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