Teach Science and Maths in English at secondary level

Initially, when I got wind of the decision to revert back to mother tongue to teach Science and Maths in primary schools, my first reaction was a welcome relief.

I have read some research papers that have made inference  that learning in one’s own mother tongue in Science and Maths may be the most effective ways to command these 2 subjects in the first few years of schooling.  I also felt that the increase in the hours of teaching English as a subject is a welcome first step to bring back excellence in the learning of English.

Later, when I read the news website and found out that even in secondary schools, Maths and Science are to be taught in Bahasa Malaysia , I was  aghast and shocked beyond speech.

When some  of us pushed for Science and Maths to be taught in mother tongue , it was for the initial few years (primary level especailly for the first 3 years), when many students might not have the ability to understand instructions in  English, since  most of them, apart from those in certain urban areas,  have never come into contact with the language before.

But by the time they reach secondary schools, most of them would have already had a few years of English lessons, and would be able to understand simple instructions in English, which would be sufficient for Maths and Science to be taught in English effectively.

My own experience can probably illustrate  that the best combination for any student is  to learn Maths and Science in mother tongue at the primary level and in English at  secondary schools.

I was from Chinese medium. In primary school, I learned Maths and Science in Mandarin, and by standard 2 or 3 , we were quite well verse with multiplication table.

WHen later I went to a Chinese medium secondary school – CHung Ling HIgh School in Penang – these 2 subjects were taught in English.  Most of us had no problems mastering and excelling in them. 

My alma mater,   Chung Ling High School, has produced countless  doctors , lawyers, PhDs, professors and university lecturers and other professionals who are now scattered all over the world.

The success of its students especially in the fields relating to Science and Maths speaks for itself about  the school policy of teaching these technical subjects in English, in the sixties and early seventies.

We sat for Cambridge School Certificate, equivalent to ‘O” level, and our pass rate in Maths and Science were almost a 100 percent . I personally scored 8 distinctions out of 8 subjects taken in my School Certificate.

6 of us from my form 5 class enrolled in the medical faculty of University of Singapore, the biggest number from a single school in  both sides of the Causeway. All six of us shared the distinction of being from Chinese medium but were taught Science and MAths subjects in English. We have no problems at all adjusting to a milieu steep in English tradition.

We never had any problems in the transition from a Chinese School to a English university. The only initial adjustment was the the discovery of certain difference in our values and outlook when compared to those from the English Stream. But in term of academic performance, we were on par with those from Singapore or English Schools in Malaysia.

The same could be said of those of our school mates who went overseas .

Incidentally, one of my seniors from Chung Ling — a product of Chinese stream while receiving the teaching of Science and MAths in English at the secondary level and a straight As student in Cambridge School Certificate – is now an important Minister in charge of and the brain behind KPI, and he is none other than the former Chief Minister of Penang, Tan Sri Dr Koh Tsu Koon. He , for those who may not know, is a Physics graduate from Princeton and a PhD from Chicago.

It is an undeniable fact that English is the ‘lingua franca’ of the Scientific world. Once the students have mastered the basic of Science and Maths in the first few years of lives using the mother tongue, early exposure to teaching of Maths and Science in English at the secondary level would better condition and prepare them  to the transition awaiting them when they go to tertiary level,  where most of the research papers and the latest scientific discovery would be in English. It would have saved them much anguish and frustration to have to spend times trying to adjust at tertiary level.

In fact, in my opinion, by Standard 4 in primary level, certain technical and scientific terms in English should be slowly introduced to the students.

So, while I welcome the teaching of these 2 subjects in mother tongue at the primary level,  I would like to urge the Minister of Education to seriously consider again the decision to do the same for the secondary level.

It would, in my humble opinion, be a step backward.


Pls read my old statement on this topic here.

Also my post: freedom of choice here

This post is also available in MalaysianInsider here 

and in Malaysiakini opinion column here


51 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Vincent Ho
    Jul 09, 2009 @ 21:40:58

    What can be said of our flip-flop government policies?

    Today the Government revert back to BM…2 years down the line their perhaps will revert back to English. Don’t you think our students get a bit confused with the changes in teachings? The teachers are also in the same boat as the students but at least the students can adjust and adapt but not the teachers.

    I had all my education in Bahasa Malaysia except for one subject in English but I say that came out fairly well. English can be self taught if one have to do it, if you don’t mind being laughed at in the first instances…just as I learn to speak Cantonese as I only speaks Bahasa Malaysia and English fluently. Still today I received stares whenever I speak Cantonese or even Mandarin for the matter of fact. 🙂

    Presently I’m training myself to learn scientific and medical termology as I’m taking up sports science to suceed in my given line of work. If one wants to excel you got to do it if you have no one else wants to help you. Don’t you agree?

    You must have the passion to excel…then you will succed eventhough there’s much hardship.

    We should not be disappointed at the decision that the Government made but we must not let it get us down.

    May God bless Malaysia.


  2. veon
    Jul 09, 2009 @ 22:27:50

    Hi Dr Hsu,

    I share your sentiment and view on this subject. Yet, at the same time, I can’t help but to venture laying bare some honest and brutal facts.

