Tuesday, 5 May 2009

Mother tongue, English, Math’s, Science, whats next…

This article was written by a friend of mine, Mr. Stephen Doss. Do read it and ponder upon it.

I think it is timely that we revisit the issues of the teaching of English for Science and Maths as the Education Ministry is about to make public its decision soon on the subject. My sources say that there has been much discussion and the Ministry is thinking of putting forward a compromise decision. Tahap 1 where the mother tongue language will prevail for the teaching of math’s and science (Tahap 1 being children from Standards 1 to 3) and Tahap 2 is where Math’s and Science will be taught in English (Tahap 2 is from standards 4 to 5)
I think this is a wise decision under the circumstances. Not necessarily the best but the wisest.
As Malaysians we all care about this country, about what happens to us, and that is because we care about the future of this country.
In this country the nature of politics is so adversarial, so partisan, that every discussion becomes a sum total of win or lose, things become so emotional.
And especially in this country, we see our politicians so fond of taking the easy way out in getting support, they racialize everything. Everything is about race, religion or culture.
Today language is being racialized. Rather than arguing their case rationally. Groups of people have decided to coerce or threaten policy makers with shows of force, of numbers.
As a nation it would seem that we have yet to learn how to agree to disagree. I am sure that not all of you will agree to everything that I write about, but that is only an indication of a mature mind, and it isn’t always about total consensus.
When it comes to knowledge it is not about quotas, it cannot be, about emotion, it should not be politicized, racialized or monopolized by any one group of people.
There are many arguments for and against the teaching of math’s and science in English.
Just to recap the arguments, allow me to put forward my personal views;
There is no denying that English is important, but the teaching of math’s and science in English is not about improving English, that is the purview of the teaching and learning of English.
The teaching of math’s and science in English is about knowledge. And English here is just a tool to acquire knowledge, it is not to make you less Malay, less Chinese, less Indian, less Kadazan, less Iban and so on. It doesn’t have the ability to do that anyway.
But some people ask why can’t we learn math’s and science in our mother tongue i.e Bahasa Malaysia, Mandarin and Tamil.
My answer is that there is nothing wrong in that, if we feel that we have the requisite ability to do so in the language. Friends 20 years ago, Or even 10 years ago teachers were in command of the classroom and rarely would you find students knowing more than their teachers and so the teacher was secure within the confines of the curriculum.
Today children seem to know far more than they should  With the advent of the internet and the content available digitally, the curriculum quickly becomes restrictive.
The question here is, if we had the material required in the language we claim as mother tongue, and it was sufficient enough to cope with the abundance of knowledge available In English, then we would have no debate here.
But the reality is that we lack the necessary skills and ability to translate material from English to a mother tongue language quickly enough to satisfy the speed in which knowledge is developing.
A Harry Potter book is translated from English to mandarin in china within two weeks of its publication in the states. It would take about 3 to 6 months to be translated here in Malaysia, if we are lucky.
Where are the Pejuang Bahasa and why are they not making sure that knowledge and information are readily available in Bahasa Malaysia.???
Some people ask why cant we be like the Japanese and use only mother tongue.
I took the liberty of going to the website belonging to the ministry of education, sports, science and technology of Japan. (i insert for you an excerpt)
Due to progress in the information technology revolution, a wide range of activities are influenced by a knowledge based society, driven by forces of knowledge and information. There is a strong demand for the ability to obtain and understand knowledge and information.
English has played a crucial role as the common international language, In linking different people with different mother tongues. For children living in the 21st century, it is essential for them to acquire communication abilities in English as a common international language.
It is important that Japan has the ability to gain the trust, enhance international presence and develop our nation through the proficient use of English. (end quote)
Underlying this is of course Japan’s dependence on foreign transactions. Japan is not self-sufficient being only 39% self-sufficient.
And it is expected to cost Japan 1.3 billion us dollars for translation purposes if they chose to take a different route.
There are some people who say that math’s and science should be thought in mother tongue languages in primary schools, and only have math’s and science taught in English at secondary level after they have learnt English.
The reality my friends is that the teaching of all subjects at primary level are taught in parallel, there is no subject that is thought first while the other subjects wait and as in any subject foundations are important, starting them young can only help later.
I had the good fortune of recently attending the Asean Peoples Assembly, there was good news for everybody there when we heard that Asean Governments have ratified the Asean Charter which is a precursor to forming an Asean community ala the EU.
At the assembly there was a question related to the use of a common language for Asean (the concern that English would take precedence), to my surprise it was an Indonesian Malay who had this to say, Do not allow the language to colonize you, you should colonize the language, master it
And wasn’t it Dr Mahathir who said that “You have to be master of knowledge, otherwise you will be slaves to those who have knowledge”.
by Stephen Dos
Gerakan4u.com's Invited Columnist


  1. I live in London and if anyone says to me “everyone speaks English” my answer is “Listen and look around you”. If people in London do not speak English then the whole question of a global language is completely open.

    The promulgation of English as the world’s “lingua franca” is impractical and linguistically undemocratic. I say this as a native English speaker!

    Impractical because communication should be for all and not only for an educational or political elite. That is how English is used internationally at the moment.

    Undemocratic because minority languages are under attack worldwide due to the encroachment of majority ethnic languages. Even Mandarin Chinese is attempting to dominate as well. The long-term solution must be found and a non-national language, which places all ethnic languages on an equal footing is essential.

    An interesting video can be seen at http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=_YHALnLV9XU Professor Piron was a former translator with the United Nations

    A glimpse of the global language,Esperanto, can be seen at http://www.lernu.net