A bold education experiment and success story

In the sixties, when I went to my alma mater, Chung Ling, it was not an elite school.

Penang in the sixties were not like today. Not much of cars; most people took bus to work or to schools. Life was slow paced, there were plenty of bicycles and trishaws around . Most people knew their neighbours very well;  during festive seasons, exchanges of kueh and food  among neighbours were common. The past time after dinner was not TVs , but to sit in front of the house and watch the world go by.

At that time, most people sent thier children to English schools, and the elite schools in Penang were the Penang Free School (PFS), St Xaviers, and MBS.

ALthough the middle and middle lower class of  Chinese Malaysians in Penang sent their children to Chinese primary schools, the elite Chinese tend to sent their chidlren to English schools and overseas education, meaning Britain, after that.  Even among those who went to Chinese primary schools, many continued their secondary education in English secondary schools.

Chung Ling was about the only subsidised Chinese High School for boys in the Island in those days. ( Penang Chinese Girls High School was for girls). Han Chiang was an independent High School and was struggling at that time to survive, because enrolment was small. There was a  Phor Thay HIgh School which was a very small co-ed Buddhist High school

So most of those who wished their children to continue in Chinese stream after finishing Chinese Primary schools sent their children either to Chung Ling or Penang Chinese Girls High School depending on the gender.

When I entered Chung Ling, my year had 13 classes, each had about 45 students.  Jewels as well as  rubbish, including this writer,  were accepted as long as they met the minimum requirements.

Among the students were children of hawkers, newspapers vendors, labourers, odd job workers, teachers, shopkeepers, washing ladies etc etc etc. Most of these students , including myself, had practically no contact with English before starting school.  (no TV then)

There were some who were from rich families (like the VIP I mentioned in the last post), but these were in the minorities. In the morning, most went to schools by foot or by bus. Very few had the luxury of being sent to schools in private cars. You do not find the jam that happens in front of most schools nowadays in those days.

Initially, I had to walk to school, from Reservoir Garden where I stayed to the High School in Kampong Baru, about 20 minutes walk. Later, I had the luxury of being given a bicycle by my dad ( a joy that lasted me for so many weeks), a Pheonix Brand bicycle from China, and from that time onwards, I cycled to school. In fact the bicycle was still with me when I came down KL to work in the eighties, and I maintained it till it was given away to my gardener a few years ago ( who had been pestering me to give him the bike for so long), when I decided( or rather my wife decided) that at my age, to ride a bicycle in PJ or KL was like  trying to invite disaster to happen.

Sorry for the sidetrack, and now back to the topic.

I was trying to tell my readers that at that time the school was like “rojak” and full of rubbish materials. The problem facing the school was how to turn these ‘rubbish’ into useful materials.

I had a classmate who had to deliver newsapapers every morning before coming to work. I had a classmate who had to work in the afternoon at a Kway Teow Stall to help his family. Not to mention the many of them who wore patched up uniforms to school . In those days, when there was a hole in your shirt, you just asked your mum to sew a small patch of unwanted cloth over  to cover the hole. Most had no pocket money to spend during recess, and most of us drank straight from the tap.

Of course, in a ‘rojak’, you also had the rare rich guys who were children of some rubber magnates who would come to school in chaffeur-driven Mercs. Most of these were sons of directors of the school board.

Those times in Penang were not unlike some of the rural areas in Malaysia now.

The point I am trying to put across is that despite all these hardship and handicaps, most of my  form mates ( not just classmates) made it in lives. IN my batch, there were more than 15 doctors, many lawyers, countless engineers and accountants, universities lecturers , professors etc etc etc

 I still have a souvenir book on our 25 year get-together anniversary held in Rasa Sayang Penang some years Back. Most of the form mates were doing well. Many were overseas but took the trouble to come back for the reunion. Coming up will be our 40 year anniversay, and I expect to see many coming back from abroad. Many, sad to say, have also migrated to the other world.

The success of them, many from very poor families, illustrates (or at least supports ) the success of my school’s policy in using English to teach Science and mAths, despite being a CHinese secondary school.

I am just one of the thousand success stories from my school, and most of these guys were from poor families. The guy that delivered newspapers graduated from MU with engineering degree and had been with RRI for so many years and he had finally retired. Both  my parents were teachers and so you can classify me as middle class but teachers in those days had no side income from tuition and were considered one of the poorer professions.

