- The introduction of English in teaching Maths and Science would be disruptive AT ANY LEVEL. If we are dead keen on doing so, for whatever reasons, we must choose the stage which will cause minimum impact. Her point of example were some of our colleagues from the JPA British Top University program who were struggling with the transition when doing A-Levels in the UK... and these were among the top students of the year!
- Due to the above, she believes that to minimise the pain, if we choose to go with PPSMI, we should go all the way, and not even consider my alternative of having PPSMI begin at Secondary school only. The problem is that the transition, though perhaps less painful, would still be disruptive at the point of moving from Standard 6 to Form 1. By the same token, if the decision is to remove it, PPSMI should be dismantled entirely.
- The wife's biggest grouse over PPSMI, specifically for our children who are ~bi-lingual from home, was that the infrastruture, including the teaching staff, appears unable to cope with it as it stands. We have found repeatedly a conflict in priority on whether the English or the Maths and Science is important when teachers grade exam papers. And the teaching is clearly hampered, one of my kids find the Maths being taught incomprehensible!
This leads me to amend my views as the above opened my eyes to the disruptive nature of such a transition in teaching and learning. For whilst I still view the retaining of PPSMI at Secondary level for whatever reasons a choice, I now see it as a poorer one and smacking of a need to compromise between the different sides of the PPSMI divide. In fact, I am happy to showcase 2 analogies to illustrate the level of disruption from abolishing PPSMI at Primary School only:
- Vernacular Primary School students have to go through transition classes or "Kelas Peralihan" in order to cope with the move to a Malay teaching medium. Significant time is given for this transition as it is disruptive to the learning process. This implies that having Maths and Science taught in Malay at Primary and retaining PPSMI at Secondary level would also require transition classes across the entire Malaysian student body in public schools!
- Those agree with the Parent Action Group for Education, a pro-PPSMI lobby, that learning Maths and Science in Malay is crippling students due to lack of a robust nomenclature, can imagine how parents who practice English as their first language appreciate this 'disruption' argument as it is probably what they fear for their kids. I.e., imagine the horror of a child who does not understand when the teacher says 'Berdiri!' at the first day at school!
But then, how can we salvage the PPSMI or enhance the uptake of English in the rural areas? Ironically, if we take the all or nothing approach on PPSMI, i.e. that it should applied from Primary School or not at all, the solution to both questions would be the same, especially as it is precisely the concern over the impact of PPSMI on the learning of Maths and Science in the rural and urban poor areas that has many intellectuals and educationist opposing PPSMI.
You simply have to start teaching English earlier! Many urban families have the advantage of sending their kids to day-care or kindergartens that do expose kids to English, at least conversational English, early. In the rural areas, what should be done is the Kemas or Kebajikan Masyarakat kindergartens and the like need to be upgraded from being a day-care with teaching only basics to kids in their own mother-tongues, typically Malay, to also introducing conversational English.
Interestingly, such a revamp of the 'Tadika Kemas' would also rejuvenate the program which has been in a bit of a rut in recent years. I even dare argue that in the midst of the current economic downturn, the economic activity related to this effort would have a positive multiplier effect, not just from the need to re-train Kemas officers and teachers to enable to impart conversational English, which is not too hard, but also from having our rural kids catch up on their English!
In writing the above, I realise that perhaps I am only addressing the concerns of the Malay Maths and Science inclined educationists and intellectuals, but analogous solutions exist for the other communities as well. Why not introduce English at temple? Why not have the Chinese kindergartens go bi- or tri-lingual?
In the end, what I also wish to impart here is that, wherever you sit on the PPSMI debate and whatever the decision by the government, there are always options... and there should always be hope...