I’ve also been criticised by several readers (who, I must say, write really well) in some of my earlier post with regards to this topic, with a few who commented that due to the fact that I lack a background in Chinese education, I’m unable to understand the issues concerning Chinese vernacular education and that I’m biased against vernacular education. One of the readers have argued that:
Your supporting teaching Math/Science in English sounds a bit too much like rationalizing for the official lines. You appear to have stopped thinking rationally out of despise for a culture that you have not learned well.So, I’ll spend the Part II of this post to give a quick reply to the criticisms I received above, as well as to present very simple straightforward arguments why the teaching of Science and Mathematics in English is beneficial to the students.
Firstly, my supporting the teaching of Mathematics and Science in English is indeed pretty much along the “official lines”. My only qualms with it are its implementation and execution, not its objectives. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being part of the “official lines”, if the “official lines” are indeed the right thing to do. Irrationality comes in when one thinks that everything “official” is by definition, suspicious and wrong.
Secondly, I'll be the first to admit that my grasp of “Chinese” philosophy and culture is not at the level which I really wish I had. However, to say that I “despise the culture”, ooh… that’s just a little bit too harsh isn’t it? :) If you have read some of my other posts, I should hope that you’d be able to see and know that:
- My mother tongue, i.e., the language which I communicate with my parents is Mandarin and nothing else.
- My current lingua franca at home with my wife and daughter is Mandarin
- I’ve written on the importance of the Chinese language
- I wrote to my parents in Chinese while I was at university
- I wrote to my wife-to-be in Chinese too regularly for 3 years while she was at university, after I have graduated :-)
- As recent as last year, I took Chinese tuitioin classes to strengthen my Chinese technical and business skills to communicate with Chinese businessmen in China.
- I took Confucian Studies (and aced it) for my ‘O’ Levels in Singapore.
Both the Chinese and the English language (and even Bahasa Melayu) are extremely important, particularly for Malaysians who live in the Malay archipelago in between the modern English and the growing Chinese world. There is hence a need for balance. My arguments to continue the pursuit of the objectives of the policy are fairly straightforward.
“I not so agree(?)”
The standard of English among students originating from Chinese primary schools are extremely weak, often atrocious.
I know this purely from hiring some of the top students from the top local universities. These are students who scored more than 5-6 As for the SPM and achieved a cumulative grade point average (CGPA) of at least 3.3.
The “I not so agree” statement is just a direct transliteration from the Chinese statement “wo bu tai tong yi” (我不太同意). This statement is at least, understandable. There are many many other examples of emails and reports that I can cite, which unfortunately need to be heavily edited and re-written before I am able to submit them to clients. Feel free to study more examples here and here.
If these are the standards of the bulk of the top students from Chinese primary school background, then I cannot imagine the state of English language skills among the typical average (or poor) Chinese school students.
And the practical reasons why the English language is so darn important? Here’s just two for your consideration.
- The bulk of communication, written and verbal, done in large local and multinational companies in Malaysia, particularly in the higher management levels is undeniably, English.
- Barring a few exceptions, the top 50 universities in the world (using whichever rankings table), uses English as the language medium.
As quoted by many readers, there are always going to be successful exceptions i.e., students who did well in vernacular Chinese schools, who were able to still switch and pick up new language skills successfully later in secondary and university education.
My wife, Ting Fong herself is proof of such exceptions. She did her 6 years of Chinese primary school education, 5 years of Sekolah Menengah Kebangsaan (SMK), 2 years of Junior College (JC) in Singapore, and 3 years of Law at Oxford. She literally 'aced' all her subjects (and puts me to shame). But she'll be the first to admit that she struggled badly during her first 3-6 months in Singapore with the language switch, and once again, the first 3 months at Oxford. In JC, she had her history essays literally thrown back to her unmarked because the tutor said he couldn't understand what she was writing - and she was the top English student (and the President of the English society) for some 10 years before that!
I for one, would never have had the opportunity to study at Oxford if I wasn't fortunate enough to have switch to a completely English medium in Singapore immediately after primary school (giving me, a slightly slower language learner more time to adapt).
But as highlighted, those like Ting Fong are exceptions. They have managed to do well despite the challenges they faced in the language. Many others who did well were fortunate enough to be based in large urban centres whereby the parents were already competent in English to aid their children. However, there are probably more than 80% (guesstimate) of Chinese school students who are not part of these exceptions, who should be provided with as much exposure to the English language as possible so that the opportunities for them in the future will be brighter both in terms of obtaining top quality further education as well as career advancement and prospects.
In this English language policy debate, we should appraise the system based not so much on what's good for the "Chinese schools", but what's best for the students and their future. In this respect, I'm happy that the Prime Minister has emphasised that the policy to teach Mathematics and Science in English is here to stay.