Some of them, from lower middle class families, now  head multinationals, including Motorola, Infineon, George Kent etc.

The success of my school in the 60s slowly made it into an elite school and perhaps in the mid 70s, it had become one, along side with PFS, St Xaviers, MBS and so on. But during  my time, it was not.

I write these to emphasize the points made in my last post –” teach Maths and Scinece in English at secondary level”– that the  experience from my school, which was actually a bold experiemnt,  can be used an example to show the whole nation that teaching of Science and Maths in English at secondary level do have an advantage. It would better prepare the students for tertiary level.

This is not empty talks only, but real results from a bold experiment carried out by a school board which was farsighted and dared to go agianst the tide of the Chinese Chauvinists who actually criticised the  policy to use English to teach Science and Maths in my school.

In medicine, we treat illness based on evidence based experience. In real life, we can also use evidence based success story to treat the ailment in our education system.

P.S. I am spending time writing these last 2 posts out of my genuine concern about the direction of our education policy. There is nothing more important than education if we want our nation to move forward and not be marginalised, and for future generations to achieve the upward mobility that is the hallmark of developed society.


28 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Taikohtai
    Jul 11, 2009 @ 15:02:46

    Much has been discussed about the pros and cons of teaching Science and Maths in English or in Bahasa. But I think most educators would agree with me that the whole school system in Malaysia needs to be overhauled, from primary to university levels and beyond.
    Malaysia sorely needs to be competitive by world standards. I read recently that some educators here were lamenting that Australia’s standards are falling behind!If that is the case, then Malaysia must be way, way behind and it does not auger well for the future generations.
    So, do not just focus on what language of instructions is to be used but what sort of education is essential for the country to move forward.


  2. Dr Hsu
    Jul 11, 2009 @ 15:32:07


    Yes, the whole system needs to be overhauled.

    We cannot use other people’s method blindly. Do you know why grammer is not taught in English lesson? Because some educators argue that in Britain, Grammar is not taught,. They fail to realise that in Britain, English is their mother tongue and there is no need to teach grammer.

    The whole thing is related to lack of meritocracy.

    When there is no meritocracy, the end product is mediocre teachers and mediocre planners and mediocre course directors, and mediocre syllabus producers.

    They produce even worse products and the whole things just feed on itself,. One generation is worse than the other, and ultimately, what we have now is like the blind leading the blind.

    But language is also important for students who wish to have the upward mobility which is the hall mark of advanced developed country. SOme one just mentioned the example of Sweden where everyone speaks good English beside their own language.


  3. aca
    Jul 11, 2009 @ 16:46:32

    can we have ministers who have a bit more of brains? what jack is this 1Malaysia.

    my daughter is in form 1 now. by 2012, she would have 9 years of science and math in english. and then the switch to BM for these 2 subjects and that is just 2 years before the critical SPM. goodness, did the the pea-sized brains cabinet minister led by what the jack 1Malaysia has any thoughts or concern on these students who will need the time to readjust to the new medium of instruction and more so with all the terminologies to grasp. they never understand nor feel coz all their kids are in private or international schools or better still boarding schools in London or Australia. Am i right, Najib and Hishamuddin?


  4. Dr Hsu
    Jul 11, 2009 @ 16:50:55

    I have just conveyed this point to certain people of influence, and from feedback, apparently they have realised that this is a big mistake.

    This is an act without thinking, I agree totally!


  5. Meng
    Jul 11, 2009 @ 18:30:31

    Dr Hsu If they can think we would not be in this present situation…rubbish. Rubbish bag not full yet. Many more rubbish to come


  6. Disgusted
    Jul 11, 2009 @ 22:28:55

    This country has a “zoo” and a “garbage dump”. So how do you expect this country to progress far?


  7. aca
    Jul 11, 2009 @ 22:56:24

    dr hsu,

    thanks for your effort but my wife and I have decided enough is enough with these pea-sized brains ministers and not-to-rock reps from MCA and Gerakan. we will break the bank just to send her to a private school. afterall, you never know what these ministers will do since whatever decisions made will never affects their priviledge children.