    Coming from almost the same education background likes Dr, i.e. first went to Chinese primary school (mandarin), then Chung Ling High School (Mandarin & Bahasa) before completing 6th Form at MBS (Bahasa & English), I must say it was not easy. I have to struggle at each and every stage mandarin at primary level, then polishing up my Bahasa at lower secondary school (up to SRP) and finally played catching up for English from form 4 onward.
    Ya, most of us are fortunate enough to have survived the “painful” learning process and ended up as professionals, academicians, corporate leaders etc.

    But, as we all know, overwhelming majority out there are simply unable to handle the burden of 2 languages, let alone three! In fact , survey has shown that the attrition rate along the process is exceptionally high, not less than 80%! So, while we, the few “privileged” lots, could argue about globalization, competitiveness etc etc… How about those who struggle every day to master sometimes even his or her own mother tongue!

    May be, the better solution is not to prescribe a “one-size-fit-all” education system. Options and choices must be available at all levels, so that parents can choose which school that they deem suitable and fit their children abilities or inclination. In other words, our school system must not only serve the urban families, neither should it only cater for the need of the rural children.

    Acknowledging there are different needs and priorities, sometimes ven competing against each other, may be the first thing our policy makers should do. Only then they could come up with a better and more effective school system that is capable of unleashing the maximum potential of each and every school going citizen of our country.


  3. chaos
    Jul 09, 2009 @ 22:47:38

    Thursday, July 09, 2009
    The Coming State of Chaos and Disorder.



  4. klm
    Jul 09, 2009 @ 23:31:18

    Dr. Hsu. Sometime you get what you wish for and more. What is your this senior and now back door minister of KPI going to say? Probably, he said nothing during the cabinet meeting.

    What is your successor as Chairman of Education Bureau going to say? There is no more time for him to learn about Education issues.


  5. Justin Choo
    Jul 10, 2009 @ 01:02:51

    Dr Hsu,

    I am happy that you have clarified your stand on this subject. From your earlier explanation I thought you were along the same line taken by the latest decision, which I was adamant.

    I hope if we have the chance of changing the government in the next few years, this mistake may be corrected. But isn’t this what Anwar had wanted?

    Dr, you like to give your academic experiences as examples. But don’t you think you are the cream of the crop? We should consider the experiences of the average student, like me. However, I also had no problem learning everything in English right from std one, although I couldn’t speak a word of English on my first day at school.


  6. Rhan
    Jul 10, 2009 @ 08:32:35

    Me too can’t speak a single Mandarin word on my first day to school. The issue is on the environment. You can’t find many kids who speak dialect nowadays.

    I share veon view. From my many reading on what you wrote, you are basically with elite mindset. You accord great importance to elitism (精英主义). In America, I believe we may use the term (白人主义). Neither slur nor compliment, just my observation. Cheers.


  7. Nick
    Jul 10, 2009 @ 09:15:57

    Dr. Hsu, thank you for clarifying your stance. I cannot but agree wholeheartedly. I was a product of english school all my life. My alma mater was KSAH, the premier school in Alor Setar. In Form 4, we welcomed a batch of students from the chinese Kiat Wah school. I could see that they did initally struggled in the the language but they out-shone most of us in science and maths subjects. I truly feel sorry for the children caught in the transition come 2012. Veon said it correctly: “May be, the better solution is not to prescribe a “one-size-fit-all” education system. Options and choices must be available at all levels, so that parents can choose which school that they deem suitable and fit their children abilities or inclination.” The present Cabint is no different from the last Cabinet. They are stuffed with men and women who lack the ability to debate and come to the correct decision for the future of this Nation.


  8. clearwater
    Jul 10, 2009 @ 09:43:38

    Dr Hsu,

    Looks like you got more than you bargained for. I cannot see the politicians reversing this decision and so BM it is for Science and Maths in secondary schools. Can you ever believe these jokers can get anything right the first time? Or the second time around? Or even the third? This is a stupid political decision and our young will ultimately pay for it. Like many other things in this country, you bear with it ……. or you leave it.


  9. klm
    Jul 10, 2009 @ 09:55:59

    Let me offer an elitist view. (something that could come from a capitalist in the early twentieth century.

    On the contrary, why bother to teach English and Maths and Science in schools. Jobs that need english are only less than 15%. Just educate the workers we need. The elites can send their children overseas and International schools. The ambitious can learn English at their own expense. This way, Malaysia can keep the working class in check, supply labour to the factory and maintain order.

    The job survey figure supports this argument

    Malaysia 2008 Job Survey.
    *Managers and Senior Officials 7%
    *Professionals 5.7%
    ??Associate Professionals and Technicians 14%
    Clerical Workers 9.85%
    Service and Sales Workers 16.7%
    Skilled agricultural and fishery workers 11.9%
    Craftsmen and Related Workers 10.85%
    Plant/d Machine Operators and Assemblers 12.6%
    Cleaners, Labourers & Related Workers +11.35%


  10. A true Malaysian
    Jul 10, 2009 @ 10:06:17

    “Stupidity” is what is in play here. Politics, politics and politics are what they good at.

    They bring race into politics,
    They drag religion into politics,
    They pull education into politics,
    Everything they did, or are doing, is for political reasons.



