MCA and Gerakan Ministers should propose modification of 2-4-3 formula to devote all the nine subjects to teaching English in Chinese primary schools as pupils would end up having better proficiency in English, mathematics and science than under the present 2-4-3 formula

Media Conference Statement
when launching the DAP’s 46th National Day Celebrations and the “Defend Secular Malaysia” campaign in Bukit Mertajam parliamentary constituency
Lim Kit Siang

(PenangWednesday): As the Education Ministry and the Cabinet are  stubborn and unyielding in wanting to continue with the 2-4-3 formula to teach mathematics and science in Chinese primary schools Std. One, MCA and Gerakan Ministers should propose modification of the formula to devote all the nine subjects to teaching English as pupils would end up having better proficiency in English, mathematics and science than under the present 2-4-3 formula teaching  four periods of mathematics and three periods of science in English per week.

In August last year, Gerakan President and Primary Industries Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Lim Keng Yaik presented a very cogent argument prepared by his think-tank as to why it is educationally unsound to teach mathematics and science in English in  Std. One when the medium of instruction is not English.

He said: “There is very strong evidence from many studies throughout the world that science and mathematics are most effectively learned in the child's mother tongue/first language at the primary school.

“Most studies have also shown that a student must first establish a basic command in his/her First Language (Mother tongue/community language) and use it to learn basic concepts in various subjects before effectively making the transition to learning science and mathematics or other subjects in a second language (eg. English language) at a later stage.

“Most non-English speaking countries like Japan, Korea, Taiwan and Germany conduct their teaching-learning processes of science and mathematics in their respective National Language at the primary and secondary levels in their school system. English is increasingly being used only at a tertiary level where the main medium is still their national language. These countries are very advanced in science and technology.”

“Based on the proven principles and practices of language learning and teaching of science and mathematics”, he rightly forecast that the proposal to start the teaching of science and mathematics in English from Primary One  will pose the following serious problems:- 

  • Most students (except for the bright ones and those from well-to-do urban upper middle class) will not learn mathematics and science effectively because English does not provide the continuity of learning from mother tongue in the home environment. Those affected will be children of lower-middle class of various races from the rural areas, new villages, estates and urban poor areas.
  • A majority of our next generations will not be able to use their community language/mother tongue to perform arithmetic operations, logical reasoning or understand and relate to their living environment - both nature and man-created, including common appliances and objects. In other words, they will not be able to communicate effectively in a complete way in their own mother tongue. Neither will they learn English effectively.

Consequently, “based on educational principles and practices”,  he made two proposals for the primary level:

  • Maintenance of the respective  mother-tongues as the media of instruction for mathematics and science in all primary schools, while improving the teaching of the two subjects and English; and
  • Introduce science and mathematics terminologies in the English Language beginning from Primary 4 - 6, with some bilingual texts for Primary 5 - 6, complemented by passages on science and mathematics in the English Language subject.

I was very impressed with Keng Yaik’s presentation, making the very same arguments about educational principles and practices  which DAP leaders had been making against the proposal at the time. 

However, when the issue went to the Cabinet, all these “educational principles and practices” were forgotten and  abandoned and the political contraption of the 2:4:3 formula was foisted on the Std. One pupils of Chinese primary schools.

The 2:4:3 formula had no  educational  merit whatsoever  and could never be conceived by educationists working solely with the best educational interests of the children and the nation in mind, as there is no country in the world  which is recognized internationally as a powerhouse in mathematics and science which has the ludicrous system of teaching mathematics and science in two languages in the first year of primary school! 

This reminds me  of the “929 Declaration” by the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Datuk Mahathir Mohamad at the Gerakan National Delegates Conference on Sept. 29, 2001 that Malaysia was an Islamic State.  Keng Yaik and the Gerakan leaders knew that the “929 Declaration” was against the “social contract” reached by the forefathers of the major communities on attaining national independence, the 1957 Merdeka Constitution, the 1963 Malaysia Agreement, the 1970 Rukunegara that Malaysia is a democratic, secular and multi-religious nation with Islam as the official religion but not an Islamic state, which is also the Gerakan’s  founding party principle since 1968, but yet they could support the “929 Declaration”.

In the case of the 2:4:3 formula, Keng Yaik and the Gerakan leaders knew that it was against all educational principles and practices throughout the world and contrary to the best interests of the Std. One pupils, yet they could forget all their own arguments and support the political contraption of the 2:4:3 formula! 

The 2:4:3 formula is not  a recipe for educational excellence but the exact  reverse, as it  is  not a formula to maximize the  educational potential of  Std. One school-children to best develop their thinking and academic abilities but to  impede such a development by  loading and confusing them with unsound educational baggage –resulting physically in heavier school bags with more text books and  longer schooling hours.  

DAP calls on the Cabinet and Parliament to devote  all these  nine new  periods to  teaching  English in Std. One for Chinese primary schools if there is can  be no further modification of the weekly timetable, as pupils under a “all nine periods for English” formula  would end up having better proficiency in English, mathematics and science than under the present 2-4-3 formula at the end of the primary  schooling system.


* Lim Kit Siang, DAP National Chairman