Friday, September 19, 2008

SPM 2008 Revision Questions

Times Guides, the publishers of Times Higher Education magazines have published Times SPM 2008 Revision Questions. 15,000 copies of the book were distributed to schools in the Klang Valley and other city centers. In view of making this book available to all SPM students, Times Guides have produced an e-book version of the book for students to download for FREE. The e-book version has questions, answers and past year exam question analysis. This book is produced by a group of experienced teachers who are specialist in their subjects.

The e-book can be downloaded for free here.

Monday, September 15, 2008

UPSI Study on S&M

Managed to locate an NST report on the UPSI study. You can download the study from the NST page. Bakri was certainly right about the lack of controls in the study. Would the Malay students from the rural areas have done better if the tests were in BM? This kind of control groups should be standards in these sorts of studies. And the fact that many students could not fill in the blank in ' school' is not so much an indictment of the teaching of S&M in English but the appalling teaching of English. The more I read about this issue, the more I'm convinced that we should just continue with the teaching of S&M in English as a commitment towards improving the standard of English throughout our education system. If we revert to the old policy, I don't see the possibility of sufficient resources being devoted to this cause.

TEACHING OF MATHS AND SCIENCE IN ENGLISH: Study reveals policy's flaws

TANJUNG MALIM: Five years after schools began teaching Mathematics and Science in English, tests on thousands of students have revealed poor scores in these subjects.
The tests and surveys, part of a study of that policy, have also shown that the majority of students still find it hard to follow Mathematics and Science lessons in English.

Universiti Pendidikan Sultan Idris (UPSI) put over 3,000 Year Five pupils and about 2,800 Form Two students around the country through short Mathematics, Science and English language tests between February last year and January.

The schoolchildren were from a mix of urban, rural and vernacular schools in Peninsular Malaysia.

The tests were made up of modified past-year examination questions. Some were taken straight out of textbooks.

Some 1,700 Year Five pupils tested this January had a mean score of 7.89 out of a maximum 20 for Mathematics.

The results were not much better for Science: a mean of 4.08 out of 14. English proficiency was not good either: a mean of 11.87 out of 31.

The mean scores of Malay and Orang Asli pupils were also much lower than those of the Chinese and Indians, said study leader Professor Emeritus Datuk Isahak Haron.

Isahak has called the policy a failure, particularly in terms of its impact on Malay students in national schools (Sekolah Kebangsaan), and is asking for a return to the teaching of Mathematics and Science in Bahasa Malaysia.

In the survey, many Year Five pupils told researchers they found it hard to learn Mathematics and Science in English, saying they did not understand the lessons.

In one sample, less than a fifth of the Year Five Malay students surveyed considered it easy to learn Science in English and only about a third thought it was easy to learn Mathematics in English.

When a sample of 1,300 Malay students were asked how well they understood the Mathematics and Science lessons when it was taught in English, over 60 per cent said they only understood the lessons "sometimes".

The policy had even failed in its aim of improving the pupils' command of English, said Isahak, a lecturer at the Faculty of Cognitive Science and Human Development.

Students struggled to correctly complete even simple sentences, he said, citing the following sentence in a passage taken out of a school textbook: "He ..... to bed" (The answer is "went".)

An average of 14 per cent and 19 per cent (two different groups) got the answer right.

Even the highest score according to racial breakdown -- 41 per cent of Chinese students in one group answered correctly -- did not speak well of the policy's aim of improving English.

Isahak suggested that it would do more good to allocate more time, staff and money to the teaching of English at the primary school level.

He urged a change in how the language was taught in schools. He said the standardised syllabus should be scrapped in favour of lessons tailored to suit the abilities of different students.

The UPSI study also incorporated findings from other surveys of secondary school students that pointed to similar problems.

Shortly after the policy was implemented in 2003, Associate Professor Hashima Jalaluddin of Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia interviewed 43 teachers and 971 Form One students from six schools in the central and southern states of Peninsular Malaysia .

Most of the teachers said students had problems following Mathematics and Science lessons in English, while 70 per cent of the students said they would be more interested if the two subjects were taught in Bahasa Malaysia.

Only a quarter said they had no problem following the lessons in English.

In 2004, Zainuddin Bikum surveyed 229 students in two schools in Kuala Kubu Baru, Selangor, for his dissertation at UPSI and found that more than half of the group was facing difficulties.

Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia's Professor Juriah Long found that about half the students in both urban and rural schools were worried because they found it difficult to follow Mathematics and Science in English. This was one of the results of her 2005 survey of over 7,000 Form Two students nationwide.

Her study, which also looked at the location of schools and the socio-economic background of students, found the concern was greater among Malay students, those in rural schools, and poor students.

Isahak said Malay students in national schools, mostly in rural areas and from lower socio-economic backgrounds, had lost out the most as a result of the decision to teach Maths and Science in English.

The ones who gained from the policy were a small percentage of Malay students from upper middle class families who went to good schools, he said.

However, UPSI's own test results showed Year Five Malay students from rural schools scored highest in nine out of 10 Maths questions and two out of seven Science questions compared with Malay students in big town and city schools.

Meanwhile, Malay students in city schools consistently fared the lowest.

Isahak believes the difference in the percentages is marginal and because there are more Malay students in rural areas, it is these students who will be most affected.

Bakri Musa's view on S&M in English

A well thought out piece by Bakri Musa. I got this through email and I don't think Bakri has posted it up on his website yet. I'll link it when its posted online. In the meantime, I've reproduced the article below. It makes reference to a UPSI study on the issue at hand. I'll try to locate a copy of this study and look further into it.

Continue Teaching Science and Mathematics in English

M. Bakri Musa

In May 2003, five months after the government started the teaching of science and mathematics in English in our schools, the Ministry of Education produced a “study” with the incredulous findings of significant improvement in our students’ achievements! All in five months!

Now five years later, research from the Universiti Pendidikan Sultan Idris (UPSI) showed the very opposite results. What gives?

Both studies were prominently and uncritically reported in our mainstream media. That first study was presumably swallowed whole by our policymakers to justify continuing their policy. Rest assured that this second one too would be used for a similar purpose, as an excuse to jettison that same policy.

