The Education Director-General Datuk Abdul Rafie Mahat said
yesterday that the government’s decision on whether Chinese and Tamil schools
must teach mathematics and science in English will be made in the interests of
school children and not for political considerations.
He said this is purely
an education issue and other issues should not be brought in to confuse the
matter. (The Star).
If Abdul Rafie is right that this is purely an educational
issue, then why are the UMNO Ministers and leaders making so much threatening
noises over it, and why is the Education Director-General not prepared to meet
the Chinese and Tamil educationists who are the most pertinent persons involved
as the issue is about the switch of medium of instruction in Chinese and Tamil
Abdul Rafie headed a committee set up in May after a
meeting of the UMNO Supreme Council (and not
the Cabinet) to study and
make recommendations on how to implement the use of English to teach mathematics
and science in schools. Why
is the report of the Abdul Rafie Committee still classified as a secret document
under the Official Secrets Act instead of being made public for the study of all
Malaysians concerned about the issue, which would be the most sensible way to
discuss an educational issue?
In fact, why has the Education Ministry not made public the
report and recommendations of the 27-member
special committee, comprising
lecturers, teachers, representatives from the British Council and the Malaysian
English Teachers Association, trainers and experts in education technology and
curriculum, headed by Curriculum Development Centre director Dr. Sharifah
Maimunah Syed Zin, last year to produce a future generation of Malaysians
proficient in the English language?
What is significant is that this special committee did not
recommend that mathematics and science be taught in English – whether in
national, Chinese or Tamil primary schools.
Did the Abdul Rafie Committee consult with the Sharifah
Maimunah Committee to find out why the latter had not made such a
The special committee
headed by Sharifah Maimunah was set up by the Education Minister, Tan Sri
Musa Mohamad in January 2001 to make comprehensive recommendations to completely
revamp the teaching and learning of English in the schools after the 2000
year-end Bernama interview of the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir
Mohamad, where he said that the standard of English in schools and universities
was not good enough to sustain and prepare the country for the K-economy and the
In the interview published in the media on 29th
December 2000, Mahathir dismissed the “wrong impression” that to learn
English was to be disloyal and to be unpatriotic – saying that learning and
mastering English does not make a
person less of a Malaysian and a nationalist.
I agree with Mahathir that learning and mastering English
does not make one disloyal, unpatriotic or any manner less a Malaysian
nationalist. We are in danger, however, of swinging to the other extreme of the
spectrum and there is a need to stress that legitimate disagreement about the
manner of learning and mastering of English does not make one disloyal,
unpatriotic or less a Malaysian nationalist, as some UMNO and UMNO Youth leaders
are trying to picture.
Abdul Rafie has finally responded to my repeated emphasis
that the Education Ministry has failed to make out a sound educational case for
the use of English to teach mathematics and science in Chinese and Tamil primary
schools, especially bearing in mind the consistently higher academic performance
of Chinese primary school pupils in both subjects compared to other streams of
primary schools, including English primary schools before they were abolished in
Abdul Rafie’s response and claim that there are no studies or proof to show that the use of
English to teach mathematics and science would adversely affect the pupils’
standards in these two subjects.(Sin Chew Jit Poh) is most irresponsible and unprofessional.
Is Abdul Rafie seriously suggesting that the pupils in the
Chinese primary schools (which include 60,000 Malay, Indian and non-Chinese
pupils) and Tamil primary schools should become “guinea pigs” to find out
whether they will suffer decline in standards in mathematics and science as a
result of the switch of medium of instruction from the mother-tongue to English?
As Abdul Rafie
may not have given a comprehensive explanation of the educational case for the use of English to teach
mathematics and science in Chinese and Tamil primary schools, I have emailed
Abdul Rafie for a meeting to solely discuss the educational aspects of the
proposal to use English to teach mathematics and science in Chinese and Tamil
primary schools as well as the general issue of raising
English proficiency in schools and universities.
This will give Abdul Rafie the opportunity to answer the following five educational questions which had been succinctly posed by JUST President, Dr. Chandra Muzaffar on the use of English to teach mathematics and science in primary schools from Std. One:
Since Mathematics and Science are more closely related to symbols than to words, would teaching the two subjects in English really improve the student’s command of the language?
Since the vast majority of students entering Year One have
very little pre-school exposure to English, would learning a basic skill like
arithmetic, one of the 3Rs, in that language, prove to be more problematic than
learning it in a language they are familiar with?
Given a certain socio-cultural antipathy towards
Mathematics, especially among rural Malay students, would learning the subject
in English reinforce an existing psychological barrier?
Given the proven success of the drill method employed in
the teaching of arithmetic in Chinese primary schools, is there any guarantee
that using English will improve student performance in that subject?
Given the magnitude of the challenge posed by the proposed switch, has the ministry made the requisite preparations by way of textbook production and teacher training, among other things? Has the ministry been able to conduct experimental runs to test the efficacy of the switch?