09 July, 2009

Teaching of Maths and Science in English - One step forward and two steps back (2)

Four issues that lead to a long-brewing row between Malaysia's former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad and his chosen successor, Abdullah Badawi, those four issues are the sudden rise in the number of import permits for cars which he claimed affected the national car project, Proton; the sale of a motorcycle company by Proton, the removal of Proton's chief executive and the cancellation of the bridge to Singapore.

For more than two decades Dr M single-mindedly drove Malaysia towards industrial development through a combination of large scale state intervention (such as launching pet projects like Proton) and by building a coterie of favoured businessmen to whom were handed government projects and lucrative monopolies.

Abdullah Badawi broke with Dr Mahathir's penchant for mega-projects to concentrate on problems like rural poverty and education while rebuilding institutions debased during his predecessor's tenure - the police, the judiciary and the civil service.

Matters started to come to a head after Abdullah's government abandoned plans for a new bridge to Singapore - a project Dr Mahathir had championed when he was in office - on the grounds that it might contravene international law.

"This is the limit," Dr Mahathir declared then. "To surrender your sovereignty to Singapore as if you are scared of them... This is a 'half past six country' with no guts.", and announcing publicly that he regretted appointing Mr Abdullah as his successor. "I'm in the habit of choosing the wrong people."

Ever since Datuk Seri Najib Razak took office as prime minister just under 100 days ago, the outspoken Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad has held his peace and refrained from attacking the Barisan Nasional (BN) government.

But today Dr Mahathir hit out at the Najib administration for “not listening to the voice of the people” when it decided to abandon the policy of teaching science and mathematics in English.

“I am not surprised over the disappointment and even anger towards the government’s decision on the teaching of maths and science,” he said.

“Seems to me like the government is not listening to the voice of the people,” the former prime minister said in a short posting on his blog today.

He has started a poll to ask readers of his blog if they supported or opposed the decision to now revert to teaching science and mathematics in Bahasa Melayu.

A separate poll conducted recently of voters in peninsular Malaysia by the independent Merdeka Centre showed that a majority of Malaysians wanted English to remain as the medium of instruction for the two subjects.

But yesterday, Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin announced the government’s decision to scrap the policy, bowing to pressure from nationalists and education activists.

Dr Mahathir, who had been informed by the DPM prior to the announcement, said yesterday that his recommendations were not taken into consideration.

The former PM also punched holes in the government’s arguments, and pointed out that if the government was now going to train more English teachers, they could also train science and mathematics teachers in the same language as well.

Meanwhile, PM Datuk Seri Mohd Najib Tun Abdul Razak said the goal of raising students' English proficiency in the national education system remains even with the abolishment of the teaching and learning of Science and Mathematics in English in 2012.

The prime minister said measures to enhance the teaching of English would include increasing the teaching/learning hours for the subject, increasing the number of English language teachers and setting up language laboratories in schools.

"If the situation permits, we may make a pass in the English language a must at the Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM) level.

Asked about former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad's disappointment over the abolishment of PPSMI which was introduced by him six years ago, Najib reiterated that the aim for English mastery remained but only the methodology and implementation would be different.

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