Friday, July 10, 2009

Pak Samad and Friends Win the Battle

BM is a language that must be maintained. It is just a matter of getting used to learning it.
Now that the government has decided to revert to the national language for the teaching of Science and Maths, national laureate Datuk A. Samad Said must be feeling pretty pleased that the campaign he supported has been successful. The Malay Mail interviewed him yesterday.

It's a very emotional and complex issue, with much heated debate on both sides, still going on. I wrote about my feelings here, and might well be tempted to write more thoughts on the topic.

Postscript :

Author Robert Raymer wrote an article about the issue for The Borneo Post.


Zed Adam said...

I for one agree with the move. I always believe that learning science/maths in English does not make you a better scientist/mathematician, nor does it improve your proficiency of English. I think that you have to be good in English first, only then can you apply it as a medium of teaching/learning because English clearly is not our first language. So, what they need to do is to tackle the root of the problem: restructuring the English school syllabus first and foremost.

Hmm, if the Japanese can build robots with their mother tongue, why can't we? I think it's refreshing if we try to emulate the non-English-speaking developed nations for a change.


LJ said...

"Hmm, if the Japanese can build robots with their mother tongue, why can't we?"

This argument that has been used again and again by proponents of the Malay language.

Unfortunately, it ignores the unique historical realities of post-war Japan.

I don't want to clog up the comments box, but I will say this -- if you are truly keen on embracing Bahasa Melayu because you think it's the best path, more power to you. However, let's not muddy the water with inaccuracies.

animah said...

I learnt Science and Maths in BM, waaay back - but there were much better teachers then. I then went on to do law (both in BM and English) so the lack of English terminology in science did not hinder me.

However I see school leavers today who struggle in English and with that handicap they can't get decent jobs in the private sector. Even if they did, they struggle and due to the language cannot perform as well as their English speaking counterparts.

The issue is not so much what language we teach Science and Maths, but the level of English in schools today and whether we are adequately preparing the next generation for the corporate world.

Sadly it means those from the rural areas and the urban poor who are less exposed to English will be affected. So the gap between the haves and the have nots will widen.

Is that what Pak Samad is celebrating?

Yusuf Martin said...

For some time I have been vocal on the poor standard of English in Malaysia.

I am not sure that changing Maths and Science back to BM is a way forward, more a way backward.

While Pak Samad is a lovely gentleman with his heart in the right place, I am not so sure that a decline in the use of English and a greater promotion of BM is a way forward for Malaysia in this global world of ours.

Perhaps Malaysia should admit to being bilingual - with an equal emphasis on the two languages, to enable this country to complete with others abroad.

Proficiency in BM will and can only get you so far, and no further, i am sorry but that is the greater reality we must all face.

glenda larke said...

I agree with Zed Adam.

It is an ongoing tragedy that the standard of English teaching and teachers is so appalling overall. Kids can emerge with so little English after 10 years of learning it, that they will fight NOT to serve me in a shop or restaurant because they fear having to speak to me in English. (It never occurs to them that I speak Bahasa, but that's another issue.)

Until we totally revamp the archaic philosophy behind the methodology used now, and get a body of teachers who actually can speak English to teach the language, then nothing will change. It has nothing to do with what we do with Maths and Science. I have taught a great many kids to speak English - Japanese, Koreans, Europeans, Tunisians, Malaysians. I know what works and what doesn't...

My opinion in more detail here:

BorneoExpatWriter said...

The Borneo Post ran my article this morning. Georgette asked my opinion for her article, and I ended up writing a half page article that ran on its own! Below is the opening; for the full article go to:

Quick fixes never work
By Robert Raymer

KUCHING: Everyone wants a quick fix, whether we’re talking about getting rich, the pathetic state of Malaysian football, or increasing the standard of English - it just doesn’t work!

The results speak for themselves. I agree teaching math and science should be done in Bahasa Malaysia, and that’s coming from a mat salleh, an American, who has taught creative writing in two Malaysian universities (USM and Unimas) for 13 years.

There are two separate issues here and let’s keep them separate. One is increasing the standard of English; the other is teaching students to learn math and science.

bibliobibuli said...

