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Bilingual option for students and teachers

2010/10/17 Sonia Ramachandran and Chandra Devi Renganayar news@nst.com.my

KUALA LUMPUR: All Year One pupils in national schools next year will be studying Science and Mathematics in Bahasa Malaysia.

They will not be given a choice to answer in English for school tests and public examinations as they progress through the years. Their textbooks would also be in Bahasa Malaysia, said Education director-general Tan Sri Alimuddin Mohd Dom.

Those entering Form One and Form Four next year will be given the option to study Science and Maths either in Bahasa Malaysia or English. Their textbooks, however, will be in English.


"If the students are ready to be taught in Bahasa Malaysia, then the teacher can teach the two subjects in Bahasa Malaysia. If they are not ready, then the teacher can teach in English or opt to teach in both languages.

"Through the 'soft landing' approach, the change in the medium of instruction for the teaching of Science and Maths will be done gradually to accommodate the variability in students' and teachers' readiness," Alimuddin told the New Sunday Times. 

He said the process of transition will be done in stages (refer to transition table).


Alimuddin added that the switch to Bahasa Malaysia as the medium of instruction for Science and Maths would apply to national schools, whereas in SJKs (national-type schools), the switch would be to their mother tongues -- Mandarin in SJKC and Tamil in SJKT respectively.

Students entering Form Two in 2012, said Alimuddin, would be allowed to study Science and Maths in Bahasa Malaysia and English until they reach Form Five in 2015.

"Textbooks in Bahasa Malaysia will be supplied to Year One pupils beginning next year and Year Four beginning 2012 for primary schools. For the SJKC and SJKT, there will be textbooks in Mandarin and Tamil respectively.


"As for secondary schools, textbooks in Bahasa Malaysia will be supplied to Form One and Form Four students beginning 2012. 

"Students are allowed to answer in English in exams during the transitional period but once the medium of instruction is completely in Bahasa Malaysia for a particular year or form, then they are required to answer in Bahasa Malaysia," said Alimuddin.

Asked whether schools will be given the option to teach the two subjects in English, Alimuddin said: "The bilingual medium of instruction is allowed only during the transitional period. Once the medium of instruction is completely Bahasa Malaysia for a particular year or form, then the only medium of instruction allowed is Bahasa Malaysia. 

"By 2016, the medium of instruction for both subjects across primary and secondary schools will completely be in Bahasa Malaysia in all national schools," said Alimuddin.

He said 2013 was the last year in which the Penilaian Menengah Rendah examination would be conducted in two languages for Science and Maths, while for the Ujian Pencapaian Sekolah Rendah and Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia examinations, it would be in 2015.

On July 8, last year, Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, who is also the education minister, announced the cabinet's decision to reverse the policy of teaching Science and Maths in English (or PPSMI).

Muhyiddin was reported to have said Science and Maths would be taught in Bahasa Malaysia and vernacular languages in stages from 2012 in line with the ministry's "Memartabatkan Bahasa Melayu, Memperkukuhkan Bahasa Inggeris -- Upholding the Malay Language, strengthening command of English" strategic move.

The reversal in policy came seven years after PPSMI was introduced by former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad in 2003.

Muhyiddin told Parliament in October last year that the ministry was mulling the possibility of teaching the two subjects in Bahasa Malaysia to Year One pupils next year, ahead of the initial 2012 target.

What they say

Mak Chee Kin, chairman, Malacca Action Group For Parents in Education (Magpie)

"WHY are we confusing the students and teachers with the bilingual option? When teachers are given the option to teach in the language they are comfortable with, there will definitely be confusion. Picture this scenario -- next year, a teacher decides to teach Form One students in English and then in 2012 when the students are in Form Two, another teacher opts to teach in Bahasa Malaysia. 

Allow students who have been learning Science and Maths in English to continue until they complete secondary school. If the ministry can gradually phase out PMR in 2016, I don't see a reason why they can't do the same for PPSMI. Why the rush?

Also the use of Bahasa Malaysia to teach the two subjects must only be at primary level. At secondary level it should be taught in English. This will be the right move since English will be maintained as the medium of instruction in the teaching of Science and Maths in Form Six and matriculation."