Despite many attempts I was unable to get a copy of that first study. Nor have I seen it published in any journal, or find any paper credited to its author, raising questions on the credibility of the “study” and competence of its “researcher.”

To the credit of its authors, this later paper is freely available on the Internet, all 153 pages of it. Its lead author is an emeritus professor, a title reserved for retired accomplished scholars, with a dean and deputy dean as his coauthors. Despite its impressive authorship, this study is deeply flawed in its design and conclusions. It does however, expose many weaknesses in the implementation of the policy, in particular the lack of teachers fluent in English.

Embarrassingly Flawed Study

The most glaring deficiency of this second study is its lack of any control group. This is basic in any research design. As the English language policy applies to all schools, you obviously cannot find a control group among current students. You can however find historical control groups by using the test scores of earlier comparable pupils who had been taught and tested in Malay.

With some ingenuity we could still have concurrent control groups, for example, Malaysian pupils attending English schools like Alice School and International School. Another would be adults fluent in English, or even the teachers. If those adults and students in English schools did equally poorly, then clearly the test is not reliable.

When I look at the test questions, it is not only the teachers who are deficient in English, so too are the test makers! Some of the questions are convoluted and would challenge even those fluent in English.

The second flaw is that there is minimal statistical analysis of the data. The pupils were tested and the results simply collated in pages and pages of raw data presented in dull, repetitive and uninformative tables. The authors must be graphically-challenged; they seem to have not heard of pie charts or bar diagrams.

There is also no attempt in delineating the roles of the many variables the researchers have included, like teachers’ English fluency, parents’ educational levels, and pupils’ geographic background (urban versus rural). To do that the data would have to be subjected to more sophisticated statistical analyses, beyond the simple analysis of variance used by the authors. Thus we do not know whether those students’ test scores could be correlated with their parents’ educational levels (a well-acknowledged factor) or teachers’ fluency in English.

There are numerous conclusions based on just simplistic summations of the data, with such statements as X percent of Malay students finding the study of science “easy” compared to Y percent of Chinese or Indians feeling likewise, or R percent of Malay students scoring high versus S percent of their Chinese counterparts. It seems that Malaysian academics, like their politicians, cannot escape the race trap.

These studies were conducted in January, February and July. Even the dumbest students knew that those were not the examination months. They knew those tests “don’t count;” thus skewing the results. The only way to make them take the test seriously would be to incorporate it into their regular examinations.

Besides, in January and February those students had just returned from their long end-of-year holidays during which considerable attrition of knowledge occurred. The difference between the racial groups may have nothing to do with academics but on such extraneous matters as how fast they settle down to their studies.

Of the 27 references cited, there is surprisingly no article from refereed journals. Most (14) are government-sponsored surveys, press releases, and newspaper articles, unusual for a scholarly paper. There are a few books cited, with the most recent published in 2002. There is considerable lag time between what is written in books versus the current state of knowledge. For that you would need journals and attend symposia.

Consequently the researchers’ review on bilingual education is dated. Contrary to their conclusion, it is now accepted that exposing children at a young age to bilingual education confers significant linguistic, cognitive and other advantages. The authors’ recommendation that pupils be taught only in their mother tongue and learn a second language later at a much older age is not supported by modern research.

Studies using functional MRIs (imaging studies) of the brain show that children who are bilingual at an earlier age use their brain more efficiently as compared to those who acquire those skills as adults. For example, when asked to translate between the two languages, “native” bilingual speakers use only one part of their brain while those who are bilingual as an adult use two.

Other cognitive advantages to “native” bilingual speakers include the ability to grasp abstract concepts faster, precisely the intellectual skill helpful in learning mathematics and higher-level science. The higher scores for non-Malays may well be the consequence of their earlier and more extensive exposure to bilingualism than Malays.

Revealing Findings

The study nonetheless reveals many useful findings. I fear however, that these nuggets of information would be lost by those who care only for the study’s unjustified conclusion to discontinue the present policy and revert to teaching science and mathematics in Malay. That would be a retrogressive step.

This study is only a snapshot; it does not enlighten us as to trend. It could be that the results would continue to improve. It is thus presumptuous for the authors to make a sweeping policy recommendation based only a limited snapshot study, and a poorly-designed one at that.

UPSI in its previous incarnation as Sultan Idris Teachers’ College was a hotbed of Malay nationalism. This study is less an academic research and more political polemic camouflaged as a pseudo-scientific study to justify its authors’ nationalist bias. Their data and methodology just do not support their conclusion.

The study found that fewer than 15 percent of the teachers were fluent in English, and that most teach using a combination of both languages. That is putting it politely. In reality they use bastardized or “pidgin” English. If those teachers lack English language skills, how could they teach any subject in that language? The fault here is not with the policy, rather its implementation. We should first train the teachers.

In its naivety the government spent over RM3 billion to equip these teachers with computers, LCDs and “teaching modules” to help them in the classroom. Many of those computers are now conveniently “stolen,” plugged with viruses, or simply left to gather dust as those teachers lack the skills to use them effectively.

The only beneficiaries of that program were UMNO operatives who secured those lucrative contracts. Had the government spent those precious funds to hire new teachers fluent in English, our students would have been better served, and the policy more effectively implemented.

This study missed a splendid opportunity to find out what those students, parents and teachers felt about the policy. It was as if those researchers and their field workers (undergraduates in education and thus our future teachers) were interested only in administering those tests, collecting their data, and then getting back to campus.

Surely those parents and teachers had something to say on the policy. What do the teachers feel about the billions spent on computers? Are they eager to learn and teach in English or do they harbor nationalist sentiments and resent the policy? Those surveys would have helped considerably towards implementing the policy better.

A Better Way

I support the teaching of science and mathematics in English. I go further and would have half the subjects in our national schools be taught in English, including Islamic Studies. The objective should be to produce thoroughly or “native” bilingual graduates, able to read, write and even dream in Malay and English. That is the only way to make our graduates competitive.

I put forth my ideas on achieving this in my earlier (2003) book, An Education System Worthy of Malaysia. I would start small, restricting the program to our residential schools where the students are smarter, teachers better, and facilities superior. Work out the kinks there first, only then expand the program.

