Monday, June 15, 2009

The End Of PPSMI? - Part II

I participated in a debate on this issue that cropped up following an impassioned posting at one of my favourite blogs. There were valid points on both sides, though I was stunned at how emotional the point of view was coming through from the pro-PPSMI commenters. Here were my comments (preceded by general thrust of comment I was responding to. You can look at the entire to-and-fro-ing, which is not too long, here.

My 1st Comment entry was in response to comments that cited the need to prepare children for technical nomenclature as early as possible and how we will fall behind to our neighbours:

I've been against PPSMI since its inception for reasons similar to (the commenter) SS, but focussing on the negative impact on rural Malays students (SS was focussing on non-Malay students!). I hence celebrated the consideration of compulsory pass requirement for English at SPM level to be a positive way for the government to wind back the flawed PPSMI here.

There is nothing wrong with having English as the medium for Science and Maths at SECONDARY level, when nomenclature becomes important. This is no different from the use of Greek, Latin or Arabic as medium for higher learning in the past.

It will spell the demise of Malay as a language of knowledge of the Sciences though, at least the Malaysian branch of the Malay language (the Indonesians translate significant volumes into Indonesian Malay). Some may not be comfortable with this 'loss' to the Malay language. But the overidding argument for me is the effectiveness from practical application mother-tongues for Primary level education of Maths and Science.

My 2nd Comment came in response to an apparent lack of comprehension as to why the anti-PPSMI people were anti in the debate. We were mainly not at all worried about our loss of cultural heritage from the use of English. We had more practical concerns:

random et al. I think you miss the point that SS, myself and other opposers of the practicalities of introducing PPSMI at Primary level are making. I for one do not oppose PPSMI because I wish to protect my cultural heritage - our Malay cultural heritage is not so shallow.

Indeed I am opposed to the quasi-nationalist line Pakatan Pembangkang and some NGOs are taking when opposing PPSMI and am disgusted with PAS trying to out-nationalist UMNO on this issue as it clouds our more legitimate argument.

The priority in teaching Maths and Science, especially at basic level, has to be focussed on what is Maths and Science! Without a proper grounding of the basics of these subjects at the Primary level, it won't matter what language is used at the Secondary, tertiary or working level, our kids won't even qualify on merit!

(In response to the issue of candidates being rejected at job interviews due to poor command of English)

You have to have the engineering, finance, etc degree even to get to the interview, remember? And much as we dislike it, at Standard 1, for many Malaysians still, the comfort level for absorbing knowledge lies with their mother-tongue or language at home... which for the vast majority is still NOT English!

I've studied and worked in Europe for some 10 years, and in many countries, English is introduced as late as the 3rd or 5th grade! And the populace of said countries are sufficiently bi-lingual, and develop tech-heavy leading products with brands like Nokia, Phillips, Novartis and the like...
I hope that the point is made. Our opposition to PPSMI is not to 'protect cultural heritage', but because the PPSMI at the moment is IMPRACTICAL. And I would bet if we asked the Education ministry to be more transparent with the stats, this would be proven!

As an afterthought, I then realised why some pro-PPSMI commenters may be so passionate. Maybe, for many Malaysians, English has become a mother-tongue! Maybe so many are now using English at home, especially those who use it at work and started the policy of teaching English to their kids first, that they are frustrated that their kids will struggle when learning Maths, Science and other subjects in Malay, Mandarin and Tamil! Food for thought...

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