BN parties divided over English U-turn

(The Straits Times) – Just days after the Malaysian government said it would scrap the use of English to teach maths and science in all schools, two parties in the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition have called for the policy to be retained in secondary schools.

Others say individual schools should be allowed to choose whether they prefer to use English, Malay, Chinese or Tamil to teach the subjects.

At the other end of the spectrum, some want the policy to be abandoned now instead of waiting for three more years.

The calls from within BN – component parties Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA) and Gerakan, and even Umno’s youth wing – are the latest round of responses to the government’s recent announcement that the six-year-old policy of teaching maths and science in English would be scrapped in 2012.

The issue has divided Malaysians, with most urban residents calling for the policy to continue, and those in the rural areas supporting its removal.

MCA central committee member Loh Seng Kok and Gerakan’s education bureau chairman Hsu Dar Ren argued for the policy to remain in place for secondary schools.

Dr Hsu noted that many of those who opposed the policy were specifically against English being used in primary schools, where many rural students may not have had prior exposure to the language.

“But by the time they reach secondary schools, most of them would have already had a few years of English lessons,” he pointed out. “They would be able to understand simple instructions in English, which would be sufficient for maths and science to be taught in English effectively.”

The best combination, he said, was for students to learn maths and science in their mother tongues at the primary level, and in English at secondary level.

Others feel students should be given the option to choose.

The secretaries-general of Umno’s youth wing and the DAP both called for schools to be given the autonomy to choose the language of instruction.

“Give autonomy to local communities to decide the future of their schools,” said Umno Youth’s Abdul Rahman Dahlan.

DAP’s Lim Guan Eng, too, said: “The government could give an alternative, especially for those in the urban areas who want maths and science to be taught in English.”

But there were those who wanted the policy to be scrapped even earlier.

DAP leader Lim Kit Siang was among those who slammed the government for wanting to wait until 2012 before dropping the policy, known by its Malay initials PPSMI.

“If the RM4 billion (S$1.6 billion) PPSMI in the past six years had been a failure, what is the rationale and justification for the Cabinet decision to defer its abolition until three years later in 2012 instead of immediate implementation next year?” he charged.

The government, however, has so far defended its decision, saying it had not made it in haste.

“We had taken into account the time frame to make adequate preparations,” Deputy Prime Minister and Education Minister Muhyiddin Yassin was quoted as saying by Bernama news agency.

“I understand that the champions of the language would want to start right away if they could. But we have to be realistic.”