I would also convert some teachers’ colleges into exclusively English-medium institutions to train future teachers of English, science, and mathematics.

In rural areas where the level of English in the schools and community is low, I would bring back the old English-medium schools, but modifying it significantly with pupils taught exclusively in English for the first four years (“total immersion”). Malay would be introduced only in Year V, and only as one subject.

Since Malay would not be taught in the first few years and only a limited subject later on, admission to such schools would be restricted only to those with already near-native fluency in Malay or whose habitual language is Malay. Further, such schools would be set up only where the background level of Malay in the community is high, essentially only in the kampongs.

If we were to do otherwise, as having such schools in the cities where the level of English in the community is high and Malay low, those graduates would not be fluent in our national language, as during colonial days. It would not be in the national interest to repeat that mistake. Besides, the problem of our students’ deficiency in English is most acute in rural areas. Thus it makes sense to establish English-medium schools there.

There are many challenges to the policy of teaching science and mathematics in English. One thing is certain. We will never resolve them if we listen to ambitious politicians playing to the gallery or rely on less-than-rigorous “researches.”

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Science and Math in English - Alternative Views

Two additional letters advocating for the reversal of the policy of teaching Science and Math in English. The first, written by Khairy Jamaluddin, is very well argued. The point he raised in regard to phasing in the teaching of Science and Math in English at the secondary level is particularly intriguing. This is a glimpse of a Khairy who is fully capable of making sound and cogent arguments when he is not playing up to his 'base'. The second is written by a Malaysian PhD student in Australia. He makes a similar point that it is the standard of English among English teachers in Malaysia which needs to be improved. On a related note, I wonder how many politicians who advocate for a return to teaching Science and Math in BM will actually send their kids to a public school or choose the route of a private school where English is much more widely spoken and taught.

Khairy's letter first.

IT has been almost a year since I called for a review of the teaching of Maths and Science in English while debating the motion on education at the Umno general assembly. I did so based on feedback from grassroots members and also a consistent opposition to the policy since it was announced by the previous prime minister.
I had felt then, as I still do now, that the policy was half-baked, lacking in any rigorous analysis and another attempt at putting a quick-fix band aid on a serious problem requiring structural reforms.

The report "Study reveals policy's flaws" (NST, Sept 7) sheds new light to justify my reservations about the policy. I feel the research conducted by Professor Emeritus Datuk Isahak Haron of Universiti Pendidikan Sultan Idris and other surveys of secondary school students pointing to similar problems must be perused exhaustively and could prove to be crucial in tilting the debate on the issue ahead of the government's promise to review its implementation next year.

For the sake of clarity and lest I be accused of being retrogressive in my thinking, I would like to reiterate that I believe most Malaysians are in agreement that a strong command of the English language is an essential prerequisite for any school-leaver who wants to understand and absorb the massive corpus of knowledge available in reference books written in English at the tertiary level, or any graduate who wants to compete in the marketplace.

The English language has become a basic requirement for students and job-seekers in this increasingly globalised world where it is, for now, the undisputed lingua franca.
The issue here is not the importance of English. That is self-evident and the education system must commit itself to making our students fluent in English. In fact, in my Umno debate I urged Malays to emulate other communities in Malaysia by becoming bilingual, even trilingual. The real issue here is how we improve our children's command of English. I believe strongly that it most definitely is not through a poorly conceived policy like the teaching of Maths and Science in English.

UPSI's findings proved my fears were real and it uncovered the harsh realities our students face in schools due to this flawed policy. In particular, the impact of the policy on Malay students in national schools especially in the rural areas and from lower socio-economic backgrounds has been catastrophic. Not only has it not improved the students' command of English, it has managed to hamper their understanding of mathematical and scientific concepts.

Furthermore, the problems and weaknesses of this policy are not confined to one ethnic group. The study revealed that the ones who gained from the policy were a small percentage of Malay students from upper middle-class families who went to good, urban schools. The paper further showed that even Chinese students struggled with learning Maths and Science when taught in English, demonstrating that this is a problem that cuts across ethnic lines.

In our effort to bridge the urban and rural divide, the gap between rich and poor, it is sad to see that in reality students in national schools, mostly in rural areas and from lower socio-economic backgrounds, have lost out the most as a result of the decision to teach Maths and Science in English.

The full report of the study also confirmed the often-heard anecdotal evidence that one of the key problems is that teachers are finding it difficult to teach in English and consequently students are having a hard time understanding these lessons that are conducted by teachers who themselves are not proficient in the language. As a result, almost 85 per cent of the teachers end up teaching Maths and Science in a mixture of English and Bahasa Malaysia, exposing a fundamental flaw in the implementation of the policy. How do you expect to answer exam questions in English when it is not entirely taught in English in the first place?

I also find myself concurring with the study leader's suggestion that it would be better to allocate more time, staff and money to the teaching of English at the primary school level rather than pursuing the teaching of Maths and Science in English. I have made this point repeatedly, that English is best learnt by the teaching of the English language and not by conflating it with subjects such as Maths and Science.

And to answer the point made by Samuel Yesuiah in his letter "Let's continue with the policy" (NST, Sept 8), if our students are given a sound foundation in the English language itself with proper instruction given to grammar, vocabulary and syntax, they will have few problems understanding "science reference books and journals in English at universities". They don't need to be taught Maths and Science in English to read reference books in English later on. They just need to be proficient in English, which clearly this policy has failed to achieve.

I wrote to this newspaper in November last year calling for immediate improvements to the teaching and learning of English in our schools. But that objective must not be pursued through a policy that not only falls short of its aim to improve English among our students but also seriously hampers their ability to learn Maths and Science.

It is high time we ditched this policy for the failure that it is and learnt from an episode of a flawed and ill-conceived policy defeating what were, I presume, noble intentions.

The second letter is written by Yap Soo Huey.

I WRITE to add to the current debate on the teaching of Science and Mathematics in English.

I graduated in 1999 from a small school in Penang where Science and Mathematics were taught in Bahasa Malaysia. Now, I am a scientist in a leading medical research institute in Australia and will be completing my PhD at the end of this year.

