English language policy still salvageable

By Noor Azimah Abdul Rahim, The Star

All education stakeholders are urged to lend their support to the campaign to make the Government allow for the PPSMI to be retained in schools that want it.

THE Parent Action Group for Education Malaysia (PAGE) is on its last leg in appealing for the visionary policy of the Teaching and Learning of Science and Mathematics in English (PPSMI) to be given as an option in national primary and secondary schools where parents wish it.

The Education Act 1996 stipulates that “pupils are to be educated according to the wishes of their parents”, not teachers, not principals, not PTAs and, most definitely, not politicians or deluded national language linguists.

Prior to the Sarawak polls, the Prime Minister said: “Let us consider the option” and this was immediately backed by the Deputy Prime Minister/Education Minister, although rather awkwardly for the Government, it was not echoed by the Deputy Education Minister II.

However, six months have passed and the Education Ministry continues to drag its feet, knowing full well that time is running out for us, parents, taxpayers, voters, we who pay their salaries.

When PPSMI was conceived in 2002, its objective was to address the poor employability of graduates, in particular the Malays.

It was vital for young Malaysians to acquire scientific knowledge, and be renowned in the field, before we could even envision Bahasa Malaysia as an international language, let alone a language of scientific knowledge.

Fortunately, the language of knowledge is English, which we have been exposed to for half a century, unlike many other countries that continue to struggle.

The then Cabinet endorsed the decision for students to be taught these two constantly evolving subjects in its lingua franca. Many of the same Cabinet ministers who agreed with PPSMI then continue to sit on the same Cabinet that abolished it.

The Academy of Sciences Malaysia was sought by the Government for their professional advice. While sourcing for scientific material in Indonesia, the largest Malay-speaking country in the world, the scientists there suggested that we should just stick to the English references, as they did not have any to show themselves.

The academy still stands by its opinion that PPSMI should continue. The president, in a column in May, wrote: “Much of the scientific references are in English. A recent announcement to review the policy is welcome.”

The then Education Minister, the only technocrat ever to lead the Education Ministry and who holds seven honorary doctorates in science to date, was adamant that the policy would succeed.

He set in place an implementation committee, which he headed as chairman, encapsulating a strict regime of controls and intervention programmes, which, if conformed to, could have made a tremendous success of the policy. The PPSMI unit in the ministry was the place to be and the envy of many.

Knowing full well the challenges, such as teacher competency and proficiency, coupled with poor computer literacy, ICT was introduced on a large scale and relied upon to bridge the shortfall between resources available and needed.

The latest in hardware and carefully designed software which were pedagogically correct were acquired, and numerous short courses in English were embarked upon.

On top of that, a cash allowance was offered to the science and mathematics teachers to use the money to further improve their English proficiency.

Sadly, in 2004, the technocrat minister completed his term, and PPSMI was abandoned without the leadership it so badly needed.

Come late 2007, rumblings were heard. These were not from the rural folk but from self-acclaimed clerics, linguists and politicians.

In 2008, the not-so-new Education Minister sought views from stakeholders on the policy. In 2009, the policy was abolished by the Deputy Prime Minister/Education Minister, three months into his portfolio and well before a government and an education blueprint was put in place.

Now the Government is talking of an education transformation. The transformation was already taking place before their very eyes, initiated by the Government itself, before it was prematurely decapitated – a case of self-infliction.

Yet the students continue to perform in Science, Mathematics and English without relegating Bahasa Malaysia. The rural students even outperform their urban friends in science, as has been pointed out by the director-general.

As we understand it, a government policy is to be carried out by the minister and his/her respective ministry.

As far as the Education Ministry is concerned, the teachers should have been prepared and required to ensure the policy succeeds, as is stated in their code of ethics.

Instead, the ministry faulted its teachers for being incompetent when the ministry itself had failed to ensure the controls which were already in place were strictly adhered to.

Naturally, by the time studies were conducted to review the success of the policy, it had reached a stage of declination.

PAGE believes PPSMI is still salvageable. And we are not alone. Jaringan Melayu Malaysia (JMM), which