Sunday, August 28, 2005

English Frenzy in Rural Malaysia?

Well, yes, according to the regional newspaper, AsiaTimes on 25th August.
The frenzy to catch up with English in rural Malaysia is more than just palpable and nowadays second only to the craze for English football and the popular "Malaysian Idol" contest, a reality-type TV show.

Signs of the frenzy are everywhere. Bookshops are stacked high with volumes of dry English grammar, and these include familiar reprints from the1960s when English had better status than in the intervening years.

English tuition centers are mushrooming in shop houses, schools and homes - wherever space is available.

Newspapers are promoting English by giving out free copies to schools and businesses are donating millions of dollars to adopt entire schools, picking up the tab so that students can have an English education.
Yes, newspapers together with corporates and individuals are indeed sponsoring English papers for the Malaysian national schools (see blogpost here on how you can do your part). But a "frenzy"? I wonder where the source(s) of this information is/are from.

[Writer's note: I have a bias against AsiaTimes because their reporting tends to be sensationalistic and have a strong editorial tendency to portray Malaysia in a negative light, irrespective of facts and circumstances. The "facts" quoted are often generalisations and not well-supported.]

On a more serious note, the article did highlight some of the earlier oppositions to the switch in the language of teaching for the subjects of Mathematics and Science in primary schools:
"English has to be learned as a language, it can't be acquired by learning science and mathematics in English," said a school headmaster then who had opposed the scheme and asked not to be identified. "Mahathir's scheme, now into its second year, is a mess."
Yes, strictly speaking, English "can't" be acquired by learning science and mathematics in English. However, having more subjects (whatever they may be) can certain help towards achieving mastery in the language due to the simple fact that there will be greater exposure to the language.

How is it "a mess", I'd really like to know. Of course there will be the expected hiccups such as delayed textbooks, not fully trained teachers etc. But these are all teething problems which has to be faced. Over time, we expect the syllabus and the teaching of the subjects to improve and I believe that in a couple of years' time, the conduct of lessons in English for Mathematics and Science subjects in the classrooms will become the norm.


Bigjoe99 said...

The government aim is not to improve English per se but to improve Math and Science. The idea here is that by making it in English, they force the students to improve their English and hence also Math and Science creating a virtous cycle.

The problem it goes against everything I understand in learning.

I have seen some fantastic students with poor English master Math and Science (ask the Taiwanese and Chinese grad students in most major universities).

The conclusion I make is that good communication skill in whatever language helps with the learning
of Math and Science. English is the best language to learn communication skills and therefore logical to help improve Math and Science. However, since its not necessary, its doubful that English could be improved by teaching Math and Science in English and consequently its doubtful that there would be any improvement in English to improve Math and Science.

In other words, the virtous cycle is a myth. What we are seeing is actually people who do not even have the basics to learn in English which accounts for the increase in demand for English material. In other words, its a scramble not to fall behind rather than actually an improvement forward. There may be improvement because incidently some people get an interest in English and see its value, but for a large part of those who are already failing, its not going to help much. What will happen is that after they acquire the rudiment of the language, they will not improve their English especially those that do not intend to pursue hard science and math base subjects. Hence the standard of English in this country will remain largely marginally better with some exception.

s-band said...

It IS a right mess...
I should know... I am a 2ndary school student. My add maths teacher only taught 5 chapters out of 11. Tell me my failing spm add maths paper is a hiccup. I love learning maths and science in english as it is my first language. The problem is...the teachers are certainly unable to cope with the pressure. The teach me in malay only using english when mentioning terms keywords. Whatcan i do?