Since starting my PhD candidature in 2005, I have won five awards, including two awards at national conferences for Best Speaker (most other speakers were native English speakers) and one young investigator award at a prestigious international conference.

I am also an author in a major scientific publication and have more publications in the pipeline.

I am not alone in such success. There are two other Malaysians in the institute where I work, as well as senior scientists from Albania, Argentina, Armenia, China, Egypt, France, Germany, Hong Kong, India, Iran, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal and Sweden.

All of them are successful despite schooling in their respective national language!

Hence, my main points are:

1. It is not important for English to be the medium of instruction for Science and Mathematics. Stop wasting money and resources trying to implement this.

2. The standard of English in our schools has been deteriorating for so long that many of the teachers we have in schools are themselves not proficient in English.

3. The problem is the teaching of the English language itself. Don’t send Science and Mathematics teachers for English courses when some English teachers themselves need English courses, and English teachers who don’t need English courses need a useful syllabus from which to teach!

5. Don’t make the use of Bahasa Malaysia the scapegoat. It is important for Bahasa Malaysia to remain the medium of instruction in schools for the sake of national identity, which is vital for genuine national unity.

Finally, please identify and address the real problems in our school system.

A student competent in English and Science/Mathematics separately can communicate Science/Mathematics in English even if he/she learnt it in Bahasa Malaysia.

I have had no formal Chinese education, and both my parents barely speak Mandarin. The extent of my Chinese education is weekly tuition classes when I was in primary school.

Yet, with my minimal proficiency in Mandarin, I’ve engaged in lengthy scientific discussions, mainly in Mandarin, with scientists from China and Taiwan on many occasions with good outcomes.

Make sure Science and Mathematics are taught properly, and don’t discriminate against students who are poor in English but may have the aptitude for Science or Mathematics.

Communication can come after understanding has been established.

George Town.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Another BTN fiasco

We've discussed the brainwashing which happens in the BTN courses before (here and here). One of the reasons why I'm so critical of the UiTM VC (besides the flaunting of his UMNO credentials and his lack of an academic CV) is the fact that he also proudly lists his credentials as a BTN speaker. One can only imagine the kind of rhetoric he would regularly spout as a speaker in one of these brainwashing sessions. The latest on the BTN issue is a letter sent to Lim Kit Siang. I'll reproduce it below.

BTN’s racist and divisive indoctrination courses

Now that Najib has apologised to non-Malays for Ahmad’s statement, I would like to bring to the attention of Najib the pain endured by the young non-Malay JPA scholars who are required to go through a five-day Biro Tatanegara programme at certain camps in the country. To be fair, many moderate Malay students too cried and were hurt by some racist comments made by the instructors.

As part of the course, which is mandatory before they are sent overseas, all non-Malays are segrgated and given lectures on the history of the country and how the immigration of the Chinese and Indians had taken place. And finally how the Chinese and Indians were given citizenship. The Malays too had their own similar sessions.

The instructors blatantly told them that they should not question the rights and privileges of the Malays as the non-Malays should be thankful that they were given citizenship status and a place to stay on their soil. My daughter together with the other non-Malay students was shocked and went back to their dormitories depressed. And to the Malay students, the instructors told them to be aware of this fact and not to mix too freely with the non-Malays.

A Malay friend of my daughter came back crying to the dormitory saying that she could not take the racist position taken by the government authority. My daughter then began questioning the bumiputra policy and was disgusted with such blatant indoctrination. This incident has also made the students harbour anger and resentment. Their fear for the authorities and losing their scholarships made them keep their cool. I am not exaggerating here - ask all the JPA students to write in anonymously and you will know the truth.

These are young minds being polluted with racism. Tens of thousands of students have gone through this programme and more will be attending it in the future. So can you blame them when they exhibit their racist tendencies when in authority? How could the JPA allow such a syllabus for the cream of the nation, who will one day be entrusted to implement government policies fairly?

So, will Najib take responsibility for the racist syllabus and subsequently the racist remarks and apologise to the tens of thousands of students and parents who were hurt by such hurtful remarks? Of course knowing the BN government, it will deny this. Believe me, this is the ABSOLUTE truth.

My call to Najib is to immediately probe into this claim with the help of a multi-racial team of officers from Suhakam BUT please maintain the anonymity of the young children who have everything to lose. This blatant racism practised and preached by the Barisan Nasional government must stop immediately.

From an outraged Malaysian parent

Unfair attacks on UiTM?

Since the posts on UiTM have been mostly negative, actually all negative, I thought that we should have an alternative view for the sake of balance. The following is a letter / email sent from one of our readers. I'm sure that some of our readers will be tempted to 'flame' the writer for his views but I'd like to make an appeal. Please try to write informed comments / criticisms rather than just lash out with knee jerk reactions. For example, the writer says that affirmative action is needed in the Malaysian context. But does the policy of affirmative action require a publicly funded university to be 100% Malay / Bumiputra? Does allowing a quota of 10% of non-Malays mean that affirmative action is no longer practiced in UiTM? I leave our readers to judge.

Following the public demonstration by the UiTM students, we have been bombarded with popular assumptions made by people from all walks of life concerning their idea of what education is, the evil of isolationism and the importance of English. Let us list down all of these popular assumptions with a special reference to UiTM, the favourite punching bag of the day:

Firstly, UiTM is the only university in which the culture of racial chauvinism thrives. In other universities, both public and private, both local and abroad, there is a cosmopolitanism atmosphere in which differences are tolerated, and the multiracial students and faculty members are oh-so-very friendly with each other.

Secondly, the UiTM students are so unfriendly to other people, particularly to those of different races. In contrast, the students from other universities are very warm, jovial and extremely helpful and friendly with everyone.

Thirdly, the UiTM students and graduates are the only ones whose command of English is putrid and atrocious. On the other hand, all the students from other universities could speak English like the native speakers. Why, listening to them, it is very difficult to believe that they are not British, Americans or even Australians. To take this even further, the command of English of all foreign graduates is impeccable and flawless.

Fourthly, the most important commodity that a university student must acquire out of his student life is the ability to communicate well in English, since success in life is solely determined by how well you could express yourself in English.

