Leading Asian mathematicians and scientists like Loo-Keng Hua, China’s “Father of modern mathematics” and Abdul Kalam, India’s “Father of Missile Technology”, best examples that the route to academic excellence is through grounding of science and mathematics in mother-tongue in early years followed by proficiency of English language
by Lim Kit Siang
(Petaling Jaya, Saturday): The Cabinet next Wednesday should seriously consider the DAP’s “Formula 1-2-3” as the route to academic excellence for Malaysian students in mathematics, science and English and to build up the country’s international competitiveness in the era of globalization, liberalization and information and communications technology.
Formula “1-2-3”, which is a three-pronged objective to firstly, raise English proficiency, secondly, maintain high mathematics and science standards and thirdly, preserve mother-tongue proficiency, is the most sensible and sound education policy to pursue for a multi-racial, multi-lingual, multi-cultural and multi-religious society like Malaysia.
I had previously cited the examples of Nobel Science Laureates, like the 1998 Nobel Laureate in physics, Daniel Tsui Chye, the 1986 Nobel Laureate in Chemistry Yuan T. Lee, and the other Nobel Laureates in Physics Samuel C.C. Ting (1976), Chen Ning Yang (1957) and Tsung-Dao Lee (1957) who achieved academic excellence and international renown because they had their earlier grounding in mathematics and science in their mother-languages in primary and secondary education, subsequenhtly acquiring English proficiency.
In fact, there are teeming examples of Asian mathematicians and scientists who achieved the pinnacle of their respective fields although they had their earlier grounding in mathematics and science in their mother tongues – confirming educational studies worldwide that the most important task in the early years of primary education is to develop the child’s thinking skills which is best achieved through the mother-tongue or home language.
Two such examples are Loo-Keng Hua, China’s “Father of modern mathematics” and Abdul Kalam, India’s “Father of Missile Technology”, who best illustrate that the route to academic excellence is through grounding of science and mathematics in the mother-tongue in early years followed by proficiency of English language.
In fact, Hua did not learn English until he was 21, taking four months to acquire enough proficiency to read mathematical journals and studies written in English, and when he was 24, he was able to write mathematical treatises in the English language.
Abdul Kalam, now President of India, received his primary education in Tamil and can write “chaste Tamil” and recite the Quran and Bhagavad Gita with equal devotion.
His early grounding in mathematics and science in the Tamil language did not prevent him from being accorded recognition as India’s “Father of Missile Technology”.
The Education Ministry, Cabinet, and Parliament should give utmost weight to the examples of these Asian giants in the fields of mathematical and science in the international scene and learn the right lessons to train a new generation of Malaysians who can excel in these subjects, including modifying the “2:4:3” proposal in the light of the “1-2-3 Formula” to produce the best and brightest mathematicians and scientists in Malaysian history with global ranking.
* Lim Kit Siang, DAP National Chairman