Why Fix Something Which Is Not Broken?

27 10 2011

 

The Great PPSMI Mistake

There is a letter in The Star today (here) written by the Communications Unit of the Ministry of Education explaining why the PPSMI was abolished.
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The Ministry says : “We would like to clarify that the decision to abolish PPSMI was done after careful deliberations. The Ministry consulted various stakeholders and conducted in-depth studies on the effectiveness of PPSMI and its impact on student learning before scrapping the flawed policy.”
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I think the Ministry is not being straight forward here at all. The Ministry is also missing the point entirely. The most important stakeholders who have absolute right in deciding the future of the children are parents. Has the Ministry conducted surveys among parents? There is a strong undercurrent to conduct a public referendum to decide this PPSMI matter. Why not we conduct a public referendum ? Why is the Ministry so afraid of conducting a public referendum on the matter? The book publishers wont agree?
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Ok even if you dont want to conduct a public referendum, then conduct a wide ranging survey among parents, from Sabah to Perlis. Not the type of ‘telephone survey covering 1000 people’ or ‘informal survey covering 500 people’. Do a larger survey covering say 100,000 Malaysians who are parents with school going children.
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This can be done easily. No need for con-sultans either. The Ministry can upload the survey questionnaire, ask the schools to download and print the questionnaire, pass it to the parents, collect back the questionnaires and pass it back to the Ministry. And please do it honestly.
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Instead the Ministry gives quite incredible answers like the following :
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“We found that during the implementation of PPSMI only 4% of Mathematics and Science teachers used 90% or more of English in the teaching and learning of the two subjects. A majority of them used a mixture of Bahasa Malaysia and English. More often than not, the teachers had to switch to Bahasa Malaysia in their teaching because students could not understand their lessons in English.”
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So just because the teachers are poorly trained in English skills, we have to change our education system and sacrifice the future of our children? Shouldnt it be the other way around – why dont we train the teachers to make sure that they are English proficient? Instead of we sacrificing our childrens’ future, tell the teachers to make some sacrifices with their time, become English profficient asap and then teach the kids. Susah sikit, nak gostan terus ke?
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One simple method is to just continue with the PPSMI until our teacher trainee entrants are “PPSMI resistant”. In other words they become comfortable with English. Of course there will be a ‘transition period’ where those caught in between will face challenges but we have to stick with it. Just spend more resources teaching English to our teacher trainees.
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In no time at all, they will gain the English competence. We cannot abandon things halfway just because the teachers are poorly trained, just because they find the going tough, penatlah, malas nak memikir lah and other such excuses. Just take the easy way out.
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I think we are also thoroughly confused. Schools now teach more religious classes (kelas agama) than other more important subjects in school.
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For example the ‘Standard Kurikulum Pra Sekolah Kebangsaan’ (the Government kindergarten) recently introduced for 5 and 6 year olds proposed the following study times per week :
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Mathematics 40 minutes
English 90 minutes
Malay Language 90 minutes
Agama 120 minutes
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120 minutes for Agama? Why do we need to teach Agama for 120 minutes to 5 year olds at the kindergarten. Agama is already taught from Standard 1 – 6. It is also taught from Form 1 – Form 6. Finally in University, undergraduates are taught Agama for four more years.
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So much religion – from tadika right up to final year University. It must be a very, very complicated religion. Agama kita ni susah sangat ke? We are almost manufacturing ustaz and ustazah ?
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Or maybe we are trying to help the “buku Agama ” publishers as well? I have said this before and I will say it again : the book publishing lobby exerts very strong influence in determining our education policy. It is no secret that there is a very strong book publishing lobby that wants the PPSMI to be abolished as well. Ini semua duit punya pasal juga.
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It is a fallacy to say that our children cannot learn English or that they cannot learn Maths and Science in English. Before we changed the education policy in the 70s and 80s, thousands of students at Government schools learnt Maths and Science in English. At that time our Government schools were no different from schools in Australia or England in terms of the quality of the education that we received. We took the same Cambridge ‘O’ Levels and ‘A’ Levels to the same levels of English proficiency as any student in England or Australia. We could do it then. We can still do it now.
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Negara Brunei Darussalam has never changed their education system. Their schools teach almost completely in English. As a result the modern Malays in Brunei are very English proficient – which will serve them well. They are still Malays.
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The Ministry also says : “This decision (to abolish the PPSMI) is in line with the position taken by Unesco that the mother tongue is the best medium of instruction in schools.”