Most people have never thought of the concept of structural inequality, at the same time they have also chosen to disregard the multitude of elitism producing factors in the society. Most of these critics still believe fervently in the simplistic assumption that if you work hard, success will be in your way. When challenged, these same high priests of meritocracy would point out to some individual examples of successes and hence the conclusion: “you see! without any crutches, only with hard work, you would and could succeed” . This view automatically assumes that the poor are poor because of their own inability and weakness. While this could normally be harmlessly allowed in an academic discourse, to firmly juxtapose this assertion on the predominantly poor malay and bumiputra communities is nothing else other than racism. Hence it is funny to notice how some people tried to portray themselves as liberals yet end up on the dung heap of racism.

The next point of attack concerns the time frame of this policy of protectionism, that is to say, how much longer should UiTM enjoy its special malay/bumiputra nature vis-a vis the affirmative action policy. Well-intentioned critics would see this as a numbers game , that taxpayers have given enough time for UiTM to enjoy its special nature and that the Malay/bumiputra sectors have considerably improved their lot in life, thereby the status quo should be changed. This writer has no qualms in accepting the imperatives of helping the poor. However this must be viewed from a particular context.

Have the malay/bumiputra improved their economic standing? A knee-jerk answer would be in the affirmative, with the ASLI’s findings thrown in to bolster such claims. Unfortunately, there exists considerable ambiguity in such findings since we still are in the dark as to whether the so-called wealth has been spread around the community as opposed to it being in the hands of a few elites. Some would argue that this would not be relevant since if it is shown on paper that the Malays have achieved the specified percentage, then theoretically, the Malays as a whole are now richer. Another argument would be it is every man for himself , and this would be an incentive to spark and sustain future growth, whereby if a man gets RM1 million, it is his alone since it is a reward for his effort and he alone has the absolute share over the spoils. This would then be an incentive for others to work as hard as him, if not harder, and the others would surely obtain similar success . All of these so-called libertarian arguments strategically disregard the power of monopoly, historical and structural inequality of the community together with the greed factor in economics. Justice also has a social dimension to it, whereby it is unjust if the wealth of the community is in the hands of a few elites. There is no problem in supporting the move for wealth to be spread around equitably, that the use of taxpayers’ money should be done in a just manner, that there should be transparency and accountability in the policies of the government. Any reasonable person would be ready to champion such clarion call.

Historical amnesia is always deployed in trying to argue that the history of this country started in 1957/1963 and that every community was born in the said period, with no community having precedence over the other. It is also assumed that the natives of this land had no qualms in accepting any person to be part of the community without any conditions. Hence it has been bandied around that the idea of Malay/bumiputra special positions/rights/privileges is just a constitutional fiction, that the Malays readily accepted the immigrants to be the citizens of this country, embracing them with open arms even, with no prior conditions whatsoever. Some have even gone the extra mile by asserting that the Malays are not the true indigenous people of this country vis-à-vis the Orang Asli, hoping to prove that the Melakan empire together with the pre-islamic malay kingdoms were just a myth. Some of these critics have not even bothered to analyze the British colonial policy papers on the Malays, particularly on the Malay system of education. All of these ridiculous assertions could not hide the inevitable conclusion that the contention that there was absolutely no social contract made between the different races in this nation upon independence is certainly unacceptable.

This writer supports equality and also the call for the affirmative action policies for the malay/bumiputra to be reexamined , which is similarly contained in the Reid Commission’s report. But to do so by disregarding the social and economic disparities of the malay/bumiputra is truly a tad too fanciful.

The main purpose of a tertiary education is not to produce graduates whose command of English is fantastic. It is to educate the student so that he could be a better person and to be instilled with good values such as empathy, trustworthiness and honesty. It is hoped that he would leave the university with a supreme conviction to do good for his family, society and the nation. This is certainly not to deny the importance of the English language. It is however a tool, rather than be seen as an end in itself. Sadly, there are numerous examples of people who got to where they are right now simply on the basis of their command of English. It does not matter if they have no work ethics, it also does not matter if they cannot be trusted to handle the key organizational issues. To the guilty employers, image is everything. As long as the “English factor” could be used to prop up the company’s image, then, why not. It has also been assumed that a good command of English would ipso facto instill some good values in the individual. This is as absurd as the assumption that a good command of Arabic would transform the person into a rabid terrorist. Our society still has an unhealthy obsession with image. As long as the person dresses well and speaks English well, preferably with a genuine sounding accent, then everything is fine although the person might be devoid of ethics altogether. We still have a long way to go in trying to get rid off this “sarong party girls” mentality from our society.

Concerning UiTM itself, many pointed out to the alleged highest unemployment rate of its graduates. What many have conveniently forgotten is that the bulk of the graduates of UiTM are made up of diploma holders. So, what would a good diploma holder do? Why, enroll in a degree course, that’s what. Hence many of these diploma holders then enroll further in degree programmes not just in UiTM, but in other universities as well , thereby earning them the title, “unemployed graduates”. This baseless criticism also assumes that all the graduates of other universities have no problems in the job market, and that they are truly in demand like hot cakes. This is again another nonsensical assumption. This view further assumes that all of the employed graduates are employed based only on merit, not on some other criteria eg, nepotism, cronyism, family connections, etc, etc, which is far from being the case as the job market is rife with such practices. As for the command of English, most Malaysian graduates suffer from this malady as a result of the education system in the schools. Even if you were to walk into the Law Faculty of UM or the law departments of any of the private colleges, you could still find some students with a poor command of English and it goes without saying that not all foreign graduates have a good command of English.

As for unfriendliness and/or racial chauvinism, this writer would be the first to say that not every one is a friendly person. With different personalities and different levels of reasoning and feeling, there would always be people who are different than us. But to simply label ALL UiTM students and graduates as unfriendly and chauvinist and at the same time to assume that all the students and graduates from other universities are virtuous role models and perfect citizens is nonsensical, beyond comprehension. In fact, to say that all of the above problems are uniquely “UiTM” or even worse, “malay/bumiputra” is definitely racism by any other name and therefore inexcusable.

This writer implores all commentators to use logic and good faith in dealing with this subject. Otherwise what is intrinsically an imperative discourse would turn out to be a just a mundane arena in which we display our true persona.


