The below is an article I wrote as part of our Citizen Journalism course. It was written before the rally where police fired tear gas and water canon. Today, I heard the buzz that the Education Minister has once again cower to the pressure and is intending to switch the teaching of Science and Mathematics to Bahasa Malaysia in Primary School. This is a very unwise move! It is easier for young children to learn languages than older children. By the time our children are 13 years old, i.e. in Form One, they will have more difficulties in switching to English. I hope the Education Minister is educated enough to know how human children learn. They are not robots, program to follow the political fancies of politicians wanting to gain favour. Stop treating our children like guinea pigs!

ORIGINAL ARTICLE from here – written in early February 2009

‘Malay rights’ is a blanket excuse to champion for everything. It is something that everyone prefers not to challenge. Yet, this involves the education of our children and how it will affect them. Do you dare to refute that teaching of Science and Mathematics in English has absolutely nothing to do with Malay rights?

“not only are we losing our language but also our Malay rights”. ( theatre activist Khalid Salleh – quoted on Malaysiakini http://malaysiakini.com/news/97349)

Activists and NGOs are using this ‘Malay rights’ in demanding that the Government switch back the teaching of Science and Mathematics to Bahasa Malaysia.

“How can you teach Maths and Science in English to pupils who don’t even understand English when they first come to school, whether Chinese or Indians or Malays?” (Former Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka director-general and movement president Datuk Dr Hassan Ahmad as quoted by The Star ) http://thestar.com.my/news/story.asp?file=/2009/2/1/nation/3172545&sec=nation

The above quotes are something our Education Minister must seriously take note. Is there truth in the claim that children who are seven years old who enter Primary One don’t understand English?

Next, we need to know what topics are taught in Government run pre-schools. Primary Subjects taken from the Ministry of Education website :

Pre-School

Component:

1. Language and Communication
2. Cognitive Development
3. Moral and Spiritual
4. Socio-emotional Development
5. Physical Development
6. Creativity and Aesthetic

Children who enter primary one learn :

Primary School

Core Subjects:

1. Malay Language
2. English Language
3. Chinese Language (for Chinese National Type Schools)
4. Tamil Language (for Tamil National Type Schools)
5. Mathematics
6. Science
7. Islamic Education
8. Moral Education
Compulsory Subjects:

1. Physical Education
2. Health Education
3. Visual Arts Education
4. Music Education

Additional Subjects

1. Chinese for Communication
2. Tamil for Communication
3. Arabic for Communication
4. Iban Language (starting Year 3)
5. Semai Language (starting Year 3)

By the time the child is in Primary 4-6, more subjects are added to their syllabus :

Level 2 : Year 4-6

Core Subjects:

1. Malay Language
2. English Language
3. Chinese (CTNS)
4. Tamil (CTNS)
5. Mathematics
6. Science
7. Islamic Education
8. Moral Education
9. Local Studies
10. Civics and Citizenship Education

Compulsory Subjects:

1. Physical Education
2. Health Education
3. Visual Arts Education
4. Music Education

Additional Subjects

1. Chinese for Communication
2. Tamil for Communication
3. Arabic for Communication
4. Iban Language
5. Semai Language
6. Kadazandusun Language

If we look at it rationally, there is some truth that children may not be proficient in any languages by seven years old, whether it is their’s mother tongue or Bahasa Malaysia and English because they are simply not given enough basic foundation in these languages. So, the problem boils down to our education system.

The claim by the parties who protested at/against the teaching of Science and Mathematics in English, that the move will corrupt the Bahasa Malaysia or as they claimed it, Bahasa Ibunda (mother tongue), is not true.

In a book by William O’Grady from a series by Cambridge Approaches to Linguistic, he explained that “Children, however, have mastered language before they can tie their shoes.” Many other language experts too concur that it is very easy for young children to grasp the learning of languages and that includes the English language.

Do we Malaysians have the will (and especially the political will) to seee that our children master the Science and Maths subjects in an international language accepted globally, i.e. English? Can we put aside our unfounded fears of English? Are these parents afraid to embarrass themselves in front of the children that they do not know English?

The way I see it, the English subject has been made a scapegoat by the various politicians. With the change of each Education Minister, different opinions and ideas have cropped up. In the last three decades, the views have changed. Are politicians demonising the English subject to seek glory as heroes of the mother’s land? It was in Tun Dr. Mahathir’s era when English was introduced as the medium of teaching. Will he have the final say in the decision now? Or will the current leader cower under the pressures of the NGOs like Gapena who threatened to sue the Government?

Gapena and other non-governmental Malay organisations plan to take legal action against the government and to hold a protest rally. (malaysiakini http://malaysiakini.com/news/95924 )

We shall have to see what is the outcome of the proposed mammoth rally of the 152 which is a protest on 15th February, 2009. Meantime, our poor children will be subjected to the petty squabbles at the top over the languages, no thanks to the champions who are out to demonise the English subject for reasons only known to them. Have we forgotten that our children are the ones who have to sit through eleven to thirteen years of grappling with their education? Have we paused and asked them for their opinions?