Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Science and Maths to be taught in BM again

Thank you to the anonymous commenter who brought this to our attention; I am sure Tony and Kian Ming will have a lot to say about this. Here is the story from The Malaysian Insider, and here are some graphs from The Star. My take is as follows:

This is horrible. But anything which had a realistic chance of happening would be almost as bad.

In a perfect world, students would be learning all subjects in the best language for them individually, and also learning Malay and English perfectly fine regardless. But we do not live in that perfect world. In the next best world, we would have a consistent policy (sticking to either English or Malay for Science and Maths, if not all subjects) and competent teachers able to implement this policy.

This being Malaysia, and our politics being our politics, what we got was a silly compromise that made nobody very happy, and a paralysed bureaucracy uninterested in making this policy work. One of the most telling graphs in the link to The Star above is the last one, which shows only 20% and 10% of secondary and primary school science and maths teachers respectively scored 67 or higher on an evaluation of their English proficiency.

The fact is, this policy failed. But was the old policy working? As far as I can tell, no. That's why we tried this policy in the first place. Our students were not doing as well as they could in science and maths, and their English was atrocious. So our politicians got this bright idea to try teaching them science and maths in English.

But the execution was fatally cocked up. The Education Minister says that now they will try a different approach to enhance English learning: English literature will be reintroduced as a subject, along with grammar and composition. (I wonder if that is a misquote by The Star, because that would make a total of four subjects for the English language alone.) The Minister also said that they would rehire retirees and foreigners if necessary to supply more English teachers.

All these are things which should have been done before! In particular, it's not like the government had no idea our science and maths teachers were so fatally flawed in the English department. Rather, they completely ignored this, and rammed through this ill-thought-out policy anyway.

Maybe teaching science and maths in English is a fatally flawed idea, but we have no way of telling that from this six-year experiment, because the government so thoroughly messed up its implementation! (There is also the counter-argument that teaching these subjects in English worked perfectly fine for thousands of schoolkids before we switched to Malay as the national medium of instruction in the 1970s.)

What really angers me about this decision is that the government virtually knowingly had this cock-up of a policy going for six years, when they should have bloody well known their science and maths teachers could not teach in English. So we had a whole generation of students undergoing this massive change, all for naught. And now we will have another generation of pain as thousands of kids get stuck in educational limbo while the government phases out this failure of a policy.

All this was completely unnecessary. The government could have at least tried to make PPSMI (Pelajaran dan Pembelajaran Sains dan Math dalam Bahasa Inggeris) a success by not virtually sabotaging it, but they did not. They could have increased the allocation of time to English, refocused the curriculum, and hired professional English teachers six years ago, but they did not.

More importantly, the government could have avoided all this and successfully transitioned to teaching science and maths in English if only it had been patient and first prepared the teachers to use English in the classroom. But they did not. They pushed through the policy when it was plainly not ready.

In short, we spent six years spinning our wheels doing absolutely balls, and we have nothing to show for it. It is infuriating, but I don't blame the government for ending this now. I do blame the government for keeping up this ridiculous charade for six years, when it was obvious to almost everyone -- even people who might have otherwise favoured this policy -- that this could never have worked with the way they rammed it through.


Mei San said...

I agree with you and feel strongly for the six years spent on a policy which all of us should have been aware that it was poorly thought out and rushed through implementation.

Personally, I think the PPSMI policy has no clear purpose. To improve the students' command of English or to help them in their learning of Math & Science?

If it's the former, I don't see how it helps. If it's the latter, the problems with our Math & Science have more to do with overcrowded syllabuses which emphasize on memorizing facts rather than learning principles.

It is the misplaced (or lack of) direction that has led us to where we are now.

Anonymous said...

Kita harus bangga dengan kejayaan kita menggunakan bahasa malaysia dalam pendidikan sains kita. Bahasa itu penting. Kita tak perlu ragu tentang masaaalah kualiti lerana kita bolih turunkan tahap lulus subjek berikut dan semuer bolih dapat gred cemerlang>)

Anonymous said...

English or BM as medium of instruction doesn't matter. ANYBODY WHO IS 21 YEARS OLD AND OLDER, born in 70s and 80s, are product of science and maths in BM!

