I REFER to Liong Kam Chong's "Let them opt to study English" (NST, Dec 27). I agree that the Teaching and Learning of Science and Mathematics in English (PPSMI) policy must be supported by schools so that "affected students (those who were in Year One in 2010 and the earlier batches) can continue studying the subjects in English until they complete Form Five (in 2020)".
School administrators must ensure that students are not "disoriented" or "misaligned" as a result of these "soft-landing" and "option" concepts. Let parents and students choose the medium they want to learn in and provide a strategy for it.
I believe that Maths and Science should be taught in English. There has been a long debate among educational practitioners on the medium used in teaching these subjects. Of course, using Bahasa Malaysia will help students understand better. However, English is appropriate as most of the terms used in these subjects are in this medium.
Where do we stand in English proficiency? Education First, a global language education agency, recently published its 2013 English Proficiency Index Report. Among the indicators used are the national income per capita and methodology in English language learning. The index showed Malaysia outperformed 13 other Asian countries.
Out of 60 countries, Sweden, Norway, The Netherlands, Estonia, and Denmark were the top five. Among Asian countries, Malaysia, Singapore, India, Hong Kong, South Korea, Indonesia, Japan, Vietnam, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, China, Thailand and Kazakhstan ranked 11th, 12th, 21st, 22nd, 24th, 25th, 26th, 28th, 30th, 33rd, 34th, 55th and 57th respectively.
Malaysia and other Asian countries have shown significant improvement in English proficiency. This is a sign that we are ready to compete internationally. Hence, the government and stakeholders should take more measures to prepare students to excel in English.
Why do we focus on teaching Maths and Science in English?
The main reason is, English is the language of academia and science. Both subjects are taught in English in universities worldwide. If students are proficient in English, they will absorb knowledge easily as most books and literature are written in English.
Some claim that it is to better prepare students for higher education. To enter a university, students need to pass language examinations, especially English. Some students struggle to relearn scientific and mathematical jargon in English. They cannot get into university without a good foundation in English. It is a waste of time to put these students through remedial courses.
Another argument is that it reduces expenditure. If students are proficient in English, there will be no need to translate textbooks into the local language.
At a recent seminar, former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad stated that students should be equipped with a good command of today's language of knowledge, which is English. It is the language of industry. Thus, learning Maths and Science in English will make students proficient in the fields they are interested in.
On the other hand, there are challenges if Maths and Science are taught in English. We need well-trained teachers to provide quality education to students.
The demand for English-proficient teachers is high. Unfortunately, many English teachers do not excel in the language, not to mention Maths and Science teachers. Moreover, learning will be fun if students are comfortable with the medium used. If we want students to be comfortable learning in English, we must encourage them to use the language often. Also, if we want to proficient teachers, we can hire professional native English speakers.
How long will it take to prepare students to learn Maths and Science in English? Who will evaluate their progress? What if some students lag behind? Can we afford to employ professional native speakers? Isn't it better to hire local teachers who understand local needs?
In short, Maths and Science ideally should be taught in English, but with some conditions. There is much room for improvement, including the curriculum and methodology, to make learning fun and exciting.
Education Minister II Datuk Seri Idris Jusoh visiting a teacher training centre.
The demand for English-proficient teachers is high.
Ahmad Faizuddin, Gombak, Selangor NST Opinion Letters-to-the-editor 02/01/2014