Two letters on Science and Math policy

Wanted to highlight two letters, one written to the DG of the MOE and another written to NST, on the possible reversion in the policy of teaching Science and Math in English. I've been agnostic on this issue thus far but I think both writers make good points in favor of continuing this policy, flawed as it may be. Better to try to improve its implementation instead of doing another U-turn.

Letter to the NST, written by Cheng Yi, who's also a friend of mine.

I REFER to Zainul Arifin’s “Let parents decide on English policy” (NST, Sept 3).
It is indeed ironic that many of our prominent politicians send their children to private or international schools where English reigns supreme.

When Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad announced the decision to teach Mathematics and Science in English, it rekindled my hope in the local education system.

As it is, most of my peers had opted to send their kids to either Chinese or private schools. But with the teaching of Mathematics and Science in English, I thought there was perhaps a spark of hope in our national schools.

I am sure that many pupils from the rural areas will suffer initially but, as Zainul says, kids are better adapters and adopters than adults. I am sure that many of our English-speaking elite did not hail from English-speaking families. I have many Malay friends who speak perfect English although their parents did not.

To children from English-speaking backgrounds, it doesn’t make much difference.

When I was doing my matriculation in Australia, although I studied in Bahasa Malaysia-medium schools, I had no problem coping with the sudden switch to English when learning Mathematics and Science.

However, my peers who did not speak English (this includes those of Chinese descent) did have problems adapting. As a result, most of their High School Certificate scores were compromised.

At the end of the day, it is better to suffer a bit in primary school than to struggle learning a language later in life.

It is this same rationale that persuades many Malaysian Chinese parents to send their children to Chinese schools. “Although we don’t speak Chinese at home, the kids can cope", I often hear them say. Children do pick up much more easily than adults.

I have yet to meet anyone who says, “Oh, I am so glad we did not study Mathematics and Science in English during our school days".

Extra knowledge is a good thing. I look at the pullouts in the NST like Didik, and am impressed by the Mathematics and Science questions in English. It gives our syllabus an international feel. And it gives me no qualms to send my children to a national school.

Zainul’s suggestion for a referendum within each school is a great one. I am almost sure that parents in my children’s school will vote to retain the policy of teaching Mathematics and Science in English.

The government should look into proper training of teachers. Don’t deprive the children of Malaysia of a brighter, international, global future because of bad implementation of a good policy.

The letter to the DG of the MOE. Much longer than the first.

YBhg Dato’ Alimuddin Dom, Director of Education

YBhg Dato’,

With reference to the above matter, I would like to present to you my view on why it's necessary to continue teaching of Maths and Science in English.
A brief introduction of myself and my family is necessary to get a better perspective. My wife and I, aged 42, finished our primary and secondary education in Sekolah Kebangsaan and subsequently graduated in accountancy and computer science, respectively, in Melbourne Australia. We have two children, Standard 1 and 6, schooling in Sekolah Kebangsaan Taman Megah Petaling Jaya.

On hindsight the decision to pursue my tertiary education in Australia was correct and every single penny well spent despite the major financial obstacle and various challenges. I majored in Computer Science and Instrumental Science and hence, Physics and Mathematics are the core subjects throughout the course. I never grasped Physics until my 1st year and consistently received distinction and the credit goes to Mr Jack Venema my physics lecturer. During my final year, National Productivity Board of Singapore interviewed me and offered me a job upon graduation and so did State Electricity Commission of Victoria. But I declined both offers because my heart tells me to return home to contribute to the nation.

Before I delve into why we should continue to teach Maths and Science in English, let’s look back at the history of our education policy. The change to medium of instruction in Bahasa Melayu began in 1970 for Standard 1 and by 1983 the whole exercise was completed in tertiary education [read here]. Which means we’ve used Bahasa Melayu as medium of instruction for Maths and Science for 32 years.

Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, our revered Bapa Permodenan, the architect of modern Malaysia, who transformed our agricultural economic base to manufacturing economic base, realized that if we don’t make our workforce be proficient in English, then the FDIs [Foreign Direct Investment - source of employment] will continue to bypass us. Already, we’re seeing a worrying trend of our traditional FDI investors like Motorola, Matsushita moving out to China, Vietnam, etc. and hence, his decision to change teaching of Maths and Science to English is one of his greatest gifts to Malaysia.

An extract of TDM’s speech entitled "Approaching 2020 – Major Trends that will Impact Malaysian Business" [read attachment for detail]

8. A mass consumer market will make local manufacturing more viable. And there are many things that we can produce. Like Korea and Taiwan we would learn to design and manufacture many things not just for our markets but for export as well.

9. Against this, expect increased and less restricted imports. We must be more competitive. We must develop skills in hi-tech products and we must pay higher wages. The days of low labour costs would have been over before 2020.

10. Our workers must be highly qualified and be trained in higher skills. The workers we would need must be able to handle and service automatic machines, not just assemble things. We will learn to design and produce some of these machines.

11. Training of the workers must be done at specialised training centres. Computer programmes will be needed to do this.

12. What all these means is the business of specialised education and training would become big business. The training centres would also cater for foreign students if we use English as a teaching medium.

13. Malaysia cannot any longer offer itself as a cheap labour country. But the chances are our highly trained workers would still cost less than similarly trained workers in the developed countries. This may mean a shifting of some middle range hi-tech industries to Malaysia.

14. Our advantage today is still the ability to take instructions in simple English. But there will be a spread of English language capabilities in China, Vietnam and other competitors of ours.

15. Accordingly our advantages seem likely to be eroded not only because others are acquiring working knowledge of English but we ourselves would probably downgrade learning of English.

16. I hope that the teaching of science and mathematics in English would continue. But I am not sure. If the decision is made not to, then the hi-tech industries are going to bypass us.

I agree with him that education system is one the most politicized subject. On his part, he has written detailed explanation entitled "MENGAJAR SAINS DAN MATEMATIK DALAM BAHASA INGGERIS" [read attachment for detail] addressing the Malay speaking community to convince them the importance of English. Personally, my encounter with a YB’s response on this matter ["..Mr 70% parents of vernacular schools are against it…] confirms TDM’s view. Lawmakers are more concerned about votes for their self-interest rather than nation interest by articulating to them to look at the big picture. Besides TDM, I have not heard of any other community leaders or lawmakers view on this very important matter.

