Just teach them in English!

by Azly Rahman
Dec 13, 2012

The refusal to teach Mathematics and Science in English is not just an ideological position but an idiotic one as well.

It is an attempt to self-fulfil a prophecy that the rural children, especially the Malays, cannot be challenged and must continue to be given easy passes through social promotion.

The refusal to acknowledge that English is currently a language of scientific progress, more than Bahasa Melayu, is an example of hypocrisy in dealing with success on the part of our policymakers and Malay language nationalists.

Based on spurious research findings headed by a teacher training university, sanctioned by other public universities, the government has erred in its decision that will not only impact the future of Malaysian children in a continually globalised world, where English is the lingua franca.

And this will open up avenues for the establishment of classes of schools, increasing the demand for the setting up of private schools that will emphasise the English language as a language of instruction and a rigorous curriculum that will prepare students for a competitive world.

Sacrificing the future of a generation

The premise that Malay children cannot follow instructions in English and therefore not only standards should be lowered and subject matters made easier, but the teaching of Mathematics and Science itself must be reverted to the Malay Language points to this: that Malay children especially are presumed to be losers even before all avenues of success are provided.

Because in one study they voiced their concern over their inability to understand instructions, the future of a generation is sacrificed.

It is like saying that the more a child says that he/she does not like school, the less the teachers need to work to challenge them.

While children of the privileged in urban areas get first class education through private and international schools or even in high schools abroad and get to master the English Language (so that they can be given places and sponsorship in English-speaking universities abroad), children of the rural poor are left to become victims of policies dictated by research findings that hardy make sense in the realm of educational futurism.

Retired professors , poet laureates, die-hard Malay nationalists who themselves are well-educated in the English language having tasted the successes and given national accolades become incoherent and hypocritical spokespersons to a government policy that will make the myth of the last native a reality.

These individuals do not understand changing times; that English is no longer a language of the colonials.

The colonies revolted against the colonials through the natives’ mastery of the English language.

‘Strategically denying success to the poor’

These individuals who are against the teaching of Science and Mathematics in English are giving wrong advice to the nation: mastering English does not mean challenging whatever status Bahasa Melayu has been accorded to.

The government is strategically denying success to the poor of all races with this language policy reversal.

We are creating a nation at risk; incompetent in the language that will give them the chance to pursue their studies in good universities in the English-speaking world.

There is a specific process one needs to follow in order to gain access to Western education; especially in the fields of Science and Mathematics.

Many of the critical subjects are taught in English.

The multitude of English proficiency tests is evidence that one must understand English for specific purposes (especially in the Mathematics and Sciences) right up to being able to write a Bachelor’s, Master’s, or even doctoral and post-doctoral dissertations in the English language – all these are stages one has to go through.

Especially for entry into American colleges, where English proficiency is given through tests ranging from the Test of English as a Foreign Language (Toefl) to the challenging Graduate Record Examination (GRE), which require consistent polishing of skills not only in English as a language but English taught in the content areas.

The government has blundered, big time, succumbing to irrational voices disguised as those who care about the rural poor who are slow to master Mathematics and Science concepts in English.

Who said kampung kids can’t learn?

There are enough success stories of children of the poor of all races coming from the rural areas slogging and struggling hard to master any language and in any subject matter and triumph to become world-class surgeons, engineers, lawyers, academicians, diplomats, musicians and even culinary experts.

Who said kampung kids cannot be challenged academically? There is enough evidence that if you provide them with dedicated teachers, a nurturing learning environment, a supporting home, a challenging curriculum and constant reminder of “yes, you can” and “when the going gets tough, the tough get going” – children will excel.

Down with those who are out to underestimate the ability of our children to succeed.

We must ignore bad advice and demand success for all – urban and rural, bumiputera or non-bumiputera.

We must demand a radical restructuring of our schools so that the same standard and support is given to all schools and the commitment to a philosophy that however we want our own children to succeed, we want the children of others to achieve similarly as well.

Start early in teaching English. Put an end to any effort to make the myth of the lazy native a reality.

We must remove our glass coconut shell.


DR AZLY RAHMAN, who was born in Singapore and grew up in Johor Baru, holds a Columbia University (New York) doctorate in International Education Development and Master’s degrees in the fields of Education, International Affairs, Peace Studies and Communication. He has taught more than 40 courses in six different departments and has written more than 300 analyses on Malaysia. His teaching experience spans Malaysia and the United States, over a wide range of subjects from elementary to graduate education. He currently resides in the United States.

