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Media Conference Statement by Lim Kit Siang in Petaling Jaya on Tuesday, 7th July 2009 at 1 pm: 

Cabinet should not delay any further to undo the six-year “cure worse than disease” PPSMI using 4 million schoolchildren as guinea-pigs by substituting it with an educationally-sound, professional and acceptable programme to raise standards of English, maths and science of all students

Umno Youth Leader, Khairy Jamaluddin admitted in an interview with Sin Chew Jit Poh yesterday that Malaysia should be a A+ country but it could can only manage a C!

This is because of decades of Barisan Nasional bad governance and misguided policies which fail to fully exploit the human and natural resources of the country for the national good so as to be able to continuously upgrade our international competitiveness to better position the country to face the challenges of globalization, liberalization and information and communications technology.

A good illustration is the disastrous PPSMI (Teaching Science and Mathematics in English) decision making guinea pigs of some four million Malaysian pupils whether in the national, Chinese or Tamil primary schools in the past six years for “a cure which is worse than the disease”!

Have we got in Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin a new Education Minister who has the political will and professional competence to undo the six-year damage from these unprofessional educational experiments to lead the Malaysian education system to a new era of professionalism, excellence and global status?

Muhyiddin has to convince Malaysians that he has these qualities to be a better Education Ministers than his predecessors, particularly the Education Ministers responsible for the PPSMI programme, like former Education Ministers Datuk Seri Hishamuddin Hussein and Datuk Musa Mohamad or even former Education Ministers in the past four decades which included three former Prime Ministers Tun Hussein Onn, Tun Mahathir and Tun Abdullah and the present Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Najib Razak.

Is the shoe of an Education Minister in Malaysia too big for Muhyiddin?

I ask this question because of the shocking self-admission by Muhyiddin in May that he did not know that English is not a “must pass” subject for SPM – which shows that education had never been very close to his heart, although he was not an Education Minister until the Najib Cabinet reshuffle!

Furthermore, Muhyiddin was one of the leading advocates of UMNO for PPSMI in 2002, defending the proposal with the half-baked argument that many countries in the world, including China, Japan, Korea and France were turning to English as it could help them to progress – showing his inability to understand the reasons for the opposition to PPSMI in national, Chinese and Tamil primary schools by parents and teachers from all the major races in the country.

In 2002 I had asked whether PPSMI was meant to raise English fluency or maths and science proficiency among Malaysian students – and I contended that PPSMI was not the answer to the challenges of either raising English standards or uplifting maths and science proficiency among Malaysians students.

Muhyiddin has proved critics of PPSMI since 2002 right, as he said last month that a study conducted by the Education Ministry and researchers from local universities revealed that the teaching of maths and science in English in the last six years had not improved the performance of students in those subjects.

There have been changes but the difference is “nominal” – a two to three per cent change since the policy was implemented in 2003!

Can such “nominal” change, not to mention the downside of the experiment, the money, time and national energy (particularly in the national divisiveness it creased in the country) expended on PPSMI in the past six years?

The Barisan Nasional has taken 30 years to find out that its ill-considered abolition of the English stream of education has undermined Malaysia’s international competitiveness and jeopardized the country’s future prosperity and welfare. It has taken 20 years to discover that its 3M system had failed ensure that school schoolchildren could all acquire the three basic educational fundamentals of 3Rs - reading, writing and arithmetic.

Do we have to take a decade for the policy makers to concede that PPSMI is a disastrous educational experiment which failed to achieve the objectives of raising English fluency as well as maths and science proficiency among national, Chinese and Tamil primary schools?

The challenge before Muhyiddin and the Najib Cabinet is whether they are capable of undoing the damage of the six-year PPSMI experiment and come up with a new educational approach which could achieve the dual objectives of raising English fluency as well as maths/science proficiency of Malaysian students, regardless of race or educational stream.

This new educational package must contain the following elements:

1. Admit that the educationally unsound PPSMI is a failure because educational experience on bilingual education worldwide in the past three decades have shown that using a second language as a medium of instruction from too early stages can impede the development of thinking skills of children resulting in low achievement in mathematics, science and languages – powerful educational arguments against the use of English to teach maths and science from Std. One. This argument does not apply for children whose home language is the English language or a total immersion education system is adopted with English as medium of instruction.

2. Flexibility in dealing with the problems of the different-medium primary schools. National and Tamil primary schools face the problem of student attainment in all three subjects, i.e. English, maths and science while Chinese primary school pupils face the problem of English proficiency. There should not be a “One Size Fits All” solution, which is why I had suggested in 2002 that the nine additional periods prescribed for Chinese primary schools should all be devoted to teaching the English language, which would have resulted in higher attainments of Chinese primary school students in all three subjects – which clearly was not what the Education Ministry wanted.

3. One important approach to raise English proficiency among Malaysian students is to make English a compulsory subject for SPM. If this had been done in 2002, with the Education Ministry working backwards in the past six years to build up on the infrastructure of teaching and learning English in all primary schools, students would have acquired greater fluency in English today.

4. In keeping with a flexible approach which is not tied down to a “One Size Fits All”, there should be choice for parents to pick the type of education they want for their children – including having classes or schools using English as medium for instruction for mathematics and science. Six years ago, Mahathir broached the idea of the possibility of the government re-introduction of the English-medium school system to arrest the decline of the standard of English. This proposal should be seriously revisited by the Cabinet, Parliament and the Malaysian public.

The Cabinet should not delay any further to undo the six-year “cure worse than disease” PPSMI using four million schoolchildren as guinea-pigs by substituting it with an educationally sound, professional and acceptable programme to raise standards of English, maths and science of all students to pave the way for Malaysia to regain our international competitiveness in the global arena.

*Lim Kit Siang, DAP Parliamentary leader & MP for Ipoh Timor



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