  8. aca
    Jul 11, 2009 @ 23:07:39


    just a point. i am not totally against the change to BM though my preference is for english. Its their thoughtless decision, never measure the impact on those affected by their decision.

    by the way, look at the composition of the cabinet members. goodness, how many are really intellectually inclined? compared that with s’pore. should we be surprise that we are lagging terribly with such inferior quality ministers running this country?


  9. klm
    Jul 11, 2009 @ 23:50:55


    You should do what a friend of mine did. He took his son out after form 3 and sent him to do O level, by passing SPM. O level is well accepted. Save the money for another 2 years and used it for sending her to a university elsewhere.


  10. Meng
    Jul 12, 2009 @ 00:14:55

    More money for english tutors and private colleges.

    Don’t worry folks the chinese students can adapt themselves well in all situation, come what may !!

    Relax …except that their fathers have to pour out more money , we have been doing that all along, haven’t we ?.

    A time will come when the malays will fight for more english lessons. It runs in a circle.


  11. aca
    Jul 12, 2009 @ 10:18:49


    thanks for the advice. will consider.


  12. jason
    Jul 12, 2009 @ 11:34:26

    Dr Hsu,
    I alsmost vomitted when I read this morning star and nst online newspaper.

    What do you think our stupid gerakan youth chief is trying to do?
    I am really confused as the CC meeting decided on thing but he is saying something else.




  13. jason
    Jul 12, 2009 @ 11:35:01



  14. jason
    Jul 12, 2009 @ 11:37:17

    Dr Hsu,
    please delete this if I have posted earlier (comment did not come out)

    Can you please give me your view what is our gerakan youth chief trying to do?
    I can sense that there is something wrong with him (i.e. his head).
    He can tell one reporter one thing and another reporter something else.

    See NST and Star online today.


  15. clearwater
    Jul 12, 2009 @ 11:59:18

    Dr Hsu,

    As a trained medical doctor, you know how to treat ailments. As trained dogs, our BN/Umno politicians only know how to bodek their masters. I cannot believe that no one in the cabinet spoke out for English for Maths and Science in Secondary schools. Or do they have peanut size brains and pea size balls that they dare not voice a different opinion.

    We are aware it does not affect their children, many are in private schools and are sent overseas ultimately for tertiary education no matter what intellect they inherited. This is what sickens me. Their collective hypocrisy and double dealing. May they be blessed with 7 generations of first born with a unique inability to master English.


  16. jason
    Jul 12, 2009 @ 12:04:18

    Sunday July 12, 2009
    Gerakan Youth wants leniency for suspended veep Huan

    GEORGE TOWN: Gerakan Youth central committee members want the three-year suspension of party vice-president Huan Cheng Guan reduced.

    Sources said most of the youth central committee felt that a suspension of between six months and one year would be more appropriate considering Huan’s contributions to the party over the past 19 years.

    The matter was brought up for discussion during the national youth central committee meeting held at the party headquarters in Kuala Lumpur yesterday.

    It is learnt that an appeal letter is being drafted to be handed over to the party’s central working committee.

    However, the letter, detailing feedback and responses gathered from the Youth central committee members during the meeting, must be vetted by Youth chief Lim Si Pin.

    The letter is expected to be ready by next week.

    While admitting that Huan’s outburst had tarnished the party’s image, many regarded the suspension period as too harsh.

    “The suspension would kill off his political career,” said one of the committee members.

    Meanwhile, Lim, when contacted, admitted there was a discussion pertaining to the party’s disciplinary matters during the meeting.

    “However, we did not discuss any matters related to Huan. His suspension was brought up during the meeting as an example since we had a discussion on the disciplinary matters.

    “It was a mixed reaction as some committee members felt it was too harsh while there were others who felt otherwise,” he said.


  17. jason
    Jul 12, 2009 @ 12:07:15

    Looks like gerakan youth chief try to bluff the media……..can sense that most of his Central Committee disagree with his action to backstab Huan!


  18. klm
    Jul 12, 2009 @ 14:46:06

    Teaching Science and Maths In English – Another Perspective

    1. Why English?
    There are about 500,000 words in the Oxford English dictionary. There are 1 million words if one include scientific and technical terms.

    In contrast, there are 49,000 entries in Kamus Dewan. Therefore,it is very challenging to use BM to describe the concepts and science of the technological civilization that we are in.

