(Kuching, Sunday): The Barisan Nasional government had been wasting six precious months seeking to compel the use of English to teach mathematics and science in Std. One in all primary schools when they should have been better employed in raising English proficiency in schools.
Singapore Straits Times today reported that the UMNO
Supreme Council at its meeting on Friday had given the UMNO President and Prime
Minister Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir
Mohamad the mandate to get tough with groups opposing the plan to teach
mathematics and science in English, including if necessary, the withdrawal of
government aid from Chinese primary schools that do not teach the two subjects
Singapore Straits Times reported that Mahathir would convey the UMNO Supreme Council’s ultimatum to leaders of the Barisan Nasional when they gather for a final discussion on the controversial issue next Thursday on the use of English to teach mathematics and science from Std. One for all primary schools, whether national, Chinese or Tamil primary schools.
It would be most unfortunate if the Singapore Straits Times report is true that the UMNO Supreme Council had decided that schools that don’t follow the government decision to use English to teach mathematics and science in Std. One would not benefit from government aid, especially when Chinese primary schools had never received fair and equitable treatment of government financial allocations in the past 45 years since Independence in 1957.
It would also be a further reflection about the serious lack of press freedom in Malaysia, when Malaysians have to read about what is happening in the country from the media of a neighbouring country instead of from their own newspapers.
The national controversy over the use of English to teach mathematics and science in Std. One in all primary schools is shaping up to be a most divisive national issue when it is most unnecessary, as there is unanimity embracing all political parties, whether ruling or opposition, all races and educational streams regardless of language, about the urgent need to restore English proficiency in schools and among the people as compared to the three decades ago.
The dispute is not on whether English proficiency should be raised, but whether the compulsory use of English to teach mathematics and science from Std. One, particularly for Chinese primary schools, is educationally sound and will serve the objective of raising proficiency in English, mathematics and science – as well as its effect on the character of mother-tongue education.
Up to now, the Education Ministry has not been able to present a convincing case that the use of English to teach mathematics and science from Std. One is an educationally sound proposition, giving examples of other countries.
It is very strange that Singapore is the only country which the Malaysian government has been able to cite to justify its proposal to compulsorily use English to teach mathematics and science in primary schools from Std. One, when there are two important differences between Malaysia and Singapore.
Firstly, English in Singapore is the “home language” if not the mother-tongue of significant sections of the Singapore population; and secondly, science is not taught in the Singapore primary schools until the third year in Std. Three – illustrating the critical importance of developing the thinking skills of children in the early years of primary schools, which is best achieved through the mother tongue or home language. As the Singapore Education Ministry had proudly and rightly pointed out, its system of teaching science from the third year of primary schools does not prevent Singapore students from attaining excellence and better results in science as compared to countries which start science teaching from the first year of primary schools as attested from the results of the Third International Mathematics and Science Survey (TIMMS) where Singapore students topped the world in mathematics and came in second in science.
In the circumstances, Malaysians are entitled to pose the question as to whether it is educationally sound not only to introduce science in Std. One, but to teach it in English when it is not the mother tongue or home language? The better mathematics and science attainments of Chinese primary schools is the best proof of the soundness of the educational approach of those who wish to preserve the use of mother-tongue to teach these two subjects in Std. One in Chinese primary schoolos, as well as demonstrating that the Barisan Nasional government is using political muscles and not sound educational reasons to compel acceptance of the use of English to teach mathematics and science from Std. One.
So long as the Education Ministry cannot come out with sound and convincing educational reasons to compel the use of English to teach mathematics and science from Std. One, the Cabinet should direct the Education Ministry to focus its energies and resources more profitably on raising English proficiency in schools instead of persisting with an issue which can only divide Malaysians and dissipate the national unanimity on the need for raising the standards of English in the country to ensure our national competitiveness in the era of globalisation, liberalization and information and communications technology.
*Lim Kit Siang - DAP National Chairman