Professor Wan Ramli Wan Daud of Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia’s (UKM) Engineering and Built Environment Faculty was quoted to have said: “DLP will see students learning Science and Mathematics in English just to increase their proficiency in the language.”
This, he said, was wrong as students should be taught Science and Mathematics in their mother tongue. The report made me feel sad and frustrated, and the opinion given, especially by a local internationally-known scientist who is a university don and an educationist, was disappointing.
While I do not totally disagree with his view, I am puzzled by the professor’s claim that, “the reason you need English is because the major scientific journals are now owned by English-speaking countries”.
If that is the case, how does one ensure our students, including Science students, understand English if programmes such as the DLP are rejected?
DLP is not a programme like PPSMI, which was about teaching Mathematics and Science in English. It is more than that. DLP is supposed to make our students know and understand English until they reach a standard that is acceptable at the local and international level.
Under DLP, schools have been given the option to teach Science, Mathematics, Information Technology and Communication, as well as Design and Technology in English or Bahasa Malaysia.
Many are also suggesting that subjects such as History and Literature should also be taught in English to ensure that students learn both the subjects and the language better.
Now, if university dons like Wan Ramli insist on using the mother tongue to teach Mathematics and Science without supplementing it with a programme for our students to learn English, such as DLP, for example, how then do they expect our graduates to understand scientific journals written in English?
It has been acknowledged that most scientific books, journals, papers and publications on new theories, re-proving or disproving long established theories, discoveries and new research and findings that are available are published in English.
Therefore, in not knowing English at an accepted level, our students and graduates cannot use these publications even if they have access to all of them.
Their knowledge will then be quite limited since they can only read and understand scientific books written or translated into Bahasa Malaysia, when they should be able to know a lot more than that. So, why deny them such knowledge?
I believe the professor must have been to an English-medium school or went through training or courses in English when he was young and had attended overseas universities that used English as the medium of instruction at some stage of his tertiary studies, where he eventually obtained his PhD.
I am sure that he is pleased, thankful and relieved that his knowledge of English is at a high level.
Science is objective, fixed and definite and mainly dwells in formulas, remembering abbreviations or symbols used to name and identify liquids, solids and gases, determining the number of atoms and molecules in them, how they are structured and how they can be re-structured to create new things or new products and about things that are tangible.
Science is also about memorising facts, principles and accepted theories.
General English, on the other hand, is something that can be considered “loose”, unstructured (unless, of course, if one talks about grammar, parts of speech or conversation), and the ability to express one’s thoughts, construct sentences based on ideas or subjects given, and allowing for the flow of thoughts, how to use reasoning, thinking, logic, rationale and/or common sense for many things that are mostly subjective and intangible.
Because of this, Science or Mathematics can be taught in any language, and as the professor stated correctly, “much of the science in the world is produced in non-English languages such as German and French.
Most of the discoveries in quantum physics are done in German”. Science English and General English are, however, two different things altogether and are not interchangeable.
Unlike Science English, in General English, not all ideas will necessarily finally arrive at or reach conclusions.
But, despite that, some may still be accepted, depending on the situation or circumstances. Sometimes, parties involved need to agree to disagree or come to a compromise so that things do not stagnate.
Science is mostly, if not all the time, objective and whatever theory introduced must be proven before it can be approved and accepted, otherwise, it will be discarded.
If our graduates only work in the country and do not have to deal or collaborate with people overseas at all, that’s fine.
But then again, as a country, we will be left far behind other countries that have graduates and people who know and use English and have access to new scientific discoveries and technology.
We may then require the services of overseas consultants, such as scientists, engineers and technologists, to help our country when we embrace new scientific and engineering breakthroughs and the latest state-of-the-art technology, and this may prove exorbitant.
It can be argued that Science books in English can be translated into Bahasa Malaysia.
But the question is, how many books can be translated in a year, compared with the vast number of new Science books published during the same period?
Transfer of technology and knowledge cannot be applied for the very same reason, and as a country, because of that, we may never achieve first world status.
Even after building or constructing new infrastructure, installations of hi-tech equipment and facilities — including those for the purposes of defence such as weapons, radar and monitoring systems — the manning, operation and maintenance work will have to be undertaken mostly by expatriates.
Our people will be relegated to subsidiary work and less important non-strategic duties and responsibilities, and we will be dependent on foreigners to operate these strategic equipment.
If we are not careful, we may one day be at their mercy or worse we may find ourselves under their control and our country’s strategic interest compromised because of our dependence on them and that can lead to a very serious security threat to our country. Is this what we want and will we feel secure in such a situation?
As a former soldier who saw real action, the military made it a point that we had soldiers (and officers) who could speak the enemy’s language or languages, and know and understand all the codes and sign languages used by them to gain an advantage over our enemy.
We had to be at least one step ahead of the enemy at all times.
That’s how crucial and important knowing more than just our own language is. Soldiers engaged in war or multi-country exercises, such as those organised by the United Nations, must know English as many codes, code words, signs, commands and orders used are in English.
Most weapons, weapon systems and standard operating procedures used internationally are also in English. No concerned Malaysian who cares for the wellbeing of the country and the people, and who loves the country, should object to the implementation of DLP.
Regardless of political inclinations, Malaysians who are against the DLP and the expected enhancements in teaching and using English language in national schools should not let our country lose out in the process.
With the signing of the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement, we must realise that our country has ambitious plans and that we want to be an important global player, not just in trade but, in many other areas, including education.
By accepting DLP and gaining proficiency in English language everyone will gain.
Without a good grasp of English, besides knowing the national language, we may not get the quality of education that we aspire and without it, I and, I believe, many other Malaysians, too, do not think that our country can get to where we want to be.
Let us not be selfish and impose more obstacles on the many that we have to face and let the country and the people of Malaysia be what they want their future to be.
Hussaini Abdul Karim, Shah Alam, Selangor NST Opinion You Write 22 February2016 @ 11:00 AM