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I beg to disagree. What is the mother tongue in Singapore? Chinese, Malay, Tamil? But they decided to stick with an English medium of education. As a result Singapore now has the fifth highest per capita GDP income in the world – ahead of the US, Switzerland, Norway, Canada, Japan etc. (You can refer here) :
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Now lets take two other countries that “messed” up their education system – Burma and Ceylon. Both Burma and Ceylon had an English based education system just like we had. At one time both these countries were the leading lights in post-War Asia. In the 60s and 70s they produced large numbers of medical specialists, engineers, lawyers, accountants and even a United Nations Secretary General (U Thant). U Thant, a son of Burma, was the third Secretary General of the United Nations for a record 10 years from 1961 to 1971. Lee Kuan Yew has written that he seriously expected Ceylon to pass Singapore in their economic development.
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Then things went wrong. Just like us, language nationalists in Ceylon and Burma switched their system to the vernacular ie Sinhalese in Ceylon and Burmese in Burma. Both countries also changed their name to Sri Lanka and Myanmar respectively. Ever since then both Sri Lanka and Myanmar have become what they are today – basket cases in Asia.
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We are not running down any country’s national language including Malay. This is the farthest thing from the truth.
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But there is something called time (masa) which passes quickly and there is something called change (which also happens very quickly). Both are unstoppable. If you waste your time (doing non productive or less productive things) and you do not keep up with change, then you get left behind. You become poor, hidup susah, struggle for survival in the modern world and other such things.
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Change and the amount of time it takes to accelerate change are governed by science and technology. Science and technology determine everything now. If you keep up with science and technology, you survive well. If you do not keep up, you cannot even watch black and white tv. They dont make them anymore.
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The speed at which you acquire and apply the latest science and technology will determine how well you live. And the education system determines the speed of acquisition of science and technology (aka knowledge). It all boils down to the education system, the language that we use, what we learn in our books, what we teach our kids, how we teach our kids.
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Unfortunately, due to historical reasons only, many languages do not yet have the ‘linguistic and cultural infrastructure to convey ever changing scientific ideas’. The Malay language is definitely one of them. It will take time, yes we have to get started sometime, but it is a slow curve.
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So to insist that we want to teach our kids science and technology in the Malay language – which is still developing its infrastructure in this area – is to gamble with our future. Look at Myanmar, Sri Lanka and look at ourselves over the past 30 years.
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That is why the Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka folks (the so called guardians of the Malay language) have created thousands of ciplak words like biologi, industri, kontraktor, sistem selular, demokrasi, reformasi and other ‘borrowed words’ from the English language. To help expedite the Malay language to acquire complex ideas and ever changing scientific information and knowledge. This is still work in progress.
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I feel however this is going to take a very long time to move people up the scientific curve. Kids learn new science based words in school like biologi, kurikulum, voltan, hepatitis, otomatik and such. But they cannot go back home and use these words to engage in everyday conversation with their parents, their neighbours and their society, especially in the villages and far away places. These ‘science based’ words do not form part of their language infrastructure. These are borrowed words – borrowed from the English language.
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The entire community must incorporate these new science based ‘borrowed words’ and learn to use it in their everyday conversation before the community can derive the most benefit from understanding such words and concepts. This is going to take time – a long time.
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Unfortunately during that long long time, change is constantly taking place, at an even faster pace. When we at last catch understand black and white cathode ray tube technology, the rest of the world has moved to colour tv and LCD screens. We get left behind. We become poor.
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It is much easier to teach the entire community a second language, in this case English, whereby the English language already has the ‘infrastructure’ to convey new fangled science based vocabularies and science based complex ideas with the minimum requirement for words. It is much faster.
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Plus we already have a very strong English language tradition in Malaysia. Why fix something that was not really broken?
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And we must also understand that it is not just the university graduates who need to be up to par in English, science and technology. The entire population must be well informed to a certain extent about science and technology. In our country, less than 2% of the population enters university every year. What about the balance 98%? In advanced societies or societies that have achieved major economic and social advancements, the majority of their people (who also do not go to university) have achieved a good high school education which prepares them to appreciate, understand, absorb and take advantage of science and technology. In everything they do, whether it is managing a kindergarten, keeping account books in their businesses or making motorcars, they are closer to the scientific method. Hence they progress. Everyone must become clever, not just the university graduates,
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Yes we can learn science and mathematics in Malay. But it is going to take a very long time to evolve upwards along the learning curve. Or we may not get there. If we adopt the English language, this time frame is accelerated. We get there much faster. We are at par with the advanced people much quicker.

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