Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Stop Use of English for Teaching Science & Maths?

The debate's still going on as some politicians are considering discarding the use of English to teach Science and Maths in schools because rural students can't keep up.  If you're interested go to: http://www.jeffooi.com/MT3/mt-comments.cgi?entry_id=4163 and read the comments.  Not to be left out, I had put in my opinions as well.  I don't want to see another generation of misfits who may find it difficult to survive in the job market due to their lack of communication skills caused by the see-saw decision makers.


I was schooled in St Xavier's Inst Penang, from 1960-1970 while my siblings went to the local SRJK (Chinese).  It wasn't my choice.  I had to bear the taunts of the neighborhood kids who called me "angmo sai" (red-haired (man's) faeces) for as long as I care to remember.  I knew I needed an education, so I looked beyond the village boundaries and kept going.  No narrow-minded, chauvinistic, name-calling villager was going to stop me from that.

In terms of communication with my family we could converse in Teochew, but it has it's limitations.  I could not articulate with them in theological, theoretical dialogues or other complicated issues.  I also discovered I had switched to thinking in English.  I managed to learn the basics of Mandarin, but learning and practising are totally different things.  With my "westernized'"and "christianized" influence I was sometimes in conflict with my family.  It took me many years into my adult life before I realized it was my "western forthrightness" that didn't go well with my peers who were mostly Chinese educated.  On the other hand, I discovered I could socialize more easily with members of other races or nationalities.

By the time my kids came along there were no more English schools, otherwise I was prepared to deal with the problems they'd have to face.  At least we'd still speak the same language at home.  Then came the day I had to make a choice for them.  I had no way to find out exactly what's in store if I sent them to national schools.  The things we heard about in the way they're managed weren't exactly encouraging.  Tales of prejudice, discrimination, gangsterism and discipline problems abound.  My fear was that I would put them through a worse precadiment than what I had to face as a kid.  We had no way of knowing the truth of those tales.  So, to be on the safe side I chose SRJK(C).  They were practically on their own since both parents were English educated.

For secondary school, I let them make their own choices.  They were accepted into "choice" national schools which offered places only to those from SRJK(C) with excellent results.  I am happy that they'd done well.  As with my own parents and siblings, we still couldn't go to intellectual levels of discussions at home, but so be it.  Their English is “SMS level” while my Mandarin is only usable at home.  It is good enough to be able to deal with daily issues.  The knowledge gap can be narrowed in time to come.  The basic foundation must be in place.  This is most important to us. 

I hope this story from a non-intellectual speaks for itself.  I know what it is like being caught in between - without the mental capacity to be equally good in a few languages, all of which seemingly important to you.  You just can afford to pick on one and be very good at it.  I hope no self-styled nationalist misinteprets it for the sake of arguing for his own agenda.  What we want is for our national leaders to decide and live with a decision and overcome whatever problems that come up from there.  Not to keep coming up with new ideas after every change of leadership. 

This is not to advocate that we bring English back as a main medium of education nor is it to promote Chinese schools.  What we hope to see is a pragmatic approach to our education system and the will to implement and see it through without turning back whenever we see problems.  And above all, to see beyond race and religion while making and implementing these decisions.



  1. May be that was a bad choice on you by mum and dad before but you did made a good one....

  2. I think it was neither good nor bad. It was my destiny... hahaha...I wouldn't go back and start again on a different route anyway. And it was mum who decided.

  3. I have apply to St Xavier's primary school for my first son already since 1 year ago.Although ppl like to said the bad thing in English study ,that i really never to change my choice.My english is not well so that i think my son can "backup" me .I know i am hard to communication with ppl by english,that why i am terminate my studying at London within 9 month after my Diploma(Degree of Electronic Enginering) . Some ppl said that if you have problem to communicate by english better no need to go because they teaching by oral method and you must write by hand.

  4. It's a tough choice. And the whole world's rushing to learn chinese because china's becoming world's no.1 market place. But the chinese themselves are learning english as fast as they can. So, i think you have made a good choice for your son. He can always take extra lessons in chinese. But don't forget, St Xavier's is not an english school anymore.....

