Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Learning English without knowing Grammar

The Minister of Education was shocked when he learnt that students need not pass the English paper to get a Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia certificate(SPM). He was also shocked that English grammar was no longer taught in school. SPM is a public examination for students who have completed 5 years of secondary school education in Malaysian education system. Since 2000,a pass in English has never been compulsory for SPM, a pass in Bahasa Malaysia was mandatory to get the certificate. The decline of English in Malaysian school have been the debate for some time, it is surprising that the Minister was not aware of it.

The SPM examination did not give due credit to English in SPM examination, it was not formally recognized as subject of importance, yet teaching of science and mathematics in English was the important agenda of the Ministry for some time. How can a student with poor English understand the language of instruction for science and mathematics?. In the end , they are poor in English, as well as failed in science and mathematics due to the reason that are not able to understand the subjects. The system killed the talent of the students, who may not good in English , but are good in science and mathematics. The medium of instruction for science and mathematics can only be in English, if the students are good in English. That means the teaching of English need to be strengthen since the first year in primary school.

The education has actually go backward due to many changes implemented by the education ministry for whatever names they called it. It seems that the Education Ministers in the past are fond of changing, but the end of the day, there were no improvement in the education. Our standard of English is at low level compared with Singapore, Hong Kong, India... I still remember in the old days, our English teachers were in good demand in Singapore and Hong Kong. The English of China and many Asian countries are improving, and yet we had lost our competitive advantage in English , which had been established since the colonial days. The English language is actually the heritage of the new nation when we obtained independence from Britain. The living heritage has been lost long long ago; when English is a global language, and yet we did not placed value on it. We were in the English speaking environment during the colonial days, yet today only KL/PJ, and Penang can retained some of the language heritage. It is a sad story.....and yet the ministry is not aware of it? The poor English was the result of policy changes in the ministry.

One of the remedy to improve the standard of English implemented by the education ministry, was to implement the policy of teaching science and mathematics in English in 2003; yet English grammar teaching was not strengthen in the English subject. The country still remained in Communication English level. The English standard was not even fit for the tourist guide. The teaching of science and mathematics in English was facing with opposition from Malay educationists and as well as Chinese educationists.

The most interesting feedback of the issue , is none other than our former Prime Minister Dr. M, who said " English was a necessary component for students to get good jobs once they leaves school, or for them to go oversea for further education nowadays". This was a fair comment. But the most surprising comment was , when asked about the possibility that the teaching of science and mathematics in English will be scrapped; Dr M commented " I feel very sorry. In future, all Malays and Malaysian will be stupid"(source: The Star, 9-6-2009). I was so shock, and thought that it may be a printing error in the newspaper, I checked the Chinese newspaper, it reported the same wordings. Note: Dr M was the Education Minister appointed in 1975,and was the Prime Minister 1981-2003.

He was the one who introduced the Look East Policy, sending students to Japan to study, that included the study of science and mathematics. He forgot that Japanese students studied science and mathematics with their own mother tongue, Japanese. The students sent to Japan needed to study the subjects in Japanese. Have the students he sent to Japan when he was the Minister and Premier , become stupid when study science and mathematics in Japanese, not English?. Dr M may also know the standard of science and mathematics in Japan, the few Asian scientists from Japan who have won Nobel Prize are from the schools who teach science and mathematics in Japanese. They are not stupid.....

Look at Korea, China, Taiwan........ they all teach science and mathematics in their own mother tongues. They are not stupid, their students won many international prizes in science and mathematics. How about the German, the Scandinavian....they used their mother tongues to teach science and mathematics, they are not stupid...

Looking at the history, our English medium schools were phased out from January 1970, and by 1982 these schools became Malay medium school or national schools. Did the students become stupid because they study science and mathematics in Malay ? We still have students from this generation who become doctors, engineers, scientists.....the only weakness is, the poor English of this generation......

The ministry allowed the establishment of private schools that followed British education system, first for foreigners, but later open to local students. Many of the rich Malaysian (including the ministers) sent their kids to the private English school. This is just similar to the reopen of the English medium school(which was closed in 1982), but this time only the rich can study in English school,but prior to 1982, all Malaysian(even the poor) can study in English schools(it was then a choice for the parents out of English, Malay and Chinese schools), some of them were run by the Christian missionary. Why this happen, is English teaching only for the upper class?

Where is the confidence of the person, and the government who implemented all changes in the education policies; changed the English street names, all with the excuse of national interest; who belittle English in their education policy and yet sent their own children to schools which followed British education system? Many of Minister of Education were later on become Prime Minister, they change the education policies. Now look at the standard of English? They were educated in English school, they should know the importance of English language in the world. To rectify their mistake, they introduced another mistake, teaching of science and mathematics in English, instead of improving the actual English teaching in school(no grammar teaching for so long?)....

Did Dr M forgot his days as Minister of Education and Prime Minister(who is the leader of the cabinet)?

“It is more like politics than education. They are not interested in education or acquiring knowledge. All they want to see is how many votes they can win. So I am afraid the country will go to the dogs,”(The Stars,9-6-2009). This is the comment by Dr M, and he has answered for us and provided the right clue on what happen in the Ministry all these years......

I agreed with him on his comment but it apply to the the ministry, and not the people who provide the feedback to oppose the teaching of science and mathematics in English; I did not agree on his comment that we will become stupid if we did not study science and mathematics in English.For information, the opposition voices are from people who are directly involved in education, not the politician; unlike the Minister of Education who are politician( lawyers, doctors.....and not educationists).

Are we going to change again? please go back to the basic, the education is for the good of future generation, it is not the place for experiments. The needs of the people for their future generations should be the deciding factors for any policy changes in education. Education is for the good of people's future generation, any changes should be for the good of the people( who voted to form the government that execute policies that benefit them, and for the good of their children education) .......the people are not stupid, they know what they want...

Further readings:
1. Education in Malaysia, www.wikipedia.org
2. " The medium of instruction debate in Malaysia" by Peter K.W. Tan, which can be easily download or read in the net

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