  1. #1 by Sallang on Friday, 14 December 2012 - 9:04 am

    iPhone 5 already out in the market. When are we going to learn the common world language seriously?
    download=muat turun
    forward=hantar? hantar semula?=send again?

  2. #2 by yhsiew on Friday, 14 December 2012 - 9:30 am

    How do we expect people who said Malay first, Malaysian second agree to the use of English in the teaching of Mathematics and Sciences?

  3. #3 by lee tai king (previously dagen) on Friday, 14 December 2012 - 9:45 am

    Dont you get it? Come on, wake up. Look azly. It was precisely because of learning maths and science in BM that our angkasawan could not only enter space but flip patties there as well.

    All those so americans and russians and chinese – yeah all of them – could not flip patties in space. They need to upgrade their learning of maths and science. They need to do it in BM.

  4. #4 by balance88 on Friday, 14 December 2012 - 10:22 am

    Sending children to private schools is already happening and there is already an increasing number of private schools being established. Perhaps the govt’s reluctance to switched to English is a means to an end, the end being to keep the standard of education of the poor and most middle income people low to stay in power? Just like how some countries use religion as a means to subdue her people and stay in power. Otherwise, I don’t see the logic of the govt stubbornly sticking to BM when the almost everyone understands the importance of English in these 2 subjects.

    To say that the Malays will struggle with the language is utter nonsense. I have met Malays who were exposed to English at an early age and they spoke English eloquently with good command of the language. Sadly, the govt prefers to play politics with this issue at the expense of the future of our next generation while the people in power send their own sibblings overseas or local private schools to be educated in English! Look at our PM, Datuk Najib, he speaks good English and where did he do his education?

  5. #5 by cseng on Friday, 14 December 2012 - 10:47 am

    Azly is a ‘pengkhianat bangsa!’, lupa bangsa!, jual marual bangsa!, strip off his citizenship!. Daulat Tuanku!… then follow up with tear and doa!, walla! that is what Umno would say and do.

    When Malay read in English, Utusan, RTM and TV3 lose their political role. It could excite the rural Malay to advance in their thinking skills and exposure. Worst, they could become functional voters, functional readers.

    That is bad for them, too much sex and ‘rosak aqidah’. We need to ‘pertahankan marual bangsa, and bahasa’, so that Umno can continue to rule with rural votes as deposit.

  6. #6 by Bigjoe on Friday, 14 December 2012 - 10:52 am

    The biggest argument for doing Math & Science in BM is the fact that some research have shown that learning basic Math & Science in native language is actually better. The problem with this argument is that English is NOT a foreign language in this country. It has not been for centuries.

    Certaintly there are large population in the rural area that are not good at it but there is hardly anyone in this country who does not know some English..

    So what? The point is that eventually, given our willingness to implement infrastructure in this country, eventually there is no children in this country that cannot pick up basic English so long as they accept its part of their culture.

    The only legitimate reaction against implementing English for Math & Science is simply a short term reaction to those not ready for it. Its not a good enough reason NOT to do it. Yes there will be a few who suffer terribly in the short term, by for the large part, a little cathartism in learning teaches even better skills. Those who will get sidelined by the policy – they have learning issues much larger than just Math & Science in English. Its better to flush them out, deal with them although it seem heartless initially…

    I don’t think learning Math & Science in English to improve command of English makes any sense but I do think learning Math & Science in English helps those who keenly want to learn Math & Science. Honestly, it may be elitist of me, but its worth it because everyone should want to learn Math & Science..

  7. #7 by cseng on Friday, 14 December 2012 - 11:18 am

    My personal experience, being a kampong boy, educated in bahasa from secondary till tertiary, i could not communicate well in english during my early job days. It was painful and embarrassing experience, it kills one’s self-confident!.

    To deny English’s supremacy in international lingue-franca and replacing that with Malay supremacy is akin to “katak bawah tempurung siok sendiri, musnahkan generasi anak-anak sendiri”.

    Umno needed that ‘tempurung’ to protect their greed, we need that tempurung for what?

