(Penang, Monday): After the Barisan Nasional Supreme Council meeting last Thursday, the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad described the “2:4:3” compromise for English teaching in Std. One for Chinese primary schools as a “win-win” formula made in the interest of Barisan Nasional unity.
However, the interest of Barisan Nasional unity is not necessarily the same or can always be equated with the Malaysian national interest, especially on educational matters like the “2:4:3” formula, which is a purely political decision when it should be the result of deliberations where educational considerations override political ones, and not the other way round.
The government has taken 30 years to find out that its ill-considered abolition of the English stream of education had undermined Malaysia’s international competitiveness and jeopardized the country’s future welfare and prosperity. It has also taken 20 years to discover that its 3M system had failed to ensure that school-children could all acquire the three basic educational fundamentals of reading, writing and arithmetic.
Let us not lay the seeds of another disastrous educational experiment only to discover down the road that it is not a recipe for educational excellence but the reverse by loading and confusing the schoolchildren with an unsound educational change which impede them from maximizing their educational potential where they can develop their thinking and academic abilities to the utmost.
This will be most unfortunate and even tragic, for we will be demonstrating that we cannot learn from the past educational mistakes and disasters and we must once again sacrifice the educational interest of our children and the future of the nation because of the political interest and agenda of Barisan Nasional.
DAP calls on the Cabinet on Wednesday not to give blind or blanket approval to the “2:4:3” formula decided by the Barisan Nasional Supreme Council last Thursday, as Cabinet Ministers owe a higher duty to serve the national interest than just to comply with Barisan Nasional interest.
The Cabinet should subject the “2:4:3” proposal for English teaching in Std. One in Chinese primary schools to the stringent test of the “123 formula” as to whether it serves the triple objectives to firstly, strengthen English proficiency; secondly, maintain the traditional high standards of mathematics and science; and thirdly, preserve the character of mother-tongue education.
If the “2:4:3” proposal is the best way to fulfil the “123 Test” to strengthen English proficiency, maintain the traditional high standards of mathematics and science and preserve the character of mother-tongue education, then the DAP will fully support the implementation of the formula in Std. One in Chinese primary schools from next year.
However, if the “2:4:3” formula is found wanting to pass the “123 Test” in all its three aspects, then the Cabinet should modify the “2:4:3” proposal accordingly instead of giving blind or blanket endorsement to the Barisan Nasional Supreme Council decision.
China is currently the country with the biggest English language learning fever in the world, spurred by two events: the preparation to host the Olympics Games in Beijing in 2008 and China’s entry into the World Trade Organisation. Chinese Universities are using textbooks written in English to teach the English language, information technology, biology, finance and law and the Chinese Education Ministry expects 5 per cent to 10 per cent of the university courses to be taught in English in two years.
New English textbooks, in collaboration with British, American and Canadian universities and colleges, are being written for use in China’s primary and middle schools within five years to improve the listening and speaking skills of students. This is because in the past, Chinese schools paid more attention to teaching students how to read and write English and encouraged them to memorise English vocabulary rather than communicate directly. One result is that many people cannot speak even everyday English fluently despite having learned the language for more than 10 years.
The English-learning fever in China has reached such a pitch, inspired by not only the desire to study abroad but also a need to improve skills and to find a good job, that the Guangzhou authorities are requiring their civil servants to read or speak English.
A month ago, the Peking Daily carried an article under the heading :”China Become Biggest Market for English Learning” which said that “The biggest headache these days with taking highly-feared English examinations is not the exams themselves but the number of people wanting to take them”.
In fact, English is almost a compulsory subject in Beijing’s kindergartens as a growing number of parents want their children better equipped for the future .
However, I am not aware of any suggestion or proposal that mathematics and science in the primary schools, whether from the first year in school or in subsequent years, should be taught in English to raise the standards of mathematics, science or English.
Since July, DAP has tried to bring to the notice of the educational authorities of extensive educational studies worldwide which show that using a second language as a medium of instruction from too early stages can impede the development of thinking skills of students resulting in low achievements in mathematics, science and languages, as illustrated by the case of South Africa.
In mid-August, the Gerakan Central Committee was convinced by these educational studies and the Gerakan President, Datuk Seri Dr. Lim Keng Yaik announced on August 17 the Gerakan stand that mathematics and science should only be taught in English in the secondary school and not from Std. One. But last Thursday, Keng Yaik unilaterally and arbitrarily overruled the decision of the Gerakan Central Committee and the Gerakan national assembly on this important issue not for the sake of education but for pure political consideration!
