Teaching Science and Mathematics in English

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Teaching Science and Mathematics

I’ve often refrained from talking about work related policies but there has been a shift in policy with the teaching of Science and Mathematics in English starting in Sarawak soon.

I know there has been plenty for and against the ideas, but here’s mine.

Before you read on, these points are taken from my tweets, and I decided to convert them to a blog post.

That said, the points here will be added to the ones you have already seen on twitter, if you follow me.

MAKING TEACHING SCIENCE AND MATHEMATICS IN ENGLISH SUCCEED

This is the second time the Education Ministry is trying to introduce Teaching Science and Mathematics in English.  The first time around was under PPSMI.  The project cost a lot of money and was then scrapped off after six years of implementation. PPSMI was stopped after careful study said the then Education Minister, Muhyiddin Yassin.

This makes the effort to reintroduce the teaching of Science and Mathematics in English a second attempt.  The policy will begin in Primary Schools in Sarawak.

This is a good move, but there’s more to it if the government is serious in making it a success.

A mural of kids going on a school bus in Malaysia

First and foremost, the ball should start rolling from Primary 1 or even kindergarten.  This is the first batch of students to use the language to learn. These same batch (or we call it cohort) should continue learning Science and Mathematics in English until they reach university.

There should be no flip-flop or change of the medium of instruction along the way and the government should make it a point to ensure this same batch learns interrelated subjects like Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Additional Maths, or Additional Science, in English.

According to my calculation, it will take around 20 years to see if the teaching of Science and Mathematics works.  18 years is the amount of years a child spends in the education system, assuming the child pursues a thirtary education.

The basic Maths is:

  • 1 year in Kindergarthen
  • 6 years in Primary School
  • 5 years in Secondary School
  • 2 years in Matriculation/Form 6/Diploma
  • 4 years in College/University
  • 2 years of job seeking

The 2 years additional I put in the calculation is for job seeking.  Job seeking is to see if these graduates are employable. I rate success as when a graduate is able to secure a job with their respective qualifications.

WHY PPSMI FAILED

The government must ensure what happened during PPSMI does not repeat itself.  The failure of PPSMI was very costly to say the least.

This time around, teachers asked to teach both Science and Mathematics in English should be properly trained for years to be native English speaking Science and Mathematics teachers.

They should be fresh undergraduates that trained teaching these two subjects in English.

At the very least, these teachers must be comfortable and capable to express themselves in English and are able to use Science and Mathematics terminologies without referring to the book.

The Education Ministry should not absorb current Science and Mathematics teachers which are not comfortable speaking English.  They should not retrain teachers for a couple of days, weeks, or months to teach the subject in English.

Most of the teachers that fall in this category are the Bahasa Malaysia medium students like myself.   We learned the two subjects in our national language when we were students.

You see, being able to converse well in English also does not guarantee one can teach the subjects in English.  There are a lot of scientific terminologies that needs to be learned.

Due to this, those from my era tend to use the word ‘jantung’ when talking about ‘the heart’, or use the word ‘daya’ when we are supposed to use the word ‘force’.

You really can’t blame us because we had been educated to call the heart ‘jantung’ for the past 20 years in school.

Teaching Science and Mathematics
Children learning

Another reason why PPSMI failed was due to how it was implemented.  According to Wikipedia, “the policy would be run in stages, starting with the 2003 school session, pioneered by the all students of Year 1 in primary education level, and Form 1 of the secondary education level.”

Such implementation benefited Primary 1 students, but the Form 1 students would have suffered because they had to learn everything all over again.  This is where students may likely give up on the subjects.

As I said before, getting the terminologies right and using these terminologies during lessons is not as easy as it sounds especially if you are very new to it.

ISSUES RAISED BY THE PUBLIC

The talk of rural schools unable to compete if Mathematics and Science was taught in English is irrelevant to be honest.

I do however admit that if their English command is not great, they would not be able to digest the lessons properly in English.

However, this issue shouldn’t be an issue if the students are learning from Primary 1 because they should be able to pick up the terminologies and language easily.

Sasa doing her school work

Just to make a point, I’ve been sending my 4 year old daughter to a kindergarten that uses Mandarin as their medium of instruction, and from my observation, she has picked up the language in less than two months.

I believe this shows how young children can easily pick up a language if it is taught and used.

Another issue always raised is the degradation of the national language. This is a non-issue as English will only be used as the medium of instruction in Mathematics and Science while other subjects will be taught in Bahasa Malaysia.

Problems related to the implementation of Mathematics and Science in English would only arise if the implementation wasn’t proper enough.  PPSMI’s implementation at Form 1 as I said above is a good example.

CONCLUSION

I guess it is very obvious that I am for teaching of Mathematics and Science in English.  I was always supportive of the idea, and I am still now.

To me, the benefit outweighs the disadvantages and my hope is that this time around, the flip flop for this policy will be a thing of a past.

The question is, where do you stand on this issue?

 

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