(Penang, Wednesday): I am flabbergasted by the proposal from the Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, Datuk Seri Dr. Rais Yatim yesterday that the Sedition Act can be used to charge “minority groups opposing the teaching of mathematics and science in English” if it is proven that they do not have the national interest at heart and are seeking to foment dissent and division in society.
It is most unbelievable and outrageous that such a reactionary idea could come from the author of “Freedom under Executive Power in Malaysia – A study of executive supremacy”, an important study of great honesty and integrity about how Malaysia degenerated into a semi-democracy, where to quote Rais, "Rule by law and not rule of law supersedes and takes priority in most aspects of ruling the people" producing "a culture of fear in an already non-critical society".
Even though Rais had repudiated his doctoral thesis (the basis of the book) without surrendering his doctorate to London University, so as to be able to justify his Cabinet position and draconian laws like the Internal Security Act which he had denounced in his book, it is a quantum leap for him to now advocate unprecedented and the most undemocratic perversion of draconian laws like the Sedition Act against legitimate dissent against government policy.
Would Rais recommend that political leaders, including current serving Cabinet Ministers, responsible for the drastic drop of English standards in the past three decades be charged for subverting national interest before toying with any new-fangled notion like using the Sedition Act against those opposed to the use of English to teach mathematics and science in Std. One but support programmes to raise English proficiency?
What is the stand of Suhakam on this new-fangled notion by Rais? Can the Suhakam Chairman, Tan Sri Abu Talib Othman, state the stand of Suhakam as to whether it agrees that Rais’ proposal represents another seditious and subversive assault on the rule of law and human rights in post-911 Malaysia?
Recently, the controversy over the government decision to use English to teach mathematics and science in all primary schools from Std. One has gone quite out of hand, wasting not only six precious months of the nation and the people but creating a most divisive national issue.
Such controversy and division are most unnecessary as there is national 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 after three decades of sharp drop in the standards of the global language in the country.
The dispute and difference 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 from 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 schools, which is finally in the higher interest of the nation.
Malaysians are still waiting for the Education Ministry to come out with sound and convincing educational reasons to justify the compulsory use of English to teach mathematics and science from Std. One.
So long as the Education Ministry is unable to do this, it should 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.
Something is very wrong not only about democracy, human rights, the rule of law but also nation-building and the proper understanding of nationalism and patriotism in Malaysia when the Sedition Act could be brought out to threaten those who disagree with the use of English to teach mathematics and science from Std. One in primary schools as the best means of raising proficiency in English, mathematics and science.
But this is not the only unhealthy phenomenon in the six-month controversy over the issue. The “On The Record” column in the New Straits Times today by Tan Sri Abdullah Ahmad is another example of such unhealthy manifestation.
Abdullah’s column has swiftly revived the issue as to whether the UMNO Supreme Council last 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 in English, as reported by the Singapore Straits Times on Sunday – although the Parliamentary Secretary to the Education Ministry, Dr Mahadzir Mohd Khir had denied the story.
In his column, entitled “It’s time to end this debate”, Abdullah who prides himself on his close relationship as the confidante of Mahathir, wrote:
“All schools must teach a centrally prescribed curriculum. They may diverge on how but not on what is to be taught. No right-thinking Malaysian would agree to the forced closure of our vernacular schools but the Government is perfectly entitled to support only those that adhere to its policies. This applies to the maverick religious madrasah as well.”
As the saying goes, “there’s no smoke without fire”, and Abdullah’s column today can only raise the question as to whether there are serious moves afoot to withdraw government financial aid to Chinese primary schools which refuse to agree to the use of English to teach mathematics and science in Std. One.
Abdullah’s column, which resurrected the “final objective” of the national education policy when he wrote that “policymakers thought that with the building and massive funding of a national education system, Chinese and Tamil schools would be pushed to the periphery and eventually become obsolete”, can only raise questions as to whether there is a greater agenda to the current educational controversy.
*Lim Kit Siang - DAP National Chairman