TDM said "Malaysia is the most planned country in the world. But people do not follow the plans prepared for them. If people had followed the plans, we would have been a developed country by now." When TDM saw the opportunity in knowledge base economy, he quickly embarked on MSC in Cyberjaya. However, the FDI investors are not just interested in the first class infrastructures and venues and incentives. They needed competent IT workforce conversant in English but we could not provide enough for their needs. Instead, they have to recruit from Bangalore [our rival] which negates the purpose of MSC. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out why Bill Gates setup their only offshore software development centre in Bangalore because they’ve largest pool software engineers in the world.

Education System must be versatile and evolving to be in-sync with the changing employment needs. A case study of a strategic planning of Singapore is worthwhile. When Singapore government decided to open the two casinos, even before the operators were selected, they have started to introduce courses related to this industry. This is so that by 2010 when the casinos are open for business, the required skill sets are available. These operators are one example of FDIs and one of the operators is our homegrown company ie Genting Berhad. On hindsight, had our education system been planned and executed properly according to our FDI investors’ needs, today MSC would have been another economic pillar and we would be closer to a developed nation.

In my opinion, if we analyse carefully, the noises getting louder against teaching of Maths and Science in English are groups of people complaining about the symptoms of bad implementation plan. I would like to use the analogy of a ship. Education policy is like a big ship and the captain is the head of MOE, teachers are the crews and students are the passengers. If we see an iceberg ahead, the captain will change the direction and it takes time to navigate to avoid the obstacle to reach the final destination.

I think the most important question our policymakers should ask is what should be the determinant of our education policy ? Is it not employability ? Parents and students take pain to consult career guidance about career opportunity. If we agree on this then let us look at the big picture, otherwise why bother to spend 3 years prep school + 6 years primary + 7 years secondary + 4 years tertiary = a whopping 20 years!

Who creates employment opportunity ? FDI investors like Intel, Dell, Samsung, Motorola, Matsushita, etc are some the names we are familiar with. What will attract them to Malaysia ? What makes Dell setup their worldwide callcentre and laptop manufacturing plant in Penang ? Perhaps, Penang workforce have the necessary skill sets and have the necessary English proficiency. The same question applies to Intel's chip design centre in Penang. It is a fact that FDIs are getting scarce and we are competing with China, Vietnam, India and not forgetting Thailand, Indonesia and Phillippines. Hence, we need to continue produce the same skill sets to attract more FDIs.

What type of employment should we focus then ? As mentioned earlier, under TDM’s administration we have diversified our economy to industrial/manufacturing base. In the E&E [Electrical & Electronics] industry, we have to move up the value chain. We can’t continue to rely on simple assembly manufacturing because countries like China and Vietnam are offering cheap low skill labour cost to companies like Motorola, Matsushita,etc. The other areas are biotechnology, information technology, telecommuncation, pharmaceutical, etc

In the era of globalisation, to attract inflow of FDIs we must have the capability of producing higher value-added products which demands medium to highly skill workforce with the ability to take instruction in English. The goods produced are then exported and in return we earn foreign currency. Also, the spin-off FDI to supporting goods and services industry is enormous which create more employment opportunity. Through these economic activities, the Government generates revenue in the form of taxes to pay for the expenditure as outlined in the yearly budget.

Shouldn’t we be consulting with our economic think-tank such as NEAC, EPU, Bank Negara, MIER, ASLI, CPPS, MITI, Economic Council [newly formed] since they’re at the forefront of dealing with inflow of FDIs before we make any hasty decision on such an important issue ?

In my opinion, the main issue that we should focus our attention on is to iron out the teething problem of implementation and not whether we should revert. I am quite disappointed with NUTP for changing its tune. On 8/3/08 NUTP was very supportive with an article on NST entitled "Do the math, keep it in English" to 4/9/08 postion entitled "Teaching Science and Mathematics in English: ‘Wrong to learn language this way". Perhaps, they should read TDM’s speech again, "Approaching 2020 – Major Trends that will Impact Malaysian Business". It's the function of teachers to execute the education policy to meet the needs of the nation.

I am not an educator but perhaps, I can give some input on the student perspective. Let’s examine some facts about the implementation, beginning with an extract of from newspaper. Earlier in the Dewan Rakyat, Deputy Education Minister Datuk Razali Ismail said the Government spent RM2.21bil on information and communication technology equipment in 2003 to implement the policy of teaching Mathematics and Science in English. He said another RM2.4mil was spent on software, RM317mil to train teachers and RM638mil as subject incentives.

Since when does equipment become more important than human in teaching. I graduated in Computer Science without owning a PC and those days writing a program was using punch card and a very tedious process, contrast to today.

From an economic standpoint, the money spent on the equipment is an outflow of foreign currency because they’re all imported [at most, we assembled it]. I would rather that the money be spent on training teachers which also ensure the money stays in our economy. Wouldn’t it be better used if we tapped on the retired teachers and implement ‘buddies’ system where a retired teacher is assigned one to one basis and complimented by night classes.

I disagree with the notion that our students can cope especially those in the rural area. If the teachers are well equipped and confident then the learning process will fall in place. Ultimately, it’s how the lesson is delivered. The success is making learning fun and relevant to daily life and not about mugging and as with my experience in Physics. Besides formal learning, in today’s digital era, students are exposed to the Internet for additional reference source.

I would like to relate a story about a Malay friend who is now a CEO of a statutory body. He was remembered as "a student who came to school on borrowed shoes" and one of very few Malays in an English medium school. He was proud to tell me that he received a Colombo Plan scholarship and a Bachelor of Arts in Australia. My point is that it’s duty of the policymakers to give everybody a chance especially those in the heartland, as a means to get out of poverty.

I think it’s far more productive for MOE and principals, teachers concerned to have continuous discussion to smoothen the edges rather than raising the white flag at this stage. Remember our teachers managed to switch the medium of instruction from English to Bahasa Melayu in 1970s and I don’t see any reason why we can’t do it now.