Datin Freida Pilus,
president of the Malaysian Association of Private Schools (Maps) 


"CHINESE schools are given the latitude to teach the two subjects in Mandarin, instead of Bahasa Malaysia.

This relaxation is grounded on the argument that students will learn better in the language that they are familiar with.

I would look at the whole issue rationally. Clearly, two elements come into play in its logic -- the position of Bahasa Malaysia in the national education system, and the effectiveness of teaching and learning Mathematics and Science in the language familiar to the students. If emphasis is to be given to the first element, then no latitude can be justified. All schools, including SJKs, should be required to teach Maths and Science in Bahasa Malaysia.

However, if the second element is accepted, then it would logically demand a broad relaxation of the policy in respect of all schools. Schools across the board should consequently be given the option to choose either BM or another language that it finds effective in teaching the two subjects."

Liong Kam Chong,
retired secondary school principal


"FOR primary school pupils next year, those in Year Two to Six will continue to study Science and Maths in English. They will have to switch to studying the subjects in Bahasa Malaysia when they enter secondary schools. This switch will not be a "soft-landing", more so for those coming from vernacular schools. Why can't these groups be allowed to continue to learn in English until they finish Form Five?"

Datin Noor Azimah Abdul Rahim,
chairman of Parent Action Group for Education (Page)


"THIS is a very confusing transition. The impact on schoolchildren is even worse, with some having to go through the Science and Maths subjects in English up till Form 3, changing to Bahasa Malaysia in Form Four and Five and then struggling back into the English language as they enter colleges and universities. 

Let's not confuse the students. When they are supposed to focus on learning the subject matter, the students will be grappling with relearning the concepts in Bahasa Malaysia.

After having learnt Maths, Additional Maths, Science, Physics, Chemistry and Biology in Bahasa Malaysia for 11 years, the students are expected to relearn these subjects in English at Form Six/university level.

The Education Ministry has also declared that English hours in national schools will increase by six per cent from 15 per cent to 21 per cent. Currently, the hours for Science, Maths and English total 41 per cent. In 2012, when PPSMI is abolished across the board, the exposure to English falls from 41 per cent to 21 per cent. The net effect of the policy is instead halved, which is far from a perceived rise of six per cent. The long-term effect will be a reluctance to read and speak in English with confidence -- the language of knowledge in science, technology, trade and commerce.

We hope the government will give schools the option to continue with PPSMI. This would be a fair practice since the vernacular schools are allowed to teach in their mother tongue."

* What do you think? Send your views to nsunt@nst.com.my

Frequently asked questions

Q: My son is starting Year One next year. Will Science and Maths be in English?
A: No. Next year, children starting Year One will be studying both subjects in Bahasa Malaysia in national schools.

Q: Will their textbooks be in Bahasa Malaysia?
A: Yes

Q: What if my daughter is entering Year Two next year?
A: Science and Maths will be taught in Bahasa Malaysia and/or English in national schools. Textbooks will remain in English.


Q: What if my child is entering Year Three, Four, Five or Six next year?
A: She will be learning Science and Maths in Bahasa Malaysia and/or English at national schools. Her textbooks will remain in English.


Q: My child is Year Two this year, what happens when she progresses to Year Three, Four, Five and Six?
A: When she is in Year Three next year, Science and Maths will be taught in Bahasa Malaysia and/or English in national schools. Textbooks will remain in English. When she goes to Year Four in 2012, Year Five in 2013 and Year Six in 2014, she will be taught in Bahasa Malaysia and/or English, and textbooks will be in both languages.


Q: What about those entering Form One next year?
A: They will be studying both subjects in Bahasa Malaysia and/or English.


Q: And those entering Form Two, Three, Four and Five next year?
A: They will also be studying both subjects in Bahasa Malaysia and/or English.


Q: My son is entering Form One in 2012. What's his status?
A: Science and Maths will be taught in Bahasa Malaysia. His textbooks will also be in the language.


Q: When is the last year the PMR will be bilingual?
A: In 2013.


Q: What is the last year the SPM will be bilingual?
A: In 2015.

 Source:Bilingual option for students and teachers 


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