That doesn't we've bad English. Such misconception.

Those who were using English system are kids who're born in 90s and later. Yet, I found some of them can't utter a sentence without strings of vocab and grammatical errors.

Anonymous said...

Really sad day for children of Malaysia. They are the ones that will suffer the most. If you wanna know how it feels, just ask the politicians or any corporate bodies to change from speaking and writing reports in one language then change to another language after 6 years. Damn! Imagine the pressure that you will face. Damn! No wonder a lot children today are losing interest in their studies. Damn! Enough is enough. I am sending my children to private schools. Damn! If I have to sell my house or car to be able to afford it, so be it! Damn! NO MORE SUFFERINGS! Next Minister maybe change to teach Science and Maths in English again! Damn! While they themselves send their children to private schools or overseas! They just wanna confuse the lower class so that they will forever be moving forward! Damn! As for the teachers, Only a handful really put in honest effort. To the rest, Damn you! All you care about is giving tuition after school hours. Money is all you think about. SAD SAD VERY SAD. 'EDUCATION IN MALAYSIA'... should be a title for a comedy movie. Hahaha!

ben said...

Today is indeed a very sad day for Malaysia especially those who are underprivileged. It's the responsibility of the govt to equip all rakyats to be employable. The decision to scrap PPSMI is doing the reverse. The wealth divide will be worse. The rich can opt for international schools or overseas education.

It's time that govt discard "I know best" mentality and let the parents/children choose their education. For the opponents of PPSMI, they've the existing schools ie SK, SJKC, SJKT but what about those who are in favour. So I called upon the govt to seriously consider setting up SJKInggeris. They don't need to spend millions. Just convert existing SRKs and SMKs and let us see where the real demand is.

As it is, it is nonsensical to upkeep school with less than 10 students. If you close it, ALL HELL BREAK LOOSE. It's a blatant waste of taxpayers' money.

I am speaking as a parent who went through all my education in SRK and SMK in BM and then abroad in English. I studied Physics, Chemistry, Maths right through tertiary education and therefore, I am more than qualified to give my opinion on PPSMI. It was atrocious. I don't want my children to go through what I went through.

So govt, please start 1 SRJKI and 1 SMJKI in P.Jaya. I bet you my last dollar, DEMAND will outway supply ! Cubalah.

Anonymous said...

John, I am impressed with your immediate response. Good job!

Unidentified People on Earth said...

haha.....what a funny day for Malaysia....


It seem I will again see the university student bring their Kamus Bahasa Melayu - lecture hall....


fli flop policy.... T_T'

Anonymous said...

All there that is to be said, and debated has been done and repeated, don't flog this topic anymore, let it rest. It's decided now for better or for worse, let's move on. The students need to move on.

Danial Simmonds said...

Bahasa Malaysia has its advantages for local communications within one's country, same as greek or italian language... However Science and Maths is very and extremely vital to be thought in English. The Malaysian minister's are making a very huge mistake. Overseas university rejects hundreds of applicants because of the fact we dont know science terms or maths in english! Forgod sake do what is right.

Anonymous said...

Malaysians who object to this are nothing but traitors, that include anonymous 9.19pm, Kian Ming and Tony P.

If you don't like it here in Malaysia.Go back to China or India!!!

Anonymous said...

anonymous 12:54am. I am surprise to find a comment from you at this site when you comment like an uneducated idiot that does not know how to read. REally sad case.

Elizabeth said...

Anoynymous' comments are not worth responding to so I wont even bother.

I belong to the first batch of kids who went through KBSR and KBSM. I studied Science and Maths in BM, but I still speak and write good English. I truly believe this is because my parents encouraged me to read English books, and it helped that I spoke English at home. (though it was more of an English-Hokkien hybrid.)

However, I noticed that although my younger sister also reads a lot and also speak English at home like I do, her written English was quite painful. My brother's command of English is worse.

I am frankly puzzled why this is the case. Since we came from the same home, then the problem does not lie with our home. I can only conclude that it's the school system that's the problem.

I had great teachers who spoke to us in English as often as they could. Although many teach in BM during classes, at other times we conversed in English. Some teachers broke the rules by teaching us in both English and Malay but I think we benefited from this.