  8. #8 by cseng on Friday, 14 December 2012 - 11:30 am

    Math can not be in english!! no way, for example 4-3=1,

    in Bahasa, then “empat tolak tiga jadi satu” and everyone seems to understand.

    in english it is “four push three become one” and nobody seems to understand this.

  9. #9 by raven77 on Friday, 14 December 2012 - 12:15 pm

    Malays would rather jaga muka then save their burning homes with their families inside.

    It was horrendous mistake the manner we were granted independance and in the hurried manner our constitution was drafted. British Residents and Resident Generals kept this behaviour in check and told off Royalty to behave themselves.

    Now..no one..no one will be able to keep the balance. Who will save Malaysia….

  10. #10 by boh-liao on Friday, 14 December 2012 - 9:25 pm

    D big fat dumb cow moooed, U talk-big Azly go back 2 d little red dot lah
    Just let our kids enjoy doing maths slowly n elegantly in BM
    Macam: 129 – 109 = 20
    Sa-tu du-a sem-bi-lan to-lak sa-tu ko-song sem-bi-lan ja-di du-a pu-luh
    OK lah, in English may b faster
    One two nine mi-nus one ze-ro nine e-quals twen-ty
    In English, a student could hv solved 2 maths questions be4 a student in BM could successfully solve 1 maths question
    SO WHAT? BM mah, like dis 1, in BM, slow n steady, ban ban lai 1, OK lor

  11. #11 by tuahpekkong on Friday, 14 December 2012 - 11:25 pm

    The standard of education in our country in general and the standard of English language in particular, have suffered a drastic drop since the early 1980s after the switch of the medium of instruction from English to Malay in National Primary Schools and Secondary Schools was complete. The standard of English language has deteriorated so much that many graduates from local universities can’t even write a simple job application letter, let alone write a report in English. Our Government’s policies also seem incoherent. Teaching of Science and Maths subjects in English in secondary schools should have been continued but was abandoned due to political considerations. If the Government is serious enough in raising the standard of English, it should have been made a “must pass” subject in the SPM exam. I think our standard of English has reached a point of no return. It is a sad reality.

  12. #12 by waterfrontcoolie on Friday, 14 December 2012 - 11:42 pm

    Apart from the theory that people study Maths better in mother tongue practical history has proven that the average students , those below the brilliant Rocket scientists can tackle average Maths in English especially in today’s Flat, Flat world. Above average in the sense when it is compared with today’s Malaysian Standard can be achieved if the students are well prepared at Primary level. Since the Midst 60s, in the name of quota for Malay students, first the a different graph was drawn for them and later with the introduction of MCE, the overall standard was lowered practically every now and then since. The objective was political more than anything else but in the end the whole society lost its competitiveness as it becomes to depend on charity on every aspect of life. I am quite sure that a BSc or BA Hons in Maths from any Local University today is unlikely to complete all the problems found in Applied Mechanics or Pure Analysis text of Yester-years. Their objective is to serve the interest of UMNO whose main is to draw wool over the rural folks: nothing more. Based on the TIMMS results, all the A’es are actually between C and D in international standard. Well they always say, this will make Melayu a Tuan. A Tuan in Zimbabwe, maybe but be reminded they speak better English than most of us do! If by now, the majority of the Malay Society still believe in UMNO or the ex-Mamak; then as fellow Malaysians we can only pry for them! To those who like to brand parents who send their children to the so-called Chinese schools as racist they are wrong; quality of Maths and science taught is their main concern. The other brainless action by MOE is to take over the so-called elite schools and stuffed them with majority of Malay students; what different does it make? Students excel through competition with their peers of better quality but of equal or worst still of lower quality! How would all the top universities in the world achieve such recognition? By recruiting third class grey matter pretending to be the 5% elite?? You can corrupt with material things or physical wealth but certainly you cannot try to cheat what the Creator has not endowed you with; especially through cheating the system which is put in place by others who have come through a superior system and training! You can’t lose by learning from the start but you will lose if you try to short circuit!

  13. #13 by boh-liao on Friday, 14 December 2012 - 11:51 pm

    #8 above:
    “in english it is “four push three become one” and nobody seems to understand this.”
    WOW, ppl sure understand, sounds sexciting, like a group orgi, m@ss seks
    Remember d following fr d “The Godfather” theme song “Speak Softly Love”:
    “Wine-colored days warmed by the sun
    Deep velvet nights when we are one

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