In conclusion, Malaysia needs to attract more FDIs bring us closer to a develop nation and hence, MOE needs to produce more employable workforce who possess technical skill set and good command of English. Therefore, it is necessary to continue with teaching of Maths and Science in English. History will be our judge for whatever decision you make!

Yours faithfully,
Benjamin Choo
(A Concern Bangsa Malaysia)

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Our Varsities: Good, Bad & Ugly

I'm not going to copy and paste the entire article here. But I thought its worth highlighting that one of our resident commentator on this blog, Shawn Tan has put together a group of young Malaysians at Cambridge University to discuss burning issues, the first being the state of our universities published in Malaysiakini.

It's unapologetic, it's critical but it's not new. The fact that the points raised aren't new isn't a criticism of the article but that of our Ministry and Government for they have not addressed these issues with the necessary determination and political will despite these problems having been raised many times over the last decade or more.

35% of Science and Math teachers lack English proficiency

Is it a surprise that the MOE is considering getting rid of teaching Science and Math in English when 35% of its teachers have a poor command of English? Again, this is one in a long line of bad implementation projects in the education system in Malaysia. I didn't know whether to laugh or cry when I read this line:

The Government, he said, had provided all types of assistance to these teachers to improve their command of English, including monetary facilities to reference books and tuition classes. "We found that teachers used these monetary aids provided by the Ministry for other unrelated purposes," he added.

USM - the new Apex university

USM has been named the Apex University, beating out UM. Among other things, being named as the Apex university will allow USM to have more 'autonomy in finance, service scheme, management, student intake, study fees and determining the top leadership'. I've always had more positive things to say about USM compared to UM partly because I think that the VC there - Dzulkifli Abdul Razak - is more progressive and visionary compared to the VC at UM. Hopefully this will give another boost to USM in its efforts to improve and upgrade itself.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Not sure if I want to receive this Honorary PhD

Found this NST advertorial from Lim Kit Siang's blog. I'll reproduce it below and let our readers judge for themselves. Whoever wrote this advertorial should be fired!

D.K.II, S.P.M.J., S.P.C.M.

Yang Amat Mulia Raja Zarith Sofiah binti Almarhum Sultan Idris Al-Mutawakil Alallahi Shah has born on 14th of August 1959 in Hospital Batu Gajah, Perak. Yang Amat Mulia Raja Zarith is a third son to Duli Yang Maha Mulia Paduka Seri Sultan Perak Darul Ridzwan and Duli Yang Maha Mulia Raja Mazuwin binti almarhum Raja Arif Shah.

Yang Amat Mulia Raja Zarith Sofiah get early education in Sekolah Rendah Jenis Kebangsaan Datin Khadijah Kuala Kangsar in the state his birthplace namely in Perak. After end of the education in primary school, Yang Amat Mulia continue the education to form one at Sekolah Jenis Kebangsaan Raja Perempuan Kalsom Kuala Kangsar, Perak.

In the month of September 1972, Yang Amat Mulia Raja Zarith Sofiah have set forth to England for further education in Chaltenham Ladies College, Gloucestershire to form six. Then, Yang Amat Mulia continue learning it in Davies College London in September 1977 and his following year in receive enter to Somerville College, London after having passed Oxford Entrance Examination.

After graduated at Oxford University with Bachelor of Art in June 1983 and follow the traditional University of Oxford, Yang Amat Mulia Raja Zarith will receive Master of Art after three years in 1986. Yang Amat Mulia also is a linguist follow several courses including language Mandarin at the tertiary level, French and Italy language.

As his father, Yang Amat Mulia Raja Zarith Sofiah is a person that talented in picture arts. Refinement of soul, Yang Amat Mulia always watching natural beauty environment immortalize in the form photograph and painting to make look and reference. Yang Amat Mulia Raja Zarith performance become guide to deliver the message education to general public. Yang Amat Mulia concern on women and natural world and it custody aspect in become deep theme in painting.

Yang Amat Mulia Raja Zarith Sofiah comply have interest profoundest field documentation. Apart from producing book, Yang Amat Mulia Raja Zarith doubled up guest writer in the The New Straits Times newspapers and in personal column it “Mind Matters” in The Star newspaper. Besides writing, Yang Amat Mulia comply active presenting a working paper at the conference national level and international.

Education from her father and mother over concern to the people, make Yang Amat Mulia Raja Zarith Sofiah likes engaged in voluntary activities about as Deputy President of Majlis Wanita Johor (ROSE), Chief of Persatuan Pandu Puteri Malaysia Johor branch, Chairman of Nationalistic Community Service Red Crescent Malaysia, Patron of Spastic Children School in Johor Bahru, Patron Rotary Club of Tebrau Foundation, Advisor of Traditional Arts School International in London and become Pro Chancellor University Technology Malaysia (UTM) and becomen Royal Felllow Faculty of Language and Linguistic University Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM).

As the appreciation towards her contributions of ideas and efforts in the development of education in Malaysia, Chancellor of University Tun Hussein Onn Malaysia, Duli Yang Amat Mulia Tunku lbrahim lsmail lbni Sultan lskandar, Tunku Mahkota Johor, has approbation to presented the awards to Yang Amat Mulia Raja Zarith Sofiah binti Almarhum Sultan Idris Al-Mutawakil Alallahi Shah the Honorary Doctorate of Philosophy in Education at 7th Convocation Ceremony of University Tun Hussein Onn Malaysia in this year. Congratulation from us, University Tun Hussein Onn Malaysia members.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Congrats Prof Khalid!

Congrats to Prof Khalid Abdul Kadir for being the recipient of the first Merdeka award for Health, Science and Technology. Prof Khalid is the head of the Johor Baru Monash University Clinical School and his area of specialty is the treatment of diabetes. With so much depressing news of politicians seeking bogus PhDs and VCs having lousy CVs, it is good to read about a genuine academic who cares about his area of research. I don't know much about the research of diabetes but I do know that a simple google search reveals that Prof Khalid has quite a few publications in refereed journals. I'm guessing that Monash would not have made him the head of their clinical school in JB if he was a sub par academic.