7 November 2011

English Or Not

The recent decision by the MoE to abolish the Pengajaran & Pembelajaran Sains & Matematik Dalam Bahasa Inggeris or Teaching & Learning Of Mathematics & Science In English - or for the impatient, PPSMI - became the hottest topic of late in the papers with all sides putting their thoughts in support or opposing the move.

Personally, learning and teaching science & mathematics should be done using the most proficient method possible - which would mean using the language that the students are the most comfortable in. That means Chinese or Tamil in vernacular schools and Malay in national schools.

Roti kurang minyak banjir satu!

One of the main reasons why I actually think it's better this way is due to the fact that the entire goal of teaching science and mathematics is to teach students about ... science and mathematics. Forcing students to take up the subject in English does not quite make sense if the goal is get them to learn about calculus and cell structure as the facts does not change with the language, just how they are pronounced and spelt. If anything sodium is actually called 'natrium' in BM, which is a lot closer to its chemical symbol of 'Na' in Latin.

Things are also made harder when it is not even the second language, let alone first, for much of the society in general. Like all languages, English require plenty of practice, something that students don't get much unless it is frequently used in conversations. It is not enough to study the language for one hour daily in school, five times a week and then be of no more use until the next lesson.

Sure, it is also used when watching television and movies but when it comes to entertainment, people usually switch their brains off and would not concentrate on finding out how a sentence in English would be like if translated to the subs.

He had one too many cheeseburgers before filming.
There is a need to change the mindset that views English as a 'foreign' language that will erode the cultural nuances, causing many to zealously guard their heritage, especially when it comes to language. Instead it should be looked at as a skill that makes it possible to communicate 'in default', something like a fallback should no localised channels are available. That's like saying learning the guitar will make you less {enter racial stereotype here} because it's a European musical tool - considering that string instruments are found everywhere all over the world throughout human history.

If the goal is strengthen the command of the language, then the only way to do that is by creating more avenues to have it used more frequently, especially in practical circumstances. Unfortunately there isn't much that is practical that can exclusively be done only in English considering that it is by law that instructions and signboards must contain words or translations in the national language. This creates a problem that makes it possible to not ever use English at all. As long as there are 'alternatives', people would prefer the easier way than one that makes things difficult for themselves.

"Someone is bound to pay for my lackadaisical attitude and it won't be me".

So what's the solution to this conundrum?

Forcing it upon students to prove a point is not one.

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