Roundtable discussion on Teaching Science and Mathematics in English

Wawasan Open University and SEDAR Institute organised a roundtable discussion on the Education Ministry’s announcement to abolish the policy of Teaching Science and Mathematics in English (PPSMI) starting in 2012.

WOU’s School of Education, Languages and Communications (SELC) dean Assoc Prof Dr Malachi Edwin Vethamani headed the panel discussion, with speakers Prof Dr Kuldip Kaur from Open University Malaysia (OUM), Prof Dr John Arul Phillips from Asia e University (AeU) and Dr Ganakumaran Subramaniam from the Malaysian English Language Teaching Association (MELTA).

SEDAR director-general Khaw Veon Szu (standing) with (seated from left to right) Prof Kuldip, Prof John Arul, Dr Edwin and Dr Ganakumaran.

SEDAR director-general Khaw Veon Szu (standing) with (seated from left to right) Prof Kuldip, Prof John Arul, Dr Edwin and Dr Ganakumaran.

Dr Ganakumaran said that although teaching Science and Mathematics in the students’ mother tongue may make the subjects more accessible and allowed better achievement in the subjects, there was possible loss of opportunities from not learning English especially when moving to tertiary education.

A medical professional quoted statistics that out of 1.56 billion Internet users in the world, 465 million use English on the net, and two thirds of the world’s scientists write their research in English and all international forums are conducted in English. He felt the benefits of teaching Science and Mathematics in English were too important to ignore. However a Tamil-medium school representative believed the use of the mother tongue was critical for students to perform well in Science and Mathematics.

Part of the participants at the roundtable discussion.

Part of the participants at the roundtable discussion.

A participant remarked that middle-class parents are aware that students educated using English as a primary medium would flourish. He said his law firm rejects local graduates due to low English proficiency, adding middle-class students will have access to English outside of government schools and thus will excel, leaving lower-class students disadvantaged further and widening the economic gap.

The discussion in progress.

The discussion in progress.

Most participants felt that while some may benefit more from the increased opportunities of learning the subjects in English, other students may need to use their mother tongues. Many agreed that the decision to abolish the policy of teaching Science and Mathematics in English was made without adequate consultation from academicians and the public.

WOU Deputy Vice Chancellor Unni Kumaran Menon said the government should listen to the people rather than make policies on their own. He called for a separation of the education policy from political influence, and for the formation of a Commission of Education to oversee educational policies.

Dr U K Menon (right), Khaw (left), and SEDAR deputy director-general Ng Yeen Seen (3rd from right) with the panel speakers.

Dr U K Menon (right), Khaw (left), and SEDAR deputy director-general Ng Yeen Seen (3rd from right) with the panel speakers.

A few felt the failure of the policy of teaching Science and Mathematics in English to improve the standard of English was due to poor implementation of the policy rather than the wrong choice of policy. Prof Kuldip lamented on the poor quality of teaching in Malaysia and the need for better education standards and implementation.

Prof John Arul said the quality of education was a more important issue than the actual choice of language of instruction. He reminded that the primary purpose of teaching Science and Mathematics in English was not to improve English standards, but to allow better access to the fields of Science and Mathematics which see ongoing research and developments in English.

About 30 people, including from the academia, schools, NGOs and the government sector, attended the roundtable discussion.