    A language with 49,000 words is definitely inadequate to handle the technological civilisation we are in. Even, the French language with about 200,000 word is finding it a big challenge to stop the onslaught of English.

    2. English is not one language

    I would like to suggest that modern English is not one language but it is made up of many distinct and different sub languages based on a common structure. Each sub language uses words defined and known in each community of interest. Unlike the ancient time words evolved by geographic regions, today words evolved by community of interest. Words are defined and adapted by each community of interest without regard of geography or linguistic origin. But they all end up in the universal English language of the community of interest.

    Take the word Tsunami. It is of Japanese origin. But it had been adopted by the science community as an English word to describe the super wave phenomenon.

    3. Structure of contemporary English

    We can view contemporary English structure as one with common language base and silos of usage for different community of interests.

    +———-++———++———- ++——+
    |—-Englishg Grammar and Structure——–//–|

    English in one community of interest may not be comprehensible to another community of interest.

    4. Teaching of English

    Therefore the teaching of English requires:

    (1) teaching the grammar and structure of he language. This is what the new policy promised

    (2) teaching the words and knowledge of each community of interest. This is what the new policy withdrew.

    If Malaysia is to part of the world community, then we need our students to deal with both. Unfortunately, our politicians dont seem to see the picture in totality.

    A good compromise solution is like what our good doctor prescribed. Teach maths and science in secondary school. That way, hopefully, both the language structure and knowledge can be imparted and have a more holistic solution.


  19. Lu Lu
    Jul 12, 2009 @ 15:34:39

    “Chung Ling was about the only subsidised Chinese High School for boys in the Island in those days. ( Penang Chinese Girls High School was for girls). Han Chiang was an independent High School and was struggling at that time to survive, because enrolment was small. There was a Phor Thay HIgh School which was a very small co-ed Buddhist High school…….”


    I was greatly impressed by your article titled “A bold education experiment and success story”. Regarding the above quoted paragraph, allow me to add a few words:

    1. Besides Chung Ling, Chung Hwa Confucian was another subsidized Chinese secondary school for boys in those days.
    2. At that time, Chung Ling Independent High school was already established to cater to the needs of Chinese education.
    3. Phor Tay High School was never a co-ed school until recently when it moved to its new site.
    4. When talking about Chinese secondary schools for girls, we should not leave out Dato Keramat Road Convent High school.
    5. Strictly speaking, other than the independent schools, these so-called Chinese high school were not Chinese schools, as the medium of instruction was not Chinese. To be more correct, they were simply national-type secondary schools. However, according to the 1996 Education Act, these national-type secondary school(SMJK) now do not exist anymore. They are all national secondary schools(SMK).

    Lu Lu


  20. Disgusted
    Jul 12, 2009 @ 21:16:21

    You think the Cabinet ministers is really worried about their children being affected by the local system and the switch? Just check how many of the Cabinet children are already studying overseas even before matriculation.

    Guinea pigs? Not the children of the rich, powerful and almighty in bolehland.


  21. a gerakan member
    Jul 13, 2009 @ 00:24:48

    it is very clear that Lim Keng Yaik’s son tried to bluff the press but was caught by the press.
    It is very embarassing and it is this type of leader in gerakan that bring shame to the party.

    Everyone knows that Huan and Keng Yaik son is dead enemy now. Obviously, his CC member does not agree with him. So, he try to cover up the resolution in the CC meeting. But someone leak it out to the press…….my guess would be Huan’s people in the youth CC…..maybe from Penang.

    Dr Hsu, do you agree with my analysis?


  22. clearwater
    Jul 13, 2009 @ 09:27:10

    Disgusted and fellow commentators,

    Is there any way we can get hold of information on where and which school cabinet ministers children up to SPM level are studying and make it public? It is not a nice thing to do but if they screw around with our education system as if their children are not at all affected, they deserve to be exposed for the hypocrites they are. Of course the cabinet ministers can volunteer such information and I will applaud any one who does, starting with the 1Minister.


  23. annoyed
    Jul 13, 2009 @ 10:24:38

    They can screw-up every system. With the money, the can go,

    private school for EDUCATION
    overseas for HEALTH CARE
    overseas for HOLIDAYS
    gated residential or free police service for SECURITY
    overseas for SAVING

    there is no check and balance to these zombies. They can go what they like. At end of day, they still have pockets full of money.