  11. Dr Hsu
    Jul 10, 2009 @ 10:09:32

    Dear readers,

    A further clarification is that in urban areas, many parents speak English at home and this means that English is the mother tongue for many.
    So for this group maybe Maths and Science should be taught in their mother tongue English.

    So i agree that there should be a greater choice. Pls read my article on ‘freedom to choose’, I have posted the link in the above article.
    Maybe we need to bring back the system in the 60s, where there were English schools, Chinese schools, and Malay Schools and Tamil Schools at the primary level, and let parents decide which one best suit their children, bearing in mind that mother tongue for different people might be different.

    The records of the sixties spoke for itself. Those products of the 60s are still around, and many of them renowned in their fields. Malaysian students then who went overseas used to top thier universities regularly…

    It was a pity that some thing that worked so well in the 60s were abandoned becuase of narrow nationalisitc views, and a generation of good teachers was now lost ..

    Bring back the English schools and let people have more choice, by all means teach mother tongue at primary levels ( and let those whose mother tongue is English go to English schools), and at secondary level , revert to English in the teaching of MAths and science ( for all streams), English being the lingua franca of scientific world.


  12. clearwater
    Jul 10, 2009 @ 10:57:42

    This is what my 15 year old teenage daughter, a straight ‘A’ student, has to say:

    I am for diversity and choice in education. I do not want a system that inhibits my potential and limits the options I have. I am young and I want the world to be my oyster. I want to be able to study and work overseas just like my elder sister who advises good command of English is essential. I do not want to be stuck in Malaysia. I don’t understand why they want to revert back to BM for Science & Maths. It sucks.


  13. klm
    Jul 10, 2009 @ 11:01:13

    Dr.Hsu. This is another speed brake in the economic development of Malaysia.

    What is your opinion on the paper on “Politics and Economic Reforms In Malaysia”.

    This is an entry into another future paper.


  14. Lai Kee Kong
    Jul 10, 2009 @ 11:23:00

    Funny how we do not seem to be happy when we got what we want. Gerakan pushed for the death of science and math in english and that is exactly what we got. I did not remember nor notice our push for the half and half policy. It was never on the table.

    I studied in a malay medium environment up to SPM and to tell you the truth I didn’t know any better. Whatever we used in school was our mother tongue. That was our most proficient language. Unless we use it, our English is not going to be any better. Therefore if you are in a chinese school studying math and science in English, your main language will still be Mandarin and your English will still be lousy. Actually the reason why most students from chinese school dropped out and become dvd sellers after transferring to national type secondary schools is because of the malay language problem. The problem is not going to go away unless the vernacular schools change their emphasis. Turning out students more familiar with The Romance of Three Kingdoms than Hikayat Abdullah Munsyi is not going to help them into local universities.

    The education system needs an adjustment but language is the least of the problems. How about teachers who actually want to teach or a non racial non religious policy towards educating our young. A school should be a place where young Malaysians learn to live and work together not become a racial divide as it is now.


  15. Dr Hsu
    Jul 10, 2009 @ 12:12:00

    I am not elitist and my alma mater is not an elite school.

    I have classmates who were so poor that they have to deliver newspapers in early morning belfore coming to class. One of them is now an engineer working for RRI for many years.

    Many others were so poor that they could not afford to eat anything in schools. Most are now professionals, some vice-presidnets of foreign banks, some heads semi conductor companies in Malaysia or overseas,
    some are professors overseas….All have a ‘poor to professional’ story to tell.

    My form 5 year had 13 classese and the overall passes were above 80 % in SC, in 1969 and maths and science were almost 100%.. an amazing feat for a school with students from all backgrounds: children of tycoons -yes- like DR Koh, children of poor teachers-yes- like myself, children of hawkers and newspaper sellers aplenty too.

    I voice out not for myself but for the people of Malaysia. My 4 children are either docotrs or on the way to become doctors , even the youngest will be overseas soon following his brothers and sisters footsteps, and I will let them decide where they want to be. The elders are working in US and Australia and I really dont know whether they would come back or not..

    So my voicing out is not based on elitism, but more on practicality and my experience of going through life in Malaysia the past few decades.

    ANyway, i know you do not mean any harm and i welcome your comment, and hope to hear more from you 🙂


  16. A true Malaysian
    Jul 10, 2009 @ 12:34:12

    100% brain drain from Dr. Hsu’s family. Who else here? 😀

    Sad or happy? 😦 🙂

    Again, “stupidity” summed up what is happening in Malaysia.


  17. A true Malaysian
    Jul 10, 2009 @ 13:01:28

    It is best that Umno set free the education system and let people have the choice to choose whichever language they preferred.

    I am quite good in Malay, English & Chinese, but the truth is that, not everyone has the same capability.

    During my school days, the exposure to English language is so minimal and I had tough time coping with my studies at tertiary level as reference materials are mainly in English. In hindsight, why wasting time during school days? Even if Umno wants to stick to Bahasa Melayu, so be it, but train up good solid teachers teaching English, and not sacrifice English language in the expense of Bahasa Melayu.

    Perhaps you all can do a simple survey on those who have gone through Bahasa Melayu as the language medium. How many of our people are proficient in Bahasa Melayu? As someone mentioned here, many turned out as DVD peddlers and Ah Longs. Umno even failed to let people proficient in Bahasa Melayu closing English medium schools.