Frankly I think I'm lucky as I came from a school with relatively decent teachers. I wondered how my rural counterparts fared.

I believe that the divide between the rich and poor, urban and rural will worsen because of this move, but I also realise that this whole science and maths in English was also horribly implemented.

Sigh. I really wonder what we can do for our kids.

Anonymous said...

what is step toward to the world class university especially for uitm.
how they could be world class university if they only took the local bumiputera student??

ionic said...

For the person who commented:

"English or BM as medium of instruction doesn't matter. ANYBODY WHO IS 21 YEARS OLD AND OLDER, born in 70s and 80s, are product of science and maths in BM!

That doesn't we've bad English. Such misconception.

Those who were using English system are kids who're born in 90s and later. Yet, I found some of them can't utter a sentence without strings of vocab and grammatical errors."

Reading your comment, I think it did have an impact on YOUR english, especially spelling and grammar! It really did. It still does!

I learned Science and Maths in BM, when I went to college overseas, I had a hard time. Also, I found that when I learned Science in English, there was a lot more interesting facts and principles that we were never taught in BM. After all when you learn the subjects in English, it exposes you to use the language. For learning languages, it is EXPOSURE and APPLICATION that helps you improve. Japan, China and Korea are examples where students are taught grammar and writing, but they can't converse in proper English when they go overseas.

Anonymous said...

For Anonymous who said

"Malaysians who object to this are nothing but traitors, that include anonymous 9.19pm, Kian Ming and Tony P.

If you don't like it here in Malaysia.Go back to China or India!!!"

Go back to your kampung you uneducated primitive man. Stop your racist rant against Chinese and Indians, because nobody said anything about Malay here. We are not discussing race, we are discussing language.

Anonymous said...

Whoever who came up with this stupid senseless reversal idea is not using his brain. He is putting race first ahead of any improvement and progress we could have towards our education system.

Mahathir is right to feel disappointed, along with many parents.

Well, another day, another stupid politician uses his brain!

Anonymous said...


You wrote a much sensible article this round. Good.


Anonymous said...

Why nobody asks where the ministers and politicians chidren do their scho they all will send overseas where they attend ENGLISH schools.
Always pity the poor ( "ignorant") rakyat

Anonymous said...

I would like to know YB Tony Pua's view on this matter. Why the silence?

John Lee said...


Tony and Kian Ming are rather busy at the moment. You can't expect them to always be ready to comment on every issue that comes up -- they'll chime in soon, don't worry!

Shawn Tan said...

No surprises here. We get a new policy with every new education minister anyway. Anyone wants to bet on what the next minister is going to do in a few years time?

meena said...

In this situation I totally confussed about which school should I enroll my son.(SK or SJK)Is there anybody can help me..please..THANK YOU.

Mark said...


I might be wrong for a few gov schools, but from my experiences with my children who went to SK then change to SJK..., SK or SJK are no different except for language used. They were All against English. They All have bad attitudes. They NEVER taught in English which is why the drop in standard. They are All like robots (following rules & regulations blindly). They are All only interested in your money. What else? Feel free to add.....

nick said...

Very true. In the first place, they should have improved the existing subject of English and not try to improve our students' proficiency by making them learn maths and science in English. Those two subjects do not go a long way into helping students in English. Even then, the implemetation of the policy was hasty and poorly carried out.

Chev said...

@anonymous 12:54pm

Disagreeing with some of the things the government does doesn't mean we do not love our country or like living here. We can't just blindly agree to everything, you dumb ass.

Chev said...

anonymous @12:54am I mean. Sorry for the typo.

Anonymous said...

tony, kian ming, and pakatan allied must agree with the government's decision...otherwise why they had the rallied earlier? or they just want to oppose on whatever government decision

Anonymous said...

I was the first badge where the gov changed the subjects from Malay to Eng.

At first, it was very hard to cope as I have studied in BM for 6 years and to change to Eng isn't as easy as they think it is.

I speak fluently in Eng but no matter what, it IS hard to cope. And there are times you think and try to convert the Eng word to BM so you can get it faster.