Glenda - being involved in teacher training, i can tell you we are turning out some excellent teachers though sadly a large proportion leave the profession after serving out their 3 year bond. many leave to teach in higher education or the private sector. they are headhunted by businesses - they have excellent english, organisational and interpersonal skills - they can command good money. the conditions for teachers in schools needs to improve if these good teachers are to be retained.

the teacher training for english teachers is due to expand on a huge scale with several more colleges twinning with overseas institutions - and this shows how serious the government is about improving standards

agree with both Robert and Glenda about keeping the two things separate.

i would argue that english needs to be taught to some extent through content that the students have a need for, if it is truly going to motivate them to learn. (this conclusion is based on looking at studies of bilingual education partic. in quebec)

that doesn't have to be maths and science. i'd make the case for history or geography - although this would inflame nationalist sentiments more than the maths and science did! why not require the students to undertake some cross-disciplinary project work in those extra hours and train teachers to introduce an "english for specific purposes" like element? that way students are taught english along with meaningful content but no nationalistic toes are stepped on.

teacher maths and science in english was a bold, brave move and i am sorry about all the time and effort that was poured into making the project work by teachers and teacher educators.

incidentally, if the extra hours for english should come from any subject it should be from bahasa as with the extra exposure in maths and science the students won't need as much time spending on it.

animah said...

Thanks Robert and Glenda, I have read both your pieces and completely agree.

I think the problem is that this has become a political issue (nationalism and language) and the politicians, and ministers have forgotten the core issue: the education of our children.

bibliobibuli said...

agree entirely, Animah.

and to tell you the truth i have been teaching english in malaysia for a quarter of a century - my very coming here was part of a project to improve standards of english (i worked for centre for british teachers). all that time the rhetoric hasn't shifted - "we have to get serious about teaching english" - and yet the improvement hasn't happened. decent class-sizes, classrooms that weren't so noisy you can't hear yourself think, and endless disruptions to the teaching calendar would go a long way towards ensuring english teaching was more effective

BorneoExpatWriter said...

Thanks Sharon for the link and others for sharing your views and comments. With the brains and years of experience we have here, perhaps we can help to solve this problem (or at least point the way). If only those who have the power to impliment changes want to listen. Yes, way too political! I was strongly advised to cut out one of my lines on the BM language itself unless my head be served up on a platter...a last second deletion.

Anonymous said...

I dunno about learning english via math and science, but i would definitely like to have learned math and science in english/any language used 'globally' so that I could have a good grasp of the terms on an international platform. my math and science were pretty excellent in BM, but in a situation where a number of different nationalities were involved, i knew nothing when there wasn't a piece of paper to draw on... and it was a terrible feeling to only realise this at the moment when i needed the proper terms to explain something/understand something...

A big handicap if you're serious about furthering your studies in these areas later... even worse if you didn't think of going further in these areas and it's too late later to pick up the terms that are used by those at the forefront of math and science breakthroughs outside Malaysia (yes, it would be nice if we were at the forefront too, but we're not, and I wonder why? it's not like we lack the minds for it)...

I think, if there is a political issue about 'we should be learning such and such in BM because we are Malaysian', but a large number of ppl are more comfortable learning the terms in english for purposes of advancing in certain areas/in collaboration with other nations later on, maybe an alternative arrangement should be provided... have a choice between learning in language X or Y (or - I wish - both languages)... or that could just be me being a bit too idealistic...


bibliobibuli said...

whitearrow - no you're just sensible and that isn't a state of being that's too much in fashion

robert - one of your facts wasn't quite right in the article, english IS compulsory, a PASS in it at SPM is not.

genesispassion said...

ok with me..any applicants can fill up the application form,,,out u go!

BorneoExpatWriter said...

I was referring to the pass -- an oversight. It was a rushed article brainstormed and written in a couple of hours to meet someone else's deadline. What's the point of making a subject compulsory if they don't need to pass it! We teach students at the university level who have taken compulsory English since primary school (and tadika) and it seems to have zero effect on the weaker students when it comes to speaking, writing and especially grammar! The vast majority of students we get at Unimas have a Band One and Two in MUET! Without that compulsory pass, we'll continue to get the same results!

People assume that compulsory English means compulsory pass to get their SPM. Don't be faked out by this. Very, very misleading. I was shocked to find this out recently, and my son went through the national schools! I just assumed compulsory means compulsory! They have to take it and pass it!

In Malaysia, it does not. It's called lip-service. We can proudly say to the world that English is compulsory, but for Malaysians, never mind lah, you don't have to pass....This is an incredible injustice to Malaysians. If they had to pass it, they will. They'll learn it. Parents will see to it, otherwise they will not get their SPM. Talk to their parents and grandparents who learned it way back when. They speak and write with eloquence. Give this new generation the same opportunity and they'll thank you for it for the rest of their lives -- better pay, better opportunities for them and their families.

bibliobibuli said...

agree - a pass should be compulsory. after all if a subject is taught for hours each week we should expect at least basic competency, shouldn't we??

LJ said...

It's ironic -- and a little bit sad -- that those who truly care about the standard of education in the country aren't even native-born Malaysians. Guys, good on you. You have my eternal gratitude.