    So, the real reason for all these messes is “tidak apa”, “couldn’t care less” or “take it for granted” attitudes amongst the policy makers, not on which language you used to choose to teach.

    Can they ensure the knowledge level of science and maths improved after switching from English to Bahasa Melayu?

    (By the way, I myself not even sure which to use to describe Malay language here, Bahasa Malaysia or Bahasa Melayu. Which is which?) 😦


  18. klm
    Jul 10, 2009 @ 13:24:49

    You all know the end result. Malaysia, land of the coolies. Malaysia, truly coolies. :()


  19. Dr Hsu
    Jul 10, 2009 @ 13:41:34

    Thanks once again for the excellent paper that you sent to me.

    In Malaysia, everything is dual. We have dual economies, one which is liberal andone which is not so liberal,a s mentioned in the paper. We have double standard in implementation of policies. We have double standard in scholarship awards. We have double standards in enforcement. We even have double standard when it comes to protecting the people (can even use ISA to protect).

    SO unless we do away with the dual tracks, we will forever remain as a also-run countries, while others will sprint past us.

    It is like driving on a road , the right wheel on proper road and left wheel on a track which is not tarred, undulating and fll of holes.. So the car cannot speed because the right wheel cannot go faster than the left, which has to be slow to negotiate the unulating surface and holes. The left track is the speed breaker . SO in the end, the car Malaysia ends up the slowest of the lot, with other cars all speed past us using thier own tarred road..

    I like the concluding paragraph and I paraphrase below:

    Whether Malaysia remains mired in a mediocre skill and value-added equilibrium depends
    critically on whether the ruling coalition can be reordered to include a broader cross-communal
    and cross-class set of active participants.

    Reform that goes beyond structural change to creatingnew stocks of labor and capital, primarily human skills and knowledge, will require the activeparticipation and cooperation of government, labor, academia, SMIs, MNCs, and large local firms.


  20. anonymous
    Jul 10, 2009 @ 14:48:04

    Firstly let me say most of the politicians who speak up about this issue now is a bunch of selfish and insincere people. No one criticise Anwar when he proposed to use BN two weeks ago, now his Deputy and LGE against the idea. Some are opportunists, just to get cheap publicity. Mahathir is just an old man frustrated with another of his policy being scrapped. Poll my foot! What about those without internet access and rural folks? Obviously those who voted in NTV7 English news or voted in his blog are urbanites or English speaking people!

    Most parents or citizens who objected the change are fr English-speaking background. They only know that English is a global language without considering the repercussion of it. Although govt is to blame when implementing such policy without adequate resources and capability, the last 6 years has clearly proven most students did not actually improve their English skills fr the 2 subjects, this is expecially so in the rural and states outside of KL, S’gor and Penang. Ask Ah beng, Muthu and Ali who speak broken English; they will tell you “lever mind, i can know better in malay…know how to find money is more important”.

    There are also many individuals, politicians, NGOs (anti-PPMSI, Dong Zong etc) and activists against the idea of using English, although most of have their own specific selfish agenda and motive of saying so. So how? Who is in the majority

    Countries like France, Germany, China, Hong Kong, Japan and Korea is so developed in every sectors particularly science, engineering and medicine – they do not even learn in English! It is the attitude. Forget about Mahathir but a serious consideration is required whether the compensation of pumping in more money to bring and train English teacher will be a good idea or not. After all Form 6 students still use it as well as private or international schools. Urbanites shld send their kids in the latter, after all it only cost about RM400+ pm in a private school; expensive, ya cut down the smoking, drinking, 4Ds etc.

    We need to be rational and pragmatic, again it is the attitude and upbringing.


  21. Peter Yew
    Jul 10, 2009 @ 14:48:32

    Dr Hsu,

    Clearwater’s daughter expressed what the young people feels about this language transition. They are the ones victimised and have every right to feel upset. I am in total agreement that we should not have a ‘one size fits all’ education policy. The time has come for education to be liberalised so that whoever wishes to study in whatever language, so long as teaching resources are available, the government must not dictate the wishes of the people. It is after all their future at stake. If the government cannot provide viable options it is little wonder if the brighter and more fortunate ones choose to join private institutions to be educated, or choose migration. The eventual scenario will be further differentiation between those who has the ability to steer their own future and those who helplessly sink with this flip flop government policy.

    I have nothing against BM, it is after a beautiful language, our national language. But beyond that its usefulness as a language of international communication and scientific research is very limited. The BN government tries to please everybody and ends up pleasing no one. It is disappointing that it did not have the courage to stand up for what is unpopularly right. In this I stand with Dr M.

    It was back to the drawing board, a sad reflection of how the BN government runs this nation for 51 years, still without a visionary policy nor boldness to stand for its right to survive and not bend to pressures.

    Perhaps this latest development will translate to lost votes to the BN in future by-elections and elections. Can the people trust their future to a government that keeps changing direction every few years?


