of Education (MCE) for Fifth Formers and the Higher School Certificate (HSC) for Form Six – will vouch that the standard of English was much higher then.
The Prime Minister and his deputy Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin are products of the early education system which has enabled them to speak and write well in English. It is such a joy, for example, to listen to Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak delivering a speech in crisp English.
We know that much of the Cabinet deliberations are conducted in English. So are the Cabinet committee meetings, where most ministers find it more comfortable to express themselves in English.
When they attend international conferences, one or two ministers whose command of English is described as atrocious still have to use the language, but they would just read from a prepared text.
In a tweet last week, prominent human rights lawyer Malik Imtiaz lamented the poor English in the written judgment of a Judicial Commissioner. The legal reasoning was equally bad. This is sad because the Malaysian legal system is primarily based on English common law and most students have to use English textbooks.
I have just returned from India where I attended an international conference on the advertising industry. It was a joy to listen to people there – from the emcee, former Miss World Diana Hayden, to Bollywood actor Shah Rukh Khan to leaders of the industry – speak in English with confidence, eloquence and wit and without referring to a prepared text.
These people are able to speak so well because India has not allowed its nationalists to tear down the legacy of the British education system in the name of nationalism and race. Yes, there are millions in India who can only speak Hindi or other dialects but English remains in a dominant position.
In Singapore, the medium of instruction in schools is English and to ensure that the young get the best education, teachers are among the best paid in the island republic’s civil service.
Certainly, those given the responsibility to nurture, teach and inspire young minds deserve the best, but let the best join the profession and keep out the mediocre.
The DPM has said it would not be possible to use English in teaching Science and Mathematics (PPSMI), citing possible chaotic situations if parents were given the option to decide if they wished to use English or Bahasa Malaysia.
He said some teachers were not efficient in teaching English and that it would also be hard for the Education Ministry to plan.
I think these are sound and valid reasons but we must also look for other options. It is not a zero sum game. We should not see the controversy from a “them and us” situation. Neither do we want politicians and groups to cloud the issue further by using race to silence proponents of the PPSMI.
We can introduce English Literature in schools and also increase the teaching hours in English as the next step. Even Physical Education, Art and Moral Studies classes can be taught in English.
We will go nowhere if we continue to cite lack of English teachers as the reason why we cannot move forward. The situation we are in is a reflection of the failure of our education system as far as English is concerned. It is a statement of our lack of commitment.
Let’s hire teachers and trainers from India and other Commonwealth countries, compile a data bank of retired teachers who still want to contribute, and even graduates who are keen to teach English in schools.
For urban parents, the option should not be the private and international schools. Haven’t our children been divided by the different schools they go to already? The last thing we want to do is to create a class system where the better-off go to private schools while the less privileged have to settle for national schools.
Chua: Make pass in SPM English compulsory; Malaysians should be multi-lingual by being well-versed in Bahasa, English and Mandarin
By KAREN CHAPMAN, TAN EE LOO, FLORENCE A. SAMY, CHRISTINA CHIN, HAMDAN RAJA ABDULLAH, DESIREE TRESA GASPER and REGINA LEEPETALING JAYA: While the MCA welcomes the decision made on the Teaching and Learning of Science and Mathematics in English (PPSMI) policy, it is now calling for the language to be made a compulsory pass subject for SPM.
“We should work towards making English a compulsory pass subject in the SPM examination and also make English Literature a compulsory subject,” said party president Datuk Seri Dr Chua Soi Lek.
On the policy, he said Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin had paved the way for clear guidelines on the matter and put an end to any confusion.
In a statement yesterday, Dr Chua said the Government had listened to the voices of the rakyat in coming up with a win-win situation for all.
It was also the party’s fervent hope for the Education Ministry to emphasise the usage of English to equip Malaysians with the universal language to keep up with the rest of the world, he added.
“The MCA would like to re-affirm its stand that all Malaysians should be multi-lingual by being well-versed in Bahasa Malaysia, English and Mandarin to ensure we are more competitive in the globalised world,” said Dr Chua.
In Friday’s announcement, Muhyiddin – also Education Minister – said the current batch of Year Two to Form Four students would continue under the policy until they complete their secondary education.
Year One pupils this year are already learning the two subjects in Bahasa Malaysia.
Speaking to reporters after attending the SJK (C) Mun Yee fundraising dinner here last night, Dr Chua hit out at the Opposition, saying it should make up their mind on the PPSMI policy and not make “flip-flop” statements.
Responding to a suggestion by PKR’s Selayang MP William Leong that there should be English- medium schools in the country, Dr Chua said DAP and PKR had previously expressed their support towards using Bahasa Malaysia to teach the two subjects.
“In Pakatan Rakyat, they have different stands. Now that the Government has allowed English to be continued to be used until 2020, they again switch.
“The rakyat has the right to know what is PKR’s policy and stand,” he said, adding that DAP’s stand was also inconsistent.
MIC president Datuk G. Palanivel said the PPSMI decision was a step in the right direction for the future of affected students.
Taking a page from history
IN THE raging controversy over the continuance of the PPSMI option, there seem to be at least two main arguments put forward for not allowing it – that it is too troublesome to have two options in the same school, and that English is not the mother tongue of Malaysians.
I believe that choice and flexibility must be a fundamental principle in education policy and that we should take a historical perspective of the development of our present situation.
Mother tongue as a right and facility
First, we should be thankful that the right to mother tongue education and the fact that every child learns best in the mother tongue is a principle that has been established in Unesco and is now widely accepted in our country.
Mother tongue education in Malay, Chinese and Tamil in Malaysia has seen staggered progress. Chinese-language schools have existed in this country for more than 200 years, the first set up in 1819!
Tamil schools have also had a long history and developed mainly through community support during the colonial period. Thus, at Independence there were already 1,350 Chinese primary schools and 78 Chinese secondary schools, while Tamil primary schools numbered more than 800 in 1957.
Malay vernacular schools were built under colonial rule, but they were certainly insufficient. Then, Lim Lian Geok, the “Soul of the Malaysian Chinese”, never failed to encourage the Malay community to call for development of Malay mother-tongue education, including to secondary level. That was why Utusan Melayu would ask Lim to write a column in the newspaper during Hari Raya Aidilfitri.
English-language schools were of course the preferred system of the colonial power and the elite and middle class were enrolled in them, although theoretically they were open to all. Certainly there were also children from poorer classes in the English-medium government schools I studied at in the 50s and 60s.
As a result of this history, English language can now be considered the mother tongue of these middle-class Malaysians, where English is the “family language” with which children communicate with their parents. We should appreciate that colonial societies like ours (including India, Jamaica, Nigeria, Kenya and other British colonies) have this peculiarity, acknowledge and respect this reality, and move on.
Right up to the establishment of the 1961 Education Act, the school leaving certificate for Chinese-language secondary schools was a government administered examination. Our education system managed well and you did not hear grumbles about how “troublesome” it was to have that provision. We inherited that system from our specific history and it served the purpose of providing mother-tongue education.
The 1961 Act did away with Chinese-language secondary schools, and they were then forced to become “independent”, which meant they had to be supported by the community. After that, the government provided only teachers and some financial support for Chinese-language primary schools.
Is it “troublesome” to ask for the reinstatement of Chinese-language secondary schools in the national system? Ever since 1975, the Chinese community has administered the Unified Examination Certificate of the 60 independent Chinese secondary schools which have a total enrolment of some 60,000 students. Tuition fees are a burden to the many parents who choose this educational route for their children and the Chinese have subsidised these schools since 1961. It is like paying double taxation!
National language policy
The former “Government English Schools” had to convert to teaching in Bahasa Malaysia (BM) when the national language policy was implemented after 1969. Any protests were muted in the aftermath of “May 13” and under the assertive Malay-centric ideology of the new ruling class.
And so this system of BM as the medium of instruction has been implemented with no leeway for dissent for at least three decades. Then nine years ago, Dr Mahathir decided to implement the PPSMI, or the teaching of Maths and Science in English.
PPSMI has provided the precedent for this breach in the national language policy. The justification was that it was the only way to master the international language, English. If we bear in mind all the arguments used by the Mahathir administration to justify PPSMI, we really cannot fault the parents organisation PAGE for asking for the choice of keeping PPSMI, using the same arguments. Sorry, the government cannot have its cake and eat it!
Choice of PPSMI “troublesome”?
Some opponents of PAGE’s demand have said that having two media for teaching Maths and Science in the same school is too “troublesome” and unreasonable to impose on the government. I beg to differ.
Education is about having a choice. I remember when my eldest brother was in secondary school in the 60s and was focused about choosing Arts subjects even though he was in the top class made up of mainly Science students. He stood his ground against the school administration. My parents did not even come into the picture. Then, my second brother refused to study Additional Maths even though he was in the top Science class because he was focused on doing Medicine later. Again, he was adamant about his choice and the school had to give in. I made the same choice and did not choose Add. Maths even though the school wanted uniformity.
The principle we were fighting for was choice and flexibility. At the time, we simply could not see why it should be “troublesome” to have that choice.
If it is troublesome to have the choice of Maths and Science in English, what about the choice of having “Pupils’ own Language” in Chinese or Tamil or Kadazan or Bidayuh, etc?
Although I do not agree with the pedagogical wisdom of this, some students of Independent Chinese Secondary Schools even have the choice of doing the SPM in Malay during their fifth year, the UEC in Chinese and A levels in English in their final year! It is not considered “troublesome” for these schools.
It is not as if Malaysians are asking for something so difficult to implement. Our national education system has had a long history of English-language teaching and we have just had nine fresh years of PPSMI; so teachers and resources are not a problem.
Our education system should be looking at broadening the choices to cope with mother-tongue instruction for our indigenous people; and special education to cope with slow learners, autistic and disabled children. I remember when my wife had to write the answers for a child with muscular problems who was sitting for his O Levels at the British Council. Another sightless friend of ours told us about how computer programmes were being developed to enable people in her situation to follow lectures online.
“Troublesome” seems to be the hardest word in the education vocabulary.
Dr Kua Kia Soong is a director of human rights organisation Suara Rakyat Malaysia (Suaram).