  24. Dr Hsu
    Jul 13, 2009 @ 10:54:26

    Lu Lu
    Thanks for pointing out what my memory has failed.. I remember the Chinese Covent for girls in Dato Keramat. But is there a Chung Hwa in Penang (Penang Island I mean) at my time? There is a Jit Sin which during my time was just started?Perhaps you can elaborate on this?

    A gerakan memebr,
    I do not know about the youth meeting since I am not youth anymore

    But as I have said before, in Huan case, we should decide on the merits and demerits of his action in this instance and not drag his personality or things which happened many months back into this.

    the party can expell him if the leaders think he is beyond redemption, but if they think he should not be expelled and should only be suspended, it means that he can be rehabilitated. If they think he can be rehabilitated because he is young, why suspend him 3 years (which is in effect expelling him)? The same purpose can be achieved by a one year suspension.

    I do not even know him well, I am only talkig based on the merits and demerits of this case.

    Unfortunately, in politics, when they consider any action, they always think of their own interest first, not on justice based on the mertis of the case. That is why I am not a poitician, just an volunteer social worker inside trying to voice out to try to change certain mindsets.


  25. Lu Lu
    Jul 13, 2009 @ 12:48:05

    Dr. Hsu,

    Chung Hwa Confucian School opened its secondary classes as early as 1924 at Maxwell Road(present Komtar site). In 1972 it was moved to its present premises at Island Park and renamed Chung Hwa Confucian High School. Earlier I presumed that Chung Hwa Confucian Secondary School was already a government-aided school in the 60s. I might be wrong. No doubt it was under the administration of the school’s board of governors during the early years. But since when it became a government-aided secondary school I am not sure.

    Lu Lu


  26. Lung
    Jul 13, 2009 @ 13:10:25

    Yes, it worked then & may well work now, i.e. teach Science & Maths at secondary level but can there be a better way?

    I believe that English should be taught in primary level as well. For one, we should recognise the ability of young minds to learn & adapt at a tender age.

    Then there’s the internet, which did not exist then. We need to nuture at an earlier age, the ability to think, read & communicate in English & therefore tap into the vast store of knowledge in the virtual world.

    Time is of the essence here, it is never too early. Start at primary level. Shouldn’t we start another “bold experiment” now?

    I am from the old school, studied in the days of the “English” schools. I have seen with a heavy heart what we have lost as a nation through the years.

    I shall not accept status quo & I am ashamed that I had failed to lift a finger earlier in whatever small way that I could have. No more shall I sit idle.


  27. A true Malaysian
    Jul 13, 2009 @ 14:34:53

    Dr. Hsu,

    Your article here brings me down memory lane. We cycled to school, studied in ‘rojak’ school, mixed with ‘rojak’ school mates, wore shocks with holes, no computers and lousy facilities. But, we succeed because of :-

    a) Dedicated teachers
    b) Meritocracy was there
    c) Perseverance and hard work, and of course
    d) no or lesser politics in schools

    Come to think of this, material or physical development that the country achieved do no collaborate with mental or intellectual development, mainly due to political landscape that slant toward privileged group of Malaysians which make corruption thrive, tidak apa attitude and “brain drain” that is happening every moment now.

    I would prefer my children to have those “rojak” environment that we had gone through, not now with pea size brain governors who don’t thin far, good in flip-flop decisions.

    Lousy politics culture is the one raping Malaysia. Let’s us stop these raping.


  28. Samson
    Jul 14, 2009 @ 06:18:53

    Dear Dr.Hsu,

    Without knowing your background, and just from your articles and posting, I would have concurred that you had a sound education in the English language. Apart from your mastery of other laguages, I would not have imagined that you were schooled in a Chinese medium environment. (This is now not apparent in this generation.)

    Alas, I have met many present graduates from your alma mater who would find it difficult to string a sentence in English without glaring violations of grammar, vocabulary and even spelling! How would we even contemplate teaching any other subject (but English) in English without first mastering the language. I shall not even bring up the disparity of rural schools.

    If you can come out with a solution to first educate the present group of educators, then perhaps we can hope for a light beyond the tunnel.


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