Musa’s answering 32 questions from MPs in one go on the controversy over the use of English to teach maths and science in primary school was double contempt of  Parliament and the people’s legitimate concerns over educational future of their children

Media Statement 
by Lim Kit Siang

(Penang, Wednesday): The Education Minister, Tan Sri Musa Mohamad yesterday answered   32 questions from MPs in one go on the new policy to  use  English to teach mathematics and science  in primary schools – which constituted  a double contempt of  Parliament and the people’s legitimate concerns over the educational future of their children.

Musa‘s six-page answer and his replies to four supplementary questions permitted by the Deputy Speaker,  Datuk Mohamad Abdullah when all the 31 MPs who had asked questions on the subject should be permitted one supplementary question, was neither comprehensive nor satisfactory and should not be allowed to be the last word by the Education Minister  on the subject in Parliament.

My advice  last Friday that the  Speaker should refuse permission to allow the Education Minister to reduce  Parliament to a joke by answering  32 questions in one go on the “hot” issue on the use of English to teach mathematics and science in primary schools  had fallen on deaf ears – but this is  no surprise as  the Deputy Speaker who presided over the question hour yesterday has  very little understanding of parliametnary practices,  procedures and the standing orders. Otherwise, he would not have arbitrarily rejected  the motion by DAP MP for Kota Melaka, Kerk Kim Hock last Thursday to refer the Election Offences Amendment Bill to a Select Committee after second reading – a proposal I had made many times in Parliament without objections  with the Speaker Tun Zahir Ismail in the chair.

Musa failed to explain yesterday whether the question  was being  decided primarily as  an educational or political issue  and why it  has been allowed to become  such  a divisive national question, as to elicit  threats to  use the  Internal Security  Act and allegations of “extremists”, “anti-national” and “traitors” and  unprecedented media control and censorship to shut out national debate and discussion when there is a national consensus across all political parties, whether government or opposition, and communities, regardless of race or language, about the urgent need to raise English proficiency in schools and universities to restore Malaysia’s competitiveness.

A full commentary  on Musa’s parliamentary reply will have to await the availability of yesterday’s  Hansard,  but it is appropriate to make the  following observations:

Musa is  still very confused over the objective of the use of English to teach mathematics and science in primary schools from Std. One, whether  it is  (i)  to raise the standard of English; (ii) to raise  proficiency in mathematics and science or (ii) to produce  “bilinguals who  are academically better than monolinguals” as he mentioned only last week? 

Yesterday, Musa showed the House “a thick file comprising research papers” to support the new policy,  but he does not understand the real implications of these studies. Last Tuesday, in a written reply to Kerk, Musa  gave the most outrageous and scandalous answer in the history of Parliament when he named four studies which he said supported the government’s policy to use English to teach mathematics and science in primary schools, when in fact they  are completely inappropriate and irrelevant to the issue at hand.

These four studies are all on the effects of bilingual education and academic performance of immigrant language-minority students in the United States – but not on the White language-majority students. There are some 100  diverse ethnic, linguistic, cultural and religious minorities in the United States, with some  three-fourths of these students Spanish-speaking (mostly Mexicans)   while  the nine other largest groups are: Vietnamese, Hmong, Cantonese, Cambodian, Korean, Laotian, Navajo, Tagalog and Russian.

In the United States, the educational controversy is between English-only education for the immigrant minorities  or bilingual education defined as ones in which students with limited English proficiency (LEP) are taught using at least some of their native languages in the initial years.  These studies  are not relevant  to the issue of using English to teach maths and science in  primary schools in Malaysia  from Std. One, particularly for national primary schools.

Why the 10-year Education Development Blueprint 2001-2010, which was never presented to Parliament, made no mention about the objective of turning Malaysia into a  powerhouse in mathematics and science, the teaching of these two subjects in English in primary schools from Std. One, and why no Parliament reports on Malaysia’s performance at  the Third International Mathematics and Science Study – Repeat (TIMMS 1999) or the annual International Mathematics and Science Olympiads which benchmark Malaysia’s rather poor  international standing in these two subjects. 

Musa’s reply yesterday was in fact a repudiation of the report and recommendations of the 27-member special committee, headed by the Curriculum Development Centre director Dr. Sharifah Maimunah Syed Zin, set up last year to produce a future generation of Malaysians proficient in the English language. Is Musa prepared to make public the Maimunah report, which never proposed that the maths and science be taught in primary schools from Std. One?

In his parliamentary reply, Musa spoke about the superiority of bilingualism over mono-lingualism but he   never used the word “trilingualism”.  Is he aware that the Chinese schools have pioneered trilingualism, taking full advantage of Malaysia’s multi-lingual and multi-cultural diversity to leverage them into greater national competitiveness in the era of globalization?

Musa’s reply is studded with educational misconceptions and fallacies, which would be dealt with more fully when the Hansard of his  reply  yesterday are available.


*Lim Kit Siang - DAP National Chairman