And for the gov to change BM back to Eng, it's going to be hard for them again and I feel that they should put their mind in one thing and stay to it and not to change it over and over again.

I agree with Danial Simmons, colleges/uni overseas would reject your quolifications. And I think the gov should take this to considerate before jumping to a conclusion of just changing it back.

When Malaysia started, Eng was implimented to these subjects, and see what has that generations become... People with fluent in Eng and in writing.

And for Anonymous 12:54, you are absolutely wrong by saying that. Do remember, without Chinese and Indians... Do you REALLY think that Malaysia will be what it is today?
And also, where do you think Malays come from??

If it wasn't from Indonesia and Philippines? Do you really think just because the name of our country is Malay-sia means Malays are the king of the nation?
Think about it!

I'm not being racist here, I love Malays! But do NOT say things that way as you are being a complete racist!

And I strongly believe that even though there are some of us who doesn't support the decision of the gov to change it back to BM doesn't at all mean that we don't love Malaysia. We are just not supporting their political view in the way they conduct the education system here!

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

what the HELL....
if we use bm, it means we have translated everything from english to bm!
there are always advancement in science everyday..YOU MORONS!!!
if we use bm, it means our country will be 10YEARS BEHIND EVERYONE!

David said...

Its is a good idea for PPSMI to be taught in English, but the initial objective is a WRONG one!

And now, they are shutting it down just because it didnt achieve the RIGHT objective.

What kind of world is this? Cant they listen to the rakyat more? Or they are too blinded with their wealth and power that they care less about the people?!

2020? Scrap that, lets go for 3030 or 4040 or what ever catchy number.

PPSMI in Malay will make this a MISSION IMPOSSIBLE!

Anonymous said...

I pity this nation! When all the other countries are trying to learn English we are instead throwing it away

Anonymous said...

I am a Malaysian living in Hong Kong. Hong Kong made a decision over 10 years ago to switch more schools to using Chinese as a medium of teaching while keeping English medium schools to a minimum of 100. That policy has failed. English standards went down. Now the govt is allowing those Chinese medium schools to switch over to English on their own. Some schools which can cope with the switch can switch altogether (history, maths, science, etc). Others which cannot can deal with SOME subjects taught in English (e.g. maths and science only).

I don NOT understand why Malaysia cannot compromise on this and has this "ONE SIZE FITS EVERYONE ALL STUDENTS AND ALL SCHOOLS" policy. It is really GOING BACKWARDS.

Amir said...

any policy made have to go through a time frame then one can evaluate fully. Thats why a thorough study is require before a policy can be implemented.

For PPSMI the policy is made by assuming that Maths and Science teachers can teach in English based on their entry qualification. I feel this assumptions is correct and justified in the first place.

However, strong opposition from many quarters have hampered its implementation and thus make this policy a failure. Going back is the only option as going forward is not possible in the current situation.

I'm saddened by this option.

Anonymous said...

bad for malaysian kids ,government not really taking care of our kids,i will vote for PKR even though i dun like Anwar in next election

Anonymous said...

I was happy when my daughter started her standard 1 with science and math in english. She will take her PMR this year. Come form 4 she will study her science and math in BM. My son will start his form 1 in BM. What kind of policy is this? Does anyone know where the children of our Ministers study?

Admin said...

Don't have a proper plan indeed, children spend 6 years in primary school to understand all the terms used for maths and science in English, BUT it will change to BM again??? from Merdeka until now, v have been thru English teaching in Secondary -> later to BM, after that BI and now go back to BI. Don't they think that, English is a International Language and applicable worldwide BUT BM only in Malaysia and Indonesia only... really stupid plan...

littleEnglishdude said...

what about the non-muslim people? its not fair! i may fail everything next year! (except english) we have already learned almost everything in english and it will suddenly change to bm...i guarantee you that most students next year are going to get bad grades ( including me )

Anonymous said...

When i was a kid, i learned math and science subjects in Bahasa Malaysia. For me personally, i think these subjects can be teach in any language since the principles still apply regardless of the language. Yes, in higher education level we learn this subjects in English, but if you pay attention more in your English class and can fluent the language, this matter does not seem to be a big problem anymore. Peace.