  22. anonymous
    Jul 10, 2009 @ 14:57:12

    About the attitude, if one to assess Chinese graduates from INTi, TAR, Segi, KDU, Taylor today – most (if not all) of the chinese-ed students who did their 3 years degree in English speak and write unacceptable level of English! it is just horrendous! Abolish vernacular school? No way we want to maintain the identity but at the same time shouting for non-racial approach in the country, ironic?


  23. Gerakan Newbie
    Jul 10, 2009 @ 15:13:41

    start from abolishing the vernacular schools…if we still hang on to it, what differences whether the government revert teaching science n maths from English to Malay?

    We are no even taken the step forward for a very long time but just standing stagnant at this very spot for the last 15 years or more? Pls do correct me if I’m wrong.

    Those good in English are a dying bred…what more the standard of present day English from the Ah Bengs and Ah Lengs or even our Indians friends (who speaks grammatically wrong and yet get away with it).

    Goodness, the butchery of the English language…horrendous.

    Wake up people…. what are we really asking for? English? Malay? Mandarin? or Tamil? You tell me!


  24. klm
    Jul 10, 2009 @ 15:39:48

    Look at the statistics below:

    GDP per capita vs % employed as professional, associate professional and technicians for Year 2008.

    Country -|-GDP–|% total employed asprofessional
    ———–|-USD–|,associate and technician
    Thailand–|.4,400-|—–8%(2006 figure)

    There is clear linkage between these factors. For Malaysia to move forward, it must be able to create more professionals and technical workers.
    The use of English to teach maths and science is to speed up the development of these people.

    Going back to BM will not solve this problem.

    Who care if they speak good or bad English? As long as they can understand and read English and converse technically.


  25. A true Malaysian
    Jul 10, 2009 @ 15:53:37

    “most (if not all) of the chinese-ed students who did their 3 years degree in English speak and write unacceptable level of English! it is just horrendous! Abolish vernacular school? No way we want to maintain the identity but at the same time shouting for non-racial approach in the country, ironic?”

    The issue is not because of vernacular school, the unacceptable level of English the students it produces. The real issue is the “attitude” of learning English language, be it in vernacular or sekolah kebangsaan.

    The best way is to set free, or in Peter Yew’s term, “liberalise” the education system, and let all free hand to choose what type of schools suitable to each individual cases. Bring back English medium school.

    But again, if this is allowed, “Ketuanan Melayu” issue will cause the situation become muddy. At the end of the day, whose fault? MCA, MIC, or Gerakan which are so-called “part of” BN family.

    Let PR have the chance to rule at all levels, Federal and States. That is the only viable solution. Never try, never know. 😀


  26. Dr Hsu
    Jul 10, 2009 @ 16:03:28


    pls refer to an article which i wrote in NOv 2006 in this blog and which was picked up and reposted by a website in Singapore by veteran journalist Seah Chiang Nee in his website.

    This was taken up from his blog by yahoo finance news then for a day… to a worldwide readership.

    The link is here “will Malaysia be marginalised?”


    That is the power of the blog… way before 308…

    You can also find the article in this blog somewhere… There are so many articles which I have written i have lost track of where is which..


  27. Peter Yew
    Jul 10, 2009 @ 16:25:34

    DR Hsu,

    Muhyiddin Yassin said it was a cabinet decision to revert to using BM as medium of instruction for Science and Maths from 2012. It will be interesting to know who voted for and who voted against, or was it a unanimous decision? Some of the present cabinet ministers sat in the 2002/2003 cabinet and voted for English. We want to know how many changed their mind 6 years later …


  28. klm
    Jul 10, 2009 @ 16:30:01

    Dr. Hsu. Thanks.

    You know what. You should compile some of these into a book. Maybe titled ” Dr. Hsu Said”. 🙂


  29. Dr Hsu
    Jul 10, 2009 @ 16:31:35

    Peter Yew,

    Yes, it would be interesting to know who is who.
    But i doubt our ministers in the cabinet , including Dr Koh, would reveal this to us since it is under OSA.

    ANyway, what the public and the blogs can do is to pile on pressure. Wait for the flip flop to happen again (like the countless times before), and in the mean time, our students will be the guinea pigs..

    But at least this time, we have a few years to push for a change in policy in the secondary schools.. 2012..the year for the next GE?


  30. klm
    Jul 10, 2009 @ 16:39:15

    Further to the statistics posted above, I would like to add that the % of professional, associate professional and technician occupations range from 30-40% of the workforce in developed countries.

    Malaysia is nearly there but not quite there yet amongst the developed nations. To reach vision2020 we need to speed up the creation of high quality professions and technical workers – i.e. maths and science.

    We have a generation of guinea pigs to cure and now we have future generations to worry about.


  31. Peter Yew
    Jul 10, 2009 @ 16:44:03

    It is a minefield that the Najib Administration is stepping on, dealing with education, religion, race relations, meritocracy, economy, human rights, crime, judiciary, police, etc which any of them will set up explosions in their face.

    Far too many misjudgment in the past need correction which in the process will create antagonism which fuel discontent which will blow up at the next GE. The more these missteps take place the more people remember. But not doing anything is unacceptable. In a crux, the BN government is treading on dangerous grounds to secure acceptance after their disastrous defeat last year. And PR is not going to let them have it easy.