The Cabinet on Wednesday should give serious consideration to three matters with regard to the “2:4:3” formula of the Barisan Nasional Supreme Council:
Whether all the nine new periods in the “2:4:3” formula for Std. One for Chinese primary schools should be devoted to the teaching of English if the new 50-period-per-week cannot be further modified, in order to meaningfully raise English proficiency in Chinese primary schools;
Whether the proposed new 50-period-a-week time-table for Std. One for Chinese primary schools should be reduced to at most 48-period-a-week, so that it is not longer than Std. II to Std. VI classes, with the 48 periods distributed among Bahasa Malaysia (9 periods), Chinese (14), English (6), Mathematics (7), Science (3), Moral (2), Music (2), PE (2), Arts (2) and Weekly Assembly (1); or
An alternative distribution of the 48 period-per-week, as follows: Bahasa Malaysia (9 periods), Chinese (14), English (9), Mathematics (7), Moral (2), Music (2), PE (2), Arts (2) and Weekly Assembly (1). This is because there is debate as to whether science should be taught in Std. One, with Singapore as an example where science is taught only from Std. 3 yet not preventing Singapore from topping the world’s ranking for mathematics and science in international surveys for these two subjects.
With a strong grounding in English under the “123 formula” with nine periods of English a week even for the first three years of primary schools, there would be no problem with the use of English as a medium of instruction for mathematics and science in secondary schools, as the English terminologies for these two subjects can be taught as part of the English lessons in Std. V and VI.
DAP calls on all political parties to accept the “123 Formula” as the overriding criteria to assess the educational merits of any proposed changes in the primary schools, whether in the distribution of subjects for primary school time-table, the introduction of subjects or the use of language as medium of instruction.
As there is considerable room for legitimate differences of opinion as to whether the “2:4:3” proposal of the Barisan Nasional Supreme Council is the best educational formula and in particular, whether it fulfils the “123 Test”, the warning by the Deputy Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi yesterday that “those who continue harping on the government’s decision to use English to teach Science and Mathematics in schools will be charged with sedition” is most shocking, irresponsible and deplorable.
As reported in the front-page of New Straits Times today, Abdullah warned that the Government would use the Sedition Act against any individual or group, if it had to, because the matter had already been settled and resolved by the Barisan Nasional, including the Chinese-based component parties.
I call on Abdullah to clarify whether he really meant what was reported, as it would mean that his profession and commitment to democracy, dissent and human rights is skin-deep, and that he is as capable of abusing the draconian laws of the country when he becomes the fifth Prime Minister next October as happened in the past 21 years.
Abdullah may be able to use the Internal Security Act to lock up without trial those who continue to disagree with the “2:4:3” formula of the Barisan Nasional Supreme Council on the ground that it does not pass muster the “123 test” of being the best formula to raise English proficiency, maintain high standards of mathematics and science and preserve the character of mother-tongue education, but he cannot use the Sedition Act to silence criticism unless the Constitution is amended to specifically entrench the “2:4:3” formula as a new “sensitive” issue which cannot be questioned on pain of prosecution under the Sedition Act.
Today’s New Straits Times reported that Keng Yaik is prepared to explain the need to teach mathematics and science in English in Chinese primary schools from next year.
Has democracy, freedom of speech, expression and the press become so degenerated after the September 11 terrorist attacks in the United States last year that there is now only liberty and freedom to explain why mathematics and science should be taught in English in Chinese primary schools from next year, but no liberty or freedom to explain any alternative view?
DAP will launch a nation-wide campaign to explain the “123 Formula” for the teaching of English, mathematics and science in primary schools, and why the “2:4:3” proposal of the Barisan Nasional Supreme Council should be modified, so that Malaysians have high standards of command and fluency of the English language and high attainments in mathematics and science while preserving mother-tongue education.
This “123 Formula” proposal or campaign is not in any way seditious or subversive, but is in the best interest of the nation and our children’s future by enhancing nation’s competitiveness to face the challenges of globalization, liberalization and information and communications technology.
DAP calls on the Cabinet on Wednesday to issue a policy statement to assure Malaysians that it will not use the Sedition Act or other draconian laws and measures to clamp down on free, legitimate and democratic discussion on educational Issues or other important questions affecting the nation, including the unilateral, arbitrary and unconstitutional “929” declaration of the Prime Minister that Malaysia is an Islamic State or the misuse of Sept. 11 terrorism scare to justify undemocratic curbs on human rights and fundamental liberties of Malaysians.
*Lim Kit Siang - DAP National Chairman