Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad has been consistent in his stance on developing a science-literate and thinking nation. He believes that making young Malaysians learn science and mathematics in English in school is the best and fastest way to do so.
The Parent Action Group for Education has always strongly believed that our nation should adapt itself to keep pace with the rapid technological changes taking place in the world, especially Industry 4.0. Mahathir is a man in a hurry and has wasted no time in getting the conversation going while he is still the acting education minister.
Perhaps, this is a cause for concern. Maybe we should not rush into anything based on the lessons learnt from the previous science and mathematics policy. But we can take cognisance of the fact that it is imperative to have a long-term and foolproof implementation plan for education policies to ensure their success and desired outcome.
Many studies were done between 2003 and 2010 on the policy of teaching science and mathematics in English. Unfortunately, the studies were in line with who commissioned them and the purpose of the research. The two most cited studies were “Kesan Dasar Pengajaran Sains dan Matematik di dalam Bahasa Inggeris di Sekolah Rendah” by Universiti Sultan Idris (UPSI) (April 2008) and “Tamatkan PPSMI: Laporan Eksekutif Kajian Pemuafakatan Badan Ilmiah Nasional (Pembina)” (March 18, 2009).
The two studies were done by national language proponents and used as a basis to abolish the previous policy and are still being used as justification by the detractors to prove that the policy failed. The studies found that only 8% of teachers were teaching confidently in English, which means 92% of them were confused about how the lessons were to be delivered. Instead of providing corrective measures to improve the situation, the studies recommended abolition instead. Evidently, the studies were biased to some degree and skewed towards a certain validation.
We also know that the Ministry of Education (MoE) did some studies on the policy. We urge the MoE to make public the studies, which indicated some success, rather than still keeping an embargo on them.
The biggest weakness of the 2003 policy was that it had no proper implementation plan to ensure its success. No remedial action or careful intervention was taken to ensure that the teachers improved themselves, although they had incentives to boost their language skills. The teachers were left to their own devices without any guidance or support. It was thought that the shortcomings of the teachers could be remedied by digital media learning through projectors and compact discs provided to the schools. However, some of the teachers did not, or could not, use them.
Nevertheless, the current Dual Language Programme should be given due recognition — this is where the students in some schools are given the option to study science and mathematics in English — which shows a positive trend of success. The DLP works better for the students because they are more receptive to being taught in English. Moreover, the teachers are better prepared and equipped to teach them.
We propose to implement the DLP in schools and classes at a faster pace. We could start by having one DLP class in every school. We need to look at this as a long-term plan to grow DLP classes progressively over the years.
But first, we need to tackle the deficit of trust between the people and the education system. A forced implementation in all schools across the nation cannot be done, even with digital learning. The policy’s previous record speaks volumes of what not to do. It is crucial that the teachers are invested in the idea, properly trained and supported to conduct blended learning.
Even then, we need to empathise with the students who lack proficiency in the English language or who may need more coaching to get the concept right regardless of the language. In this sense, it is not only about raising the proficiency of the students in the language but also ensuring that they are not left behind.
To make certain that we have the right environment to hold DLP classes, there must be proof that the Highly Immersive Programme (HIP) for English is working. Therein lies the problem because we know at this juncture that the teachers, principals and schools are still not getting the right support and guidance to make the HIP work. It also lacks a successful implementation plan, which needs to be remedied immediately.
Now more than ever, we need a dedicated and intensive programme for English in all the schools. Perhaps, it is time to kick-start an enriching school environment programme for the HIP and ensure that bilingual school leaders are able to motivate and influence their teachers and students to make it a success. We need school leaders and the right support and encouragement from the district offices and state education departments to pursue bilingualism in schools to quickly raise the standard of English.
To restore public confidence in our education system, we must show that we have the ability and willpower to make the DLP work.
Tunku Munawirah Putra is honorary secretary of Parent Action Group for Education Malaysia — an educational lobby that serves as a channel between concerned parents, the Ministry of Education and other stakeholders