The MOE must be able to make informed decisions, unperturbed by politics and have the willpower to do the right thing regardless of the political repercussions.
THE Preliminary Report of the National Education Blueprint 2013-2025 (NEB) recognises that different sets of interventions are required in order to best serve schools at different performance levels.
An international report, in its review of the Malaysian education system completed in April 2012, had a section specifically focusing on the language of instruction for Science and Mathematics. It stated that the Education Ministry (MOE) is held responsible for ensuring that curriculum-related policies meet the needs of various stakeholders.
It also suggested a more flexible approach be used to ensure that children are to be taught in the medium they learn most effectively in, and it includes English as a language of instruction for Science and Mathematics.
The NEB must not be selective in its review. The fact that the teaching and learning of Science and Mathematics in English (PPSMI) and the English Medium Schools are not being deliberated or given proper justification shows that the MOE had intended to ignore the recommendations prescribed by this international body.
These two very hot topics brought up extensively at the national dialogue sessions deserve more than just a mention in the appendix.
The NEB acknowledges that English is the language of communication. However, it must recognise that English is also the language of communication for science and technology, at least for a non-pioneering nation in this specialised field, like us.
PPSMI could very well be the solution to the structural change needed for the immersion in English, in addition to English literature.
However, some quarters have expressed reservations in the effectiveness of employing literature to boost English proficiency.
Several studies conducted by the Educational Planning and Research Department (EPRD) give an encouraging outlook that PPSMI is progressing well. This is all the more reason that we should give the statistics another look, and avoid making poor and premature decisions. Let the evidence speak for itself.
Graph 1 shows the percentage by state, using fully English and/or bilingual Malay/English in the teaching of the two subjects in 2011. Of approximately 10,000 schools, 88% of the schools in the country are using English and a combination of Malay and English for the two subjects. All of Wilayah Persekutuan (Kuala Lumpur, Putrajaya and Labuan) and Malacca are practising this bilingual approach 100% of the time. The only state doing Science and Mathematics fully in Malay in all of its 100 or so schools is Perlis.
Graph 2 shows the percentage of time English is used for the teaching of the two subjects in the classes in 2011. There are approximately 10,000 classes from Standard 2 up to Form 5 that are exposed to these two subjects fully in English.
In fact, the relative number is approximately a quarter of a million students (assuming 25 students per class) who are fully utilising English in Science and Mathematics in their classrooms. The biggest majority of the classes are practising bilingual English 40% and Malay 60%.
However, the classes that use English at least 60% of the time or about 55,000 classes, equivalent to approximately 1.4 million students, should be able to continue with PPSMI according to the prescription of the international report – that the MOE could consider making this a test case to meet the needs of specific stakeholders.
The test case study proposed by this body also bodes well with the effort to depoliticise, democratise and decentralise certain aspects of the curriculum policy, and allow the teaching and learning of Science and Mathematics in English to be continued indefinitely either bilingually or fully in English, where schools are to be given autonomy to decide.
As a benchmark comparison, the relative number of students in this category, that is those exposed to at least 60% of their learning time in scientific English, is equivalent to the population of Qatar, a country fast becoming the education hub of Asia.
Graph 3 shows the performance results based on percentage of passes in three major examinations in the national schools from 2004 - 2011.
In all these three major examinations – UPSR, PMR and SPM – the trend seems to be upwards since 2008. The first cohort of those who started Science and Mathematics in English from Standard 1, sat for UPSR in 2008, the first cohort of those who started in Form 1 sat for PMR in 2005 and SPM in 2007 with two and five years exposure respectively.
The result of PMR has been remarkable. The first cohort who started with PPSMI in Standard 1 in 2003 sat for PMR last year, and their PMR results is the highest in the seven-year trend. This proves that there is inadequate and unsubstantiated data to conclude that Science and Mathematics in English contributes to poor Science and Mathematics results in the national examinations.
In fact, a combination of data reading, according to graphs 1, 2 and 3 is contrary to the popular belief that students are underachieving in the national examinations due to Science and Mathematics in English.
Clearly, this is not the case. But Science and Mathematics in English was blamed for perceived poor results, and thus prematurely and unfairly abolished.
There was a study conducted in 2008-2009 to ascertain the strategy for the medium of instruction for Science and Mathematics prior to the announcement to abolish the policy. The data indicated the percentage of students in the pure Science stream in SPM 2008 who answered their paper fully in English.
On average, 74% of the pure science papers are answered fully in English. That particular cohort is the second cohort that started PPSMI in 2004 from Form 1 and they have five years experience in PPSMI.
Their ability to answer fully in English allays all fears that students cannot cope with Scientific English.
Currently, even without the complete cycle of 11 years of PPSMI immersion, the statistics prove that the students are benefiting from Science and Mathematics in English or bilingually.
It shows that those students who were exposed to at least five years of PPSMI can cope with this policy.
A thorough and comprehensive evaluation on PPSMI can only be made post 2014; at least the first dipstick study can be done based on the results of the SPM 2013 candidates. This will be the first cohort that started PPSMI from the very beginning (2003 – 2013).
Transparency and accountability must be the order of the day. The MOE must be able to make informed decisions, unperturbed by politics and have the willpower to do the right thing regardless of the political repercussions.
Clearly education and politics do not mix.
From this statistical point of view, we see that there are positive outcomes from the PPSMI policy despite the fact that some teachers and students are not ready. The statistics have spoken. It is time for us to do the right thing for the sake of our children.
The teaching and learning of Science and Mathematics in English as an option must stay indefinitely. PPSMI is about Science and Mathematics, not about language. The NEB clearly missed this point.