Musa should make public Education Ministry proposal to implement the teaching of Science and Mathematics in English next year for public feedback before special Cabinet meeting on Tuesday

Media Comment 
by Lim Kit Siang

(Petaling Jaya,  Thursday): The Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad will chair a special Cabinet meeting on Tuesday (July 16) to discuss the proposal of the committee headed by the Education Ministry’s director-general Datuk Abdul Rafie Mahat on the teaching of Science and Mathematics in English and determine its implementation in schools next year. 

What exactly is the term of reference of the Abdul Rafie committee – is it to make proposals on the  implementation of the teaching of Science and Mathematics at all primary and secondary school levels next year, including the holding of the UPSR, PMR and SPM examinations in English, or has it a larger remit, to arrest the declining standard of the English language among students and to enhance English fluency among Malaysians to upgrade the national competitiveness to better position the country to face the challenges of globalization, liberalization and information and communications technology? 

It is deplorable that the terms of reference of the Abdul Rafie committee was never made public or that the committee was set up directly as a result of the UMNO supreme council meeting on May 10 to approve the teaching of science and mathematics in English,  disregarding the important line of distinction between party and government. 

Be that as it may, the Education Minister, Tan Sri Musa Mohamad should make public the proposal of the  Abdul Rafie committee so that there could be  public feedback which should be beneficial for  the special Cabinet meeting on the subject next Tuesday.

This is important as pertinent questions have been asked about the competence and qualification of the Cabinet to decide on this important question, when it was  many of the same Ministers who are responsible for the current mess in the education system, including the deplorable drop in the standards of English undermining Malaysia’s national competitiveness.

What the Cabinet should decide next week is to adopt a national policy to enhance the standards  of English in the country, not only in schools but also among the general population, giving approval for “Master English” initiatives - like the proposed “English Day” in Selangor every Thursday where the whole state government, from the office boy to the Mentri besar, are encouraged to talk, converse, discuss and meet in English to promote the language among the people – but to give leeway for a professional and effective programme of English teaching in the schools. 

The standards of English did not suddenly decline overnight – so improvements in the command of English cannot similarly be achieved overnight. 

The proposal to introduce the teaching of Science and Mathematics in English in all primary and secondary forms next year, including the holding of UPSR, PMR and SPM, without any preparation or the supporting infrastructure, is not only too hasty, ill-considered but even hare-brained as being  a most unprofessional response  to an educational problem. 

With most of the teachers themselves no more conversant in English, let alone proficient, the suggestion that the teachers and pupils learn to master English together with the latest IT techniques is not a very “smart” idea and is unlikely to be productive or successful. 

What the Cabinet should decide next week is to make English a compulsory pass subject for all public examinations, and then work backwards to raise the standards of English among the primary and secondary school students in a systematic and well-planned programme. 

The mess in the schools from a precipitate introduction of the teaching of Science and Mathematics in English in all primary and secondary forms and the holding of public examinations in these subjects in  English can be foreshadowed  by the following two recent contradictory statements in a matter of three days: 

The statement by Abdul Rafie that a survey carried out by the Education Ministry recently reveals that teachers are on the whole “positive” towards using English as the medium of instruction for Science and Mathematics. (Star 2.7.02) 

Three days later, the concern expressed by the National Union of Teaching Profession (NUTP) that teaching science and mathematics in English may make it difficult for the government to achieve its 60:40 target ratio of science to mathematics students.  An NUTP memorandum to the Education Ministry said that students who do not live in an English-speaking environment would find it difficult to understand the science and mathematics syllabi. There is also no study which states that teaching science and mathematics in English is more effective than in Bahasa Melayu or other languages. (NST 5.7.02). 

Such conflicting and confusing statements by the nation’s educators and planners are not calculated to inspire public confidence that the people  could look forward to an end to  the long-running crisis in the national education system – which seems to be compounded with each change of Education Minister. 

It is a fatal flaw of  the 10-year Education Development Blueprint 2001-2010 which was announced by Musa last October that it made no reference and had no recommendation to address the problem of deplorable decline of English standards in the schools. 

Is this the reason why the Education Ministry does not have a copy of the 10-year Education Development Blueprint for DAP MPs and leaders, after more than a week of asking? 

A week ago, my office had contacted the Education Ministry for copies of the 10-Year Education Development Blueprint as the draft blueprint was never tabled in Parliament and there had been no extensive public consultation although the Education Minister had invited public feedbacks for the blueprint. 

The government and the Education Ministry talk a lot about the IT revolution and the use of IT in education, including smart schools, but they themselves lack the mindset and culture of an information society – testified by the fact that the draft Education Development Blueprint 2001-2010 has not been posted on the Education Ministry website for the widest public dissemination although it was announced some nine months ago!

The  DAP Central Executive Committee has taken a policy decision to draft  a 10-year Education Master Plan (2003-2013) for a world-class education system for Malaysia  to face the challenges of globalisation, liberalization and information and communications technology and we had hoped to get copies of the draft Education Development Blueprint 2001-2010 for study in drafting the 10-Year Education Master Plan.

I find it completely mind-boggling that the Education Ministry has not been able  to produce a single copy of the draft blueprint to respond to the DAP request  for one whole week, unless the Ministry is  ashamed to distribute it because of the fatal flaws in the blueprint., such as the omission without a single mention of the urgent importance to enhance the standards of English in schools and universities.


*Lim Kit Siang - DAP National Chairman