English language lobbyists looking to build political muscle

By Lee Wei Lian, The Malaysian Insider

KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 11 — The newly formed Parent Action Group for Education Malaysia (PAGE) is preparing to go on a membership drive in order to recruit politically significant numbers to its cause of giving schools the option of using English in science and math subjects.

PAGE, which was established in May, has been among the most vocal groups on the policy of the teaching of science and mathematics in English, known as PPSMI in Malay. The decision to abolish PPSMI last year was widely seen as a political move to appease language nationalists and many have expressed concern that it would cause the standard of English in the country to further deteriorate and hurt the country’s competitiveness.

“The main activity of PAGE in the immediate future is our membership drive as we need to bring up the numbers quickly in order to build PAGE up to a level where its voice can no longer be ignored,” PAGE chairman Datin Noor Azimah Abdul Rahim told The Malaysian Insider in an email interview.

Noor Azimah said that political views should be kept out of education policies but it was “unfortunate” that political considerations had made inroads into recent educational decisions.

“As such, since and if political views are to be considered, then surely the wishes of the voters who want science and mathematics to be taught in English can be considered as a strategy to garner electoral votes, be it in the rural or urban electorates,” she said.

The group also claims that 95 per cent of 3,000 parents polled at PTA (Parent Teacher Association) EGMs were in favour of using English.

PAGE did not however provide indications of how widespread support was in urban areas.

In trying to increase its political heft, PAGE could be taking a leaf out of the book of groups like GMP (Gerakan Mansuhkan PPSMI) whose campaign for the abolishment of the use of English had political overtones when they claimed that it is hurting the Malay language and could cause Umno to lose votes.

Surprisingly, PAGE and some Chinese educationists and Malay rights groups appear to have found some common ground, or at least managed to be less antagonistic toward each other than would have normally be assumed.

Noor Azimah said that Perkasa had indicated its preference to remain neutral during a courtesy call.

“We were expecting to be shown the door but instead they welcomed us,” she said. “They listened to what we had to say and they said, “we are neutral and we understand where you are coming from but we would like to remain neutral,” which is good enough for us,” she said.

While no formal discussion was initiated with Dong Zong, she said that informal discussions with its members indicated that they wanted science and mathematics to be taught in English at the secondary school level.

The education system in Malaysia has been likened to political football with various groups tussling over policies based on communal leanings and many parents expressed concern that students were becoming the victims.

The country had inherited an English language national education system similar to the one in Singapore, but it was abolished in favour of one using the Malay language as the medium of instruction.

While there have been an increasing number of calls for the return of English medium schools in recent years, Noor Azimah said that it is not a priority for PAGE at the moment but the group welcomes discussion on the issue.

“It (English medium schools) had worked for us well then yet managing to preserve our language, culture and heritage. It had proven to have honed the best in the country,” she said.

The interview follows below:

When was PAGE formed and how many members does it have at the moment?

PAGE was formed on 25 May 2010. We are about to embark on a nationwide membership drive. We expect the numbers to be large considering the fact that educational issues are close to parent’s hearts.

Is PAGE pushing just for the retention of PPSMI or is it also keen to see the return of English medium schools?

According to the Laws of Malaysia, The Education Act 1996 states that

“AND WHEREAS the purpose of education is to enable the Malaysian society to have a command of knowledge, skills and values necessary in a world that is highly competitive and globalised, arising from the impact of rapid development in science, technology and information:”

Based on the above clause of the law and that the wealth of information available in the world with regards to science & technology is in English, it explains why PAGE is pursuing the retention of PPSMI. It is not about learning English through mathematics & science but about being exposed to these scientific English terms at an early age. It should develop curiosity due to the convenience of getting appropriate information easily. For instance, a quick google search of carbon dioxide has 24.4 million results compared to ‘karbon dioksida’ with 210,000. Awareness should build the interest that creates a desire to learn. Exposure is key. Furthermore, it is the most economical, easiest, quick-fix solution, stop-gap measure that is do-able for now before our education system slips into further slumber. We are parents who support national schools. We believe that national schools should be the school of choice and the best way to do so is to ensure that our school-going children are given the best possible education, transpired in the best possible manner and taught in the best appropriate language within the means of available resources. Allowing the option of PPSMI to continue will equip our children with the necessary skills for their future undertaking. Clearly, PPSMI is in line with the 10MP education system to create a first world talent base that the Prime Minister and all Malaysians envision.