Monday, January 26, 2009

ON LANGUAGES AND EDUCATION

THE RATIONALITY OF SCIENCE-RELATED SUBJECTS
TAUGHT IN ENGLISH AND
THE IMPORTANCE OF THE FORMAL 3Rs + NON-FORMAL 3Rs
IN TOTAL EDUCATION

by

Dato’ Ir Dr A. Bakar Jaafar


The policy that requires the subjects of science and mathematics be taught in English in all national-type schools has been well understood by the few involved in decision-making, but misunderstood by many, including those not in favour of such a policy. The proponents of the policy have been arguing inter alia that the future of Malaysia, in order to be competitive, will also rest with the competency of its citizens in keeping up with the rapid progress in science and technology that is largely communicated in English. It is also recognized that much of the world’s literature especially those relating to science and technology is indeed in English.

At least there is one convincing counter-argument not in support of the said policy, put forth by Prof Dr Shahrir Mohd Zin, is that in order to excel in the subject of mathematics particularly, it is best taught in the language of one’s mother tongue. This subject demands not so much one’s competency in language but more in thought-processes that are easily understood by one’s naturally-born instinctive images. For instance, according to Prof Shahrir, over 90 per cent of Nobel Laureates in Physics and Chemistry are not English-native speakers.

However, some confusion arises at least from the following questions:

· Are the subjects of “science and mathematics” are best taught in English in order to improve one’s competency in English?
· Should the subject of “history” or “general studies” be taught in English instead?

Explained by Tan Sri Datuk Dr Wan Zahid Nordin that “it is not quite true that the subjects of science and mathematics be taught in English, in order to improve one’s competency in English; actually, it is to ensure that the same scientific terms or mathematical expressions in English, not the translations thereof, be taught and used in all type-schools, as such there shall be no difficulties, or confusion arising from using such terms, whenever one is gaining access to the widely available scientific and technical literature in English. That would also save all the trouble of translating the original terms in English into Bahasa Malaysia.”

The writer would argue that if one were to improve one’s competency in English, either the subject of “history” be taught in English or specifically the subject of “creative writing in English” be introduced in all national-type schools. In history, one learns to “describe events, people, and places”, “to analyse the periods of such events”, “to draw lessons learnt”, “to state one’s position relating to such events”, and “to argue what the future events would hold”.

The writer would also argue that it is not so much one’s competency in a language that would bring about excellence; it is the quality of “thinking”. One might try to find an excuse for not having presented a good report in English by saying that his “English is poor!” The truth was his “Bahasa Malaysia was worse than his English!”

The trouble with formal education in Malaysia, the writer would argue that, too much emphasis has been given on the formal aspects of education, that is, the first three Rs: Reading, aRithmetic, and wRiting, but very little attention devoted to the non-formal aspects, that is, the second set of three Rs: obseRvation, Reasoning, and oRal presentation. For instance, the late Tan Sri Lim Goh Tong seemed to have missed the benefits of the first three Rs, but he had acquired his fame through excellence by having possessed the second set of 3Rs with high-skills, positive attitude, and extreme-aptitude. The other well-known Malaysian, none other than LAT, did admit that “arithmetic” was not his “best” subject. Nonetheless, with the power of his sharp-observation and strong reasoning, he has managed to express himself so well, not in person in the public nor in “normal writing”, but in quick-sketches that capture the imagination of most Malaysians, and residents of Malaysia alike, from all walks of life.


The challenge before the country is as much to attract the “best” back to teaching in schools, colleges, and in universities as to introduce multi-lingualism in all national-type schools, that is, mandatory teaching of four important languages: Bahasa Malaysia, English, Mandarin, and Arabic (for Muslims), Tamil (for Hindus), or any other UN languages (French, Russian, and Spanish) (for others too). In overcoming such a challenge, InsyaAllah, Malaysia would have a large citizenary who ought to be enlightened by the need for change, not only for the sake of change, but would demand as much for themselves as they would do for others.



Langkawi
5 November 2008

2 comments:

Esteban said...

i strongly agree that we need to emphasise more on speaking, rather than writing and reading.

if one can speak, for sure he or she can write and read. we do not need to be a good essay writer to pass a job interview.

we have to be a good SPEAKER.

and i dare to say that unfortunately, even in english classes in school, pupils are speaking in english 100% only during the oral exam.

the rest? rojak and bahasa melayu, of course.

but who am i to bring this idea to the ministry in charge?

Abu Bakar Jaafar said...

Dear Esteban,
You are right; ability to speak, to write, to draw, or to communicate with any other means, is a matter of skill. What matters most is the quality of thinking behind any communication skill.
Who are we? Well, the best thing to do is to pen down our thought in this great "cyber" world, hoping those with authority could bring about change for the good of the common, and common goods, not only for private interest!
All the best,
ABJ