Sunday, August 23, 2009


So ends PPSMI (Teaching Maths and Science in English) another Malaysian Education Experiment, its' guinea pigs unceremoniously discarded and left all the worse for wear. In an act of mitigation, another experiment has been launched, that of boosting the standard of English by longer subject times, recruitment of foreign teachers, etc. Here's why PPSMI was doomed all along, and why its' replacement is a sorry answer.

One of PPSMI's aims was to improve the standard of English among Malaysian school students. Logically, how is this even possible? In both Maths and Science, the language used, be it English, Chinese or Urdu, is direct, terse and functional. Scientific language does not have even a minute grasp of the real beauty and essence of its' language medium. In the decision to teach both subjects in BM, no-one said that this was to improve the standard of BM, rather, the reason given for the reversal was to improve the understanding of both subjects. Similarly, PPSMI's main goal should always have been to make university level Science and Maths jargon easier to grasp, and not for the purpose conceived by the dolts that are our policymakers.

Plus, I doubt very much that the government was even serious about achieving this misguided main goal. Improperly training teachers in English, assigning those same teachers to teach Science and Maths, continuing with bilingual public exam papers, not penalizing spelling and grammatical errors in Science and Maths, etc, etc. In many places, especially rural areas, PPSMI was little more than a translation of textbooks, with little or no effort by teachers to teach and make sure students fully understood the subjects in English. In such a half-past-six environment, it's no wonder the erstwhile opponents of PPSMI were able to find enough ammo to shoot it down.

The replacement for PPSMI seems a rather decent attempt to boost the standard of English among students, and if properly implemented, could open up exciting new possibilities. Malaysian Man Booker Prize-winners! A new culture of literature and greater prominence of public intellectualism! But the new plans do not provide any methods to reverse the decline of the in Malaysian Maths and Science scores on the international stage. The vast, vast majority of scientific jargon is reserved for science, seldom or never used in regular spoken or written language, and will thus never get into English textbooks. This means that students will forever remain unknowing of these terms and at a disadvantage in both higher education and at workplaces. Contrasting language styles of standard, descriptive and scientific language also would result in hilarious and/ or disastrous consequences, mainly misinformation and delays, both intolereable in science.

In short, the soon-to-be-implemented English improvement system should be adopted in tandem with PPSMI. Malaysia needs both a higher level of command of English, and scientists who can hold their own and cooperate on a global stage. It's time to ignore the whining of both rural folks committed to a culture of mediocrity and the so called 'pembela bangsa dan bangsa'. Now's the time to move forward. If you can't take the heat, get out!

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