  32. Rhan
    Jul 10, 2009 @ 16:55:32

    The belief that English is aspect of success and progress is myth. It is merely one of the many skills that are needed in most fields. The dominant of UK and US in both economy and technology on the last few decades provide more weight to this fallacious idea. The advantage is slowly wanes. Government policy and the liberated of mindset is to me the major feature. English and Malay is our communication tool.

    Abolish the vernacular school at this point of time is a dumb idea from a dumb. And would the non-racial approach go away if we give up our identity? I think less hardworking is a better means, so what make you feel ironic anyway?


  33. A true Malaysian
    Jul 10, 2009 @ 17:06:53

    The word “Ketuanan” (for god sake, I don’t mean “Ketuanan Melayu” here). It is embedded very deeply in their minds.

    “Their” means the so-called “owner” of “Ketuanan” and the “acceptor” of ketuanan concept. That means, however inferior or superior the “owner” maybe, the “acceptor” willingly accepted the owner as “Tuan” as what is destined or fated.

    So, it is okay your “Tuan” did wrongly, treat our students as guinea pig, and so on and so forth, ….This is exactly what are in now.

    Depend on who read this, “Tuan” can be any races or religions, and not is not referring to any particular person(s).

    If this concept is referring to individual, then you and me need to look into mirror, and ask, “am I one of the “their”?

    If this “Ketuanan” mentality is put in a nation perspective, then, this should be getting rid of, irrespective of who run the government.


  34. traveller
    Jul 10, 2009 @ 18:24:33

    When my daughter first went to Singapore Junior College as an ASIAN Scholar, she had problems with these 2 terms in Chemistry: the NA in NACL and the K as in KCL. NACL in English is Sodium Chloride while in BM, it is taught as Natrium Chloride; the KCL is Potassium Chloride in English but Kalium Chloride in BM. Took her a few brain juggling sessions at the Junior College to accept this change over. However, I am sure until today, there are many other Malaysian students taught in BM for chemistry class still not realised the corrcet terms in BM for these 2 chemicals. Appear to be trivial here but imagine there are many other terms (in Science, Engineering, Accounting etc) remain in BM but the business and science/engineering world are adopting the English words. Wrong use of terminology conveys the wrong meaning, and possibly disaster!!


  35. jamesloh18
    Jul 10, 2009 @ 19:47:41

    this morning i saw this ..10 tolak 5….in english.it is 10 PUSH 5…in my niece math exercise book?
    it was tick right by the teacher !

    any comments?


  36. Observant
    Jul 10, 2009 @ 20:15:34

    Unless we fix the problems of really teaching our teachers how to teach correctly, all switchings and flip floppings will still produce negative results. Teachers must be properly trained and nurtured in order to produce good students and it is of utmost importance that we pay good salary to attract good quality personnels to become good quality teachers.

    The main grouse is importance of English and we know our inadequancy and decline in the command of this International language. We want to improve our mastery of English and we want to be kept abreast about changes and new findings in Maths and Science,… hence the good intentioned change or switch to PPSMI. After 6 long years, we want to revert back to square one again but are we any wiser or are we going to continue the trial and error process?

    Hopefully, the Education Ministry will also do their homeworks and place top priorities in ensuring that they will not fail in this test again or we will have no excuses but can only say that we are not up to standard and is incapable.


  37. romerz
    Jul 10, 2009 @ 23:18:35

    Dear jamesloh18,

    You cannot make a literal translation from Malay to English to make sense of your question. You have to understand that there is no equivalent Malay word for ‘subtract’.

    Hence “10 tolak 5” is the closest in Malay to mean “from 10 push away 5” (correct me if I’m wrong native Malay speakers).

    In so far as languages are concerned, often times we make the mistake of making literal translations from the language we think in.

    It does not work that way. To me it is simply about practice and using it enough until it becomes second nature, depending on how much you want it to be.

    It is all about attitude as ‘anonymous of 2.48pm’ had said.

    I am an English educated Malaysian. I spoke Hokkien and English at home when I was growing up. My Malay then was only confined to listening but never spoken nor written.

    In 1996, I joined a work environment where 90% of my colleagues spoke Malay and my work also required me to speak and write in Malay (sometimes when my immediate boss was not available).

    The point I’m trying to make here is that today (after 10 years at that organization) I no longer fear speaking nor writing in Malay.

    To me language is all about communication and a necessity if you wish to understand and for as many others to understand you as possible.

    Unfortunately, language today in Malaysia has become an element of racial identity!

    I speak not one word of Mandarin but that does not make me any less of a global person nor Malaysian. Of course it is a regret but no more than that. I know I’m still ethnically Chinese and that is enough for me.

    Ultimately I know that with my command of Malay, I can get by in Malaysia and with my command of English, I can survive in most parts of the English speaking world (and that is a lot of real estate)!

    My deficiency in Mandarin? A point for friends and ultras to ridicule me but who cares? They are not the ones feeding me!

    The regret part (or should I say plus point)? I’m never tempted to go to a karaoke with ‘China doll’ GROs! I’m like a fish out of water there! Hahaha

    I would like to add that apart from attitude, this language debate is about ego and ethnic insecurities which frankly speaking has no more place in modern day Malaysia where we compromise practicality for ethnic pride!

