I blogged this in response to a post by Henry Yew on PPSMI.
Orginal article : http://yewhenry.wordpress.com/2009/03/15/ppsmi-what-now/
These post is written entire based on my personal experience and the thoughts are of my personal opinion. Apologies to those that I have offended in any way and all are welcome to debate on this topic.
PPSMI, or Pengajaran dan Pembelajaran Sains dan Matematik dalam Bahasa Inggeris, focused on the issue of teaching of Science and Mathematics in English Language. It was implemented in Malaysia in 2003 at Primary 3 and Secondary Form 1. I was actually amazed and disgusted that they are still debating on this issue.
I myself, was the guinea pig for this implementation. ( I was a Form 1 student in 2003) At that time, many agreed and objected to the implementation. No doubt, I was worried about the transition as I was learning Maths and Science in my mother tongue for 6 years in primary school. At first, it was hard. And the fact that I was from a Chinese- medium Primary School and not strong in English Language didn't help much either. I still vividly remember the times where I spent hours looking at the Chinese-English Terminology Guide and revising these 2 subjects religiously. But at time passed, I was getting better at these 2 subjects and also discovered my love for Science.
When I was reading the original post by Henry Yew, I was practically shaking my head. It has been 6 years since the teaching of Maths and Science in English started and the first batch of "guinea pigs" are now in University. And yet, they are still objecting to this policy, over unsubstantial reason like the quality of Bahasa Melayu will deteriorate. As far as I remember, only Science and Maths are taught in English while other subjects such as Sejarah, Geografi, Pendidikan Moral and many more are still being taught entirely in Bahasa Melayu. Does teaching of the two important subjects in English really affect the quality of Bahasa Melayu that much? Plus, the quality of Bahasa Melayu is still deteriorating with or without PPSMI, as the Malays themselves are in endless abuse of their own mother tongue. All kinds of slangs and words are borrowed from English, not to mention the many wrong usage of words and phrases by the Malays themselves. I think if they really want to improve the quality of Bahasa Melayu, why don't they focus on improving the usage of the language itself rather than condemning PPSMI.
Moreover, we cannot deny that English is indeed the lingua franca in this modern world. All major universities using English as the main medium of teaching. Most academic references are written in no other than the English Language. Hell, the number of people using English as communication seriously out-numbered those who use Bahasa Melayu. Even the China emphasised on the importance of English when Mandarin is the most widely spoken language on Earth. Imagine the cultural and linguistic shock of a student studying aboard, where everything has to be translated from English into Bahasa Melayu. I think I need not mention a certain well-known student from Malaysia dropped out of Oxford University after a mere 2 weeks, because she cannot understand lectures in English. In university level, I think that it is simply not affordable for a student to be flipping a bilingual dictionary while all the other students are already busy learning new things.
Additionally, some sources cited that they are objecting to the idea of PPSMI because students are not good in English. To me, that is simply unreasonable. The point of education is to learn. What is the point of doing something we already know while there are so much to be learnt outside of our own circle? Is it sufficient to be wallowing in our own comfort zone while the world improve by facing challenges? Students who are not good in English should take effort to improve in the language instead of wasting time, complaining about it. Teachers who are not strong in English also should take initiative to learn the language. And I seriously beg the teachers who are not in English to put aside their pride and learn from the students who are better in English than themselves. A true scholar should be one who is not afraid to embrace uncertainty and learn the most from it, not the one who scored the most A's or get a CGPA of 4.0.
Some suggest that we revert to teaching of Maths and Science back to Bahasa Melayu. I strongly disagree with this idea as the government has already spent billions of ringgits preparing and training the teachers to teach the two subjects in English. Plus, do we really want to sacrifice another badge of guinea pigs? I think the policy of revamping our education in using Bahasa Melayu as the main medium many years ago was a mistake. The quality of language and culture was so much better in those days. An old man, the cafeteria uncle, your next door auntie, may be able to speak English more fluent than your own English teacher. Why? Because the level and quality of education back then was way more effective than now. Our entire education system focus only on rote learning and scoring A's. What happen to the simple joy of learning and discovery? The implementation of PPSMI breathed a new breathe of air into the education system where now, our students are better prepared for the world who uses English as the main language of communication. Reverting back to Bahasa Melayu will only push our education standard back to its hole.
Thus, I urge the policy setters to actually look at the big picture, or rather the world map, instead of fretting over small matters. It is the future of the country and her citizens that we are looking at. Please don't play with it like switching channels on television and please don't forget that not all students in Malaysia are Malays. The Chinese and Indians have their own mother tongue too. Does that mean that we should start teaching subjects in Hokkien, Hakka, Tamil and so on?