On behalf of native-born Malaysians, I humbly apologise for their collective malaise and stupidity.

The fact of the matter is this -- Malaysians, by and large, continue to reinforce and perpetuate myths about neo-colonialism in regard to the English language.

Chief among this is that insidious belief that the Malay language is in real danger of being wiped out by English. It's a zero-sum game and only language must have primacy.

Another closely-linked issue is that of self-imposed ignorance -- if Japan can do without English, why can't we?

First of all, Japan is among the most culturally homogeneous countries in the world. Let me give you a scenario to illustrate why this is so significant.

It is common practice in Japan for all workers who enter the company at the same time to be promoted at the same time.

Let's just say Mr A and Mr B enter Corporation X in 2007. If Mr A receives a promotion in 2008, Mr B will receive the same promotion as well. So will everyone else in their intake.

Because of cultural homogeneity, the group takes precedence over the individual, and each is under pressure to work harder.

It's no longer about individual merit. It's about group consciousness.

Secondly, post-war Japan was under Western tutelage and protectionism. It underwent radical, and I do mean radical, reforms. How radical, I hear you say?

Well, for one thing, prior to the Allied occupation, couples had to ask permission from their parents before they could get married. If permission was refused, then in the eyes of the law, marriage was impossible. The Allies ignored cultural sensitivity and forcefully overturned that custom.

In another instance, land belong to absentee landlords were seized and then redistributed to the people actually living on the land. Again, the Allies ignored cultural niceties.

But all these things were small fry compared to the role played by Japan's Ministry of International Trade and Industry. Put simply, MITI was given a blank cheque to reshape Japan. No red tape, no squabbling bureaucracy -- just a singular vision to do whatever it took to develop Japan, no matter how painful.

You couldn't so much as fart in the air and create unwanted pollution without MITI jumping on your case.

In the end, all of this proved necessary -- Japan is, and has always been, a resource-poor nation traumatized by disasters both man-made and natural. National security is an obsession.

Malaysians, on the other hand, have the benefit of living in malaise. The country is endlessly abundant in natural resources and stupid people, and hence, the need for radical change has never been paramount.

Talking about constructing robots is a fantasy when Malaysia can't even build its own car. And no, buying Japanese technology and passing it off as you on doesn't quite count.

For Malaysia to even approach Japan's level of singular focus would take something drastic.

For a start, you could eliminate all Chinese and Indian schools and assimilate their students into one streamlined Malay-speaking national educational system.

In the same vein, you could also eliminate all Malay-centric divisions -- no more separate classes for Muslim and non-Muslim students under any circumstance.

But let's face it -- such drastic steps will never be acceptable in today's Malaysia, no matter how much Malaysians bang on about 1Malaysia and Bangsa Malaysia.

And it's for this very reason that Malaysia will never become a fully-developed country by 2020. Do prove me wrong, though.

Jo said...

A lot of Malaysians can't speak proper BM (it's like these fellow Malaysians just arrived here 3 years ago). Shoot! Most of them can't even write in good BM. Pathetic.

LJ said...

Yes, a country endlessly abundant with natural resources and stupid people.

Why bother to learn any language properly when you can continue to scrap by with God-given petroleum, gas, palm oil, timber, rubber, tin, et cetera.

There has never ever been a need to compete. If we ever need to achieve something, we just pour money and more money into it, rather than talent or hard work.

Need to go into space? Pay the Russians and hitch a ride on their space programme. Then bask in the glory.

Need to summit Mount Everest? Pay the New Zealanders and hitch a ride on their mountaineering programme. Then bask in the glory.

Need to create a national car? Pay the Japanese and a hitch a ride on their industrial programme. Then bask in the glory.

Make no mistake about it -- Malaysians always take the easy way out and they never ever hold themselves to account.

LJ said...

Jo, let's be frank about this -- the inability of Malaysians to master Malay comes down to cowardice.

When financially able, most parents dispatch their children to study abroad. Even worse, some choose to home-school their children or place them in international schools.

What a cop out!

These people have no faith in the national education system, and their numbers are actually growing.

Instead of staying in national schools and pressuring for change in the right direction, they flee elsewhere.

Think of the millions -- nay, billions -- flowing out of the country and into the coffers of others.

It's a downright shame.

One parent I spoke to said he was pulling his child out and sending her to Singapore to study.

So much for patriotism, huh?

Web Sutera said...

What ever it is, I strongly apposed PPSMI. Nevertheless, I like English & keep on reading English books. I support Pak Samad.

Web Sutera said...

Dear Sharon,

If you understand bahasa Melayu, please read this: Saya menentang PPSMI tetapi tidak membenci bahasa Inggeris