    I always ask the detractors of my inability to speak Mandarin this; “Does my shit smell any less Chinese and different from yours?”


  38. romerz
    Jul 10, 2009 @ 23:33:27

    Dr Hsu,

    This posting by Khoo Kay Peng makes for interesting reading.


    On a personal note, I agree FULLY with his last sentence! And I say this with a heavy heart because I still consider KTK a friend but sadly lost in priorities!

    I guess he succumbed to sweet words from his eunuchs than those not interested in position nor power but for a better Malaysia!


  39. daffodils
    Jul 10, 2009 @ 23:48:20

    Imagine the amount of money going down the drain.

    The thousands of books in Chemistry, Biology, Physics, Mathematics, Additional Mathematics.General and Additional Science published in English under the Book Aid scheme and from Primary One till Six, Forms One till Form Five.

    Imagine the amount of money spent on training teachers to adapt to the syllabus in English under PPSMI policy and incentives given to teachers who teach Maths and Science in English.

    Imagine the amount of money spent on equipping teachers with courseware, laptops, LCDs and training teachers to use them.

    Imagine now the money that is going to be spent on publishing new books in Bahasa Melayu.

    Take into consideration the whole of Malaysia every state down to every district that has a certain number of schools under its jurisdiction. Do the Maths and one can see that it is indeed quite a colossal sum runnning into millions.

    It is very burdensome to change terms like hydoxylammonium sulphate, partition coefficient, disproportion, hybridization in Bahasa. So now Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka people now have to come up with booklets on glossary and terms in Bahasa.

    This is all so exasperating!

    Alright I agree that at the primary level the students be given the choice to study Mathematics and Science in their mother tongue or the national language but on reaching secondary level they should be in a state of readiness to study Mathematics and Science in English if the teaching of English is given emphasis at the primary level. Thank God at the form six and pre U level English is maintained as the language of instruction.


  40. Gary Yeoh
    Jul 11, 2009 @ 02:02:47

    UMNO in deciding the demise of PPSMI instead of recognizing the problem as that of poor implementation, exemplifies the crucial rot within UMNO/BN government. Sheer inability to recognize faults and more interested in politics and fattening their cronies. I can imagine the glee of many in “educational” enterprises. Just imagine the tons of books and new materials that will have to be produced by these changes.

    I have written before on the fallacy of vernacular (mother tongue) teaching as key requirement for learning. Enough evidence exist that children are much more able than parents will give them credit for. What holds them back is our lack of conviction of their abilities and our chauvinism.

    I had given up on commenting after my previous comments as I felt there is just too much chauvinism being displayed. However Dr. Hsu’s posting here and comments from Veon, Rhan, Justin and others give hope that if we pause and work from non-chauvinist angles, there can be hope for our children.

    We have to pray that those who care for our future generations will come off their chauvinist and political tendencies to work towards a better educational system than what we have now.

    There is much potential in Dr Hsu’s remarks of first 3 yrs in “mother tongue”, with PPSMI moving forward and flexibility for less linguistically able students. We should avoid tendencies in assuming superiority of education by language/cultural definitions. The rise and fall of civilizations should be a warning against bigotry.

    English for the foreseeable future has to figure in our nation’s ability to compete. I hope we will not be fooled by the charades of politicians and chauvinist educationalist of whatever persuasions.


  41. Chauncey Gardener
    Jul 11, 2009 @ 02:53:09

    In the next 2 or 3 decades, the global language will be both English & Mandarin. It won’t be Bahasa Malaysia.

    I am not sure what market intelligence sources the Cabinet subscribes to OR perhaps they choose not to listen BUT the future of economic growth in Malaysia is at stake.

    Otherwise, be content by being the FDI community’s less-preferred stop OR going back to an agri-based economy.

    After all, how much demand is there for a BM call center ?


  42. vsvsv
    Jul 11, 2009 @ 04:24:50

    They are going to confuse our children teaching, they are going to use up more money and they are all going to make our children less capable in the global world. But hey….they not complaining? Why should they? They have money and they already sent their kids oversea for study.

    Malaysian…or more precisely malay brothers….you are all so pathetic. You cannot see your young putras and puteris are being victimised now while you all still supports them. How ironic and pathetic…Those rich UMNO sons and daughters going to rule you all while your children will be under them…

    BTW, let’s do a study….see how many MPs sent their kids oversea or international schools? Why sent them oversea for study? Isn’t our education system not good enough for them…Are they taking bahasa over there in Math and Science??Geez…I thought they said our education system now the best fomula for our young ones….

    For those who support this changes here…pls don argue here….go and ask those MPs, Dato Dato, where they send their kids for studying now…I don’t want any answer…I already can smell fish


  43. klm
    Jul 11, 2009 @ 10:58:08

    Dr. Hsu. Have you got back as Gerakan’s education bureau chairman as per Malaysian Insider?

    What happened to the invisible one?


  44. Dr Hsu
    Jul 11, 2009 @ 12:29:35

    I am no more the education bureau head.

    I resigned a few days after accepting the position initially( accepting the position was a mistake on my part and that proves that i am human like all others), precisely because i can see this thing happening and i need to voice out my own opinion which may be different from party top leadership.

    Precisely because I think Gerakan memebrs need someone to voice out differently from their top leaders. SOmeone who can articulate certain views from the public without worrying about toeing party lines. ( I am ready to face any consequence if there is any).

    That article in Malaysian Insider, ( http://www.themalaysianinsider.com/index.php/malaysia/32011-bn-parties-divided-over-english-u-turn- ), was from Singapore Straits Times, which may not know that I am no longer the bureau head.


  45. A true Malaysian
    Jul 11, 2009 @ 14:22:59

    Dr. Hsu,

    This article of yours is published in The Malaysian Insider, where you are also a columnist.


    The thing is that, The Malaysian Insider introduces you, at the end of the article as “The writer is a central committee member of Party Gerakan.”

    This introduction is conveying a wrong signal to the readers that your view represents that of your party’s. (I hope it is not a ‘spin’).

    Why can’t they also mention you as a blogger who run this forum?


  46. Dr Hsu
    Jul 11, 2009 @ 14:37:51

    ATM, it really does not matter as long as the message gets across.

    SOmetimes it may have a bigger impact that the view of a member of a component party goes against the coalition.

    Like in this case, Singapore Straits Times carried it in their report because they think it is a dissenting view.

    If it is a dissenting view from just a blogger, it may never be picked up. The impact on the top leadership is much greater, and the pressure on them greater if someone from component party speaks against the policy.

    Political parties are jsut tools to achieve certain aims. If we can use their platform to achieve change, why not? To be a member of a component party, you do not have to campaign for the big Brother, while your criticism against the big brother will be more painful and bite deeper.

    That is why I am still inside the party fighting for change, partly because of the mandate from the members to become a third force ( a sense of responsibility to those who elected me) and partly because of this ability to cause headache and exert pressure on our leadership…

    And as i have mentioned before, I am not a politician , and if I am not a politician, it does not matter where I am since i do not need to campaign for anyone.

    My ultimate goal is still to influence it to go out and be truthful to its original ideology. BUt that goal looks slimmer with our Head being made a minister. BUt if he cannot deliver what he promised inside, then we will have bullets to force the issue. TO have a thorn like me inside is indeed a big headache, and he has been pushing hard to push the top to change, and some changes can be seen. Any change will be good since we have reached rock bottom, and next GE is still 3 plus years down the road.

    As I have said, it would in fact be much easier for me to just quit and been an ordinary blogger, no need to face hostility within the party from certain sectors as well as being criticised by people who are outside (getting brickbats from both sides).That may be my heretic view, and i am known to be a non-conformist and heretic.

    I am not bothered because I am not after anything except for a better and fairer society. And I am using my ability, ( to write, to articulate , to think ), to achieve this aim….


  47. A true Malaysian
    Jul 11, 2009 @ 16:00:26

    True enough, Dr. Hsu. Perhaps you are the only one voice up dissenting views in BN platform. My point is that, the introduction is not reflecting the whole truth of who you are. For fairer reporting, they should in fact ‘copy and paste’ this forum link as part of the introduction so as to present a better perspective of where you stand to the readers. From the comments posted, I can see many of the readers are unaware of your blog here.

    This shift in policy, as far as I am concerned, is mainly due to pressure of the Malay intellectual groups more than anything else. Perhaps, they should substitute this with making English as a compulsory pass subject in examinations, to showcase they are serious in lifting the standard of English amongst our students. Only then, I can say the shift in this policy due to “genuine” reasons.


  48. Dr Hsu
    Jul 11, 2009 @ 16:16:49

    What we need , as many commentators have said, is to overhaul the whole system. I heard they are going to get teachers from Australia, UK and NZ. It could be expensive, but compared to PKFZ, it would be nothing.

    So if they can practice good governance and save money to spend on teachers from overseas to teach English properly, and make English a compulsory subject, and bring back mertocracy, it will be an important first step.

    I would like to hear from Monk and cilipadi, they have not commented on this issue.


  49. Daddy Parenting Tips
    Jul 11, 2009 @ 17:55:23

    My daughter is less than 2 years old and she can understand both English and Japanese, and later will introduce Malay, Mandarin and Cantonese.


    I can’t see why we cannot take 1 step forward to integrate the BM textbooks few years back with the current English science and maths text books. Its a lot of effort, but why move backward instead of forward. We can allow students to use either English or BM to answer in the exams as long as the maths and science principles are correct.

    Some good will surely come out of the dialectics at work between both languages instead of choosing either one. We need new advancements. We need Malaysia Boleh. Not some power struggle between languages.

    When will Malaysia advance and not hold on to race and language as stumbling blocks but embrace our differences as advantages?


  50. cilipadi
    Jul 12, 2009 @ 01:30:11

    Hahaha, someone has no “ump” without cilipadi for his meals.

    I see this switch as one “flip-flop” or many flip-flops. This flip-flop is another political game and income generating stunt for them. The only consideration is to remain in power and disregard people’s interest. Their kids are not affected anyway.

    There is no such thing as “Accountability” in their politics. They can do what they deem fit so long as they continue to be in power.

    Flip makan cili, Flop rasa pedas


  51. Trackback: Compendium of Me » Blog Archive » Of Teaching Science and Mathematics in English

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