  5. I was given a choice to choose a Chinese or English school. My mom drove me to both schools and asked me to choose. My decision was based solely on how good the school looked, so I ended up in a national school. Did I regret the decision? How would I know?

    About the teaching science and maths in English or Malay - to me, either way works fine. I studied them in Malay and had no problems continuing it in English. Some translation is needed but that is not a difficult feat, provided my Math foundation is good to begin with. So this is more of a question of how well it was taught. After all, Math can be considered a language by itself and Science is described in equations.

    Pythagoras' theorem is x^2 + y^2 = z^2.

    If I ask you to solve (a + b)(a + b), you're still going to give me a^2 + 2ab + b^2.

    What do you call these numbers in Malay (these are prime numbers): 1, 2, 3, 5, 7, 11, 13, 17, 19?

    So where does the language come in? As long as it's taught effectively, either in English or Malay, it shouldn't be a significant difference. If teaching it in Malay is more effective because our current crop of teachers are trained for it, so be it. But I'm disappointed that they didn't have the proper planning and foresight to carry the previous plan through.

  6. That's where my beef is. The fickle-brained policy-makers upstairs who are trying to crash our education system. Someone from the top says "change"! And they just change...

    I wrote this piece because there was an earlier argument concerning MCA's proposal for more funds for chinese schools, which provoked a huge protest from UMNO youth. Reader's of "screenshots" (http:\\www.jeffooi.com) went to "war" with one another over the issue which generated over 200 comments in that blog topic. In the end, what is right or wrong, good or bad for education in general is only a matter of opinion. Realising that most of the commenters were voicing their opinions based solely on theories, I decided to give them a personal account and let everyone think about how the issue affects the layman, the family and the poor students, not the intellectuals or bureaucrats.

    To me, education in school is only a foundation. If that foundation is laid properly, then the individual can progress from there. We are afraid of it being screwed up at that stage. While some are more concerned about lost of their mother tongues, others ate their hearts out about the decline in english which caused many graduates to be unemployable, while the nationalists try to support the national language at all costs.

    The good thing about the current arguments is it didn't get racial. At least that shows some signs of maturity.

  7. St Xavier might not be an English school anymore but the english culture in there is still as strong as ever.. i was there for 2 years before i went to KL to continue my studies... those 2 years in there did brush up my english very well.. however the school might be english or chinese... i believe its the culture within the school that matters in the teaching of knowledge to the children... but somehow i still think to teach maths and science in english is the wisest thing to do... as we all know once we step out of secondary school, or local uni, everything after that will be english... even all the books and journals available everywhere in this world is in English. Thanks to my parents i was fortunate enough to be educated in english background school which is why i can do very well now. But no matter what happens our root in the end is a must to be cherished.....

  8. Maise,
    You are right about the culture part. As long as the school maintains that culture, it remains strong in that area. You guys in Penang are lucky in that you still have these schools which maintain their strong English base. Even Chung Ling is still holding their reputation as being strong in English among Chinese schools. In SP we have no choice. The nationalists simply took over as soon as the schools were converted. Everything changed except the name. We still have Convent Father Barre, St. Theresa etc...but only the name. Such a pity......

  9. and the good news is....the government decided to maintain current status.

  10. All of you are starting to get me real worried (a few of my Malaysians friends who have completed their studies in the U.K., actually went back to work & the worst bit is that they speak to their clients in C-H-I-N-E-S-E -not that they arent fluent in English but its just a must)..im as "BANANA" as it gets (sometimes wished i was "Chinese schooled" in primary & back to d Malay school in Sec-then at least i would be able to converse & read Mandarin in a proper manner)..what to do a peranakan like me..even my tutors here are amazed that i actually speak E-N-G-L-I-S-H to my parents and granparents..the first thing they would say is "wow! u speak excellent english!" - how insulting!!! So i guess i've to say that im PRO ENGLISH ALL THE WAY no matter how much harder those lazy-ass students are keeping up..THEY JUST VE TO WORK HARDER!!! KAPPISH!