Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Learning to Fly Without Wings


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.

- Dr. Matthew, The Language Issue, Malaysia Today


The writer I believe, had neglected to take into account important ramifications in the use of language as tool of national cohesion and identity. He brushed aside the concerns of the proponents of teaching Science and Maths in Malay in one broad sweep. He has gone so far as to label those who protested the current system, "Mat Rempits" - and that would include Malay literary laureates like Datuk Dr A. Samad Said.
He also appears to have ignored the fact that the language of science wasn't "English" per se - until of course, it was adopted into the language (a characteristic not to alien from all other languages, including Malay). And even then, the "English" language of science, isn't exactly a language that can be used by any Ali, Ah Kow, or Muthu in his daily conversation. Below is my reply to his letter:

Dear Matthew,
What you say is indeed true - that English is today the Lingua Franca of trade, science and technology. From that perspective, I'm in total agreement.

However, that is just one side of the coin.

On the other side of it, one has to look at the dynamics that rule this nation. One has to ask if it is necessary to relegate BM into the language of only the arts, in order to achieve this excellence in English. Should that be the case, what then is going to preserve the language which is the foundation of our Malaysian culture and interaction? Is it to be doomed just as many other languages of the world which are simply "anthropological studies".

Fistly, remember that the language of Science & Maths isn't really "English" - it is a language that has been adopted and formulated by the relevant people, and adopted into English. Many great men of science and maths don't speak English.

This brings us then to the question of, how then does one learn the language of English? Through Science and Maths, or is it through the increased quality teaching and utilization of it? Expecting students to learn English from Maths & Science is akin to asking them to learn cooking using the keyboard (from the internet) - not impossible, but unlikely to produce chefs worth their salt.

What happens to those who find English as good as Greek or Tamil? Are we to suggest cook the books so that they are given a false sense of security? Or are we to find a new bogeyman - as our "brilliant" politicos like Mahathir would suggest?

Don't get me wrong ..... I'm very much for the teaching of S & M in English - but not at the price of relegating the use and progress of Malay, which is essential for nation building. The neglect of the use of Malay in this arena, would create much resentment among those who believe that it has the potential for development into something to be reckoned with. This faith/confidence may not seem to be too realistic at present. However, who's to say what the future holds, should the Umno/NEP crutch/patronage formula be abolished and freedom is granted once again to the Malay literati?

What's important here is recognizing the value of
choice for the students. The students should be given a choice when making decisions on the path they wish to tread in achieving the excellence you speak of. They should have the options open to them, rather than having the curriculum dictated to them.
This way, neither side is neglected, and are in open and fair competition. This competition, will also challenge the students to push the limits of excellence in their own fields of their choice, so as to make themselves a viable option.

This then allows us, brings us to the option of having a dual-streaming system in our mainstream education system, which I feel is the best option, wherein all sides win.

Having said all these, I recollect what Mahathir said - "Malays and Malaysians in the future are going to be stupid".
Well I have some "shocking news" for you, Mahathir Sir - Malaysians have been forced to be progressively stupider, ever since your reign as the Education Minister!!