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English proficiency – they got it all wrong

Malaysiakini.com, 7 Nov 2007

I have one question to the government, which was unanswered for five years. Was there any scientific study which confirmed that teaching maths and science in English can boost English proficiency?

I was a student from a Chinese primary school in the rural area. When I studied pre-university STPM in an urban school, I noticed that my classmates from the urban Chinese schools had excellent English. Many of them scored either A1 or A2s in the 1119 English paper.

All rural and urban Chinese schools used the same syllabus, so why are my urban classmates better in English than me and other kampong boys?

There are many reasons behind this. One of them is the lack of awareness on the importance of English. English is not treated as a core subject like Bahasa Malaysia. Therefore, we kampong boys intentionally ignored English as an unimportant subject.

In my day, English was only taught from Standard Four onwards. To make it worst, my primary school English teacher (a fierce lady!) is a believer of the caning method. Many of us lost interest in English after suffering countless canings from her.

The standard of English teachers in the old days is deplorably low, many of them are not trained.

If we want to improve English proficiency amongst our children, the first thing to do is to make English a core subject where a distinction grade is needed to pass. The next step is to employ and train more qualified English teachers especially in rural schools.

I doubt that teaching maths and science in English can improve pupils’ English skills. As a Chinese, I prefer to learn mathematics in my mother tongue. I can juggle numbers and computations quicker in my mind using my native language.

Learning science in our native language is not a barrier to acquiring new knowledge as proven by the Japanese, Korean and Chinese. My suggestion is to adopt bilingual technical terms (Malay + English, Chinese + English) in the maths and science textbooks.

Most likely, the Education Ministry is hitting the wrong target all these while. The policy of teaching maths and science in English was formulated hastily under political considerations, not through a scientific, fact-based study.

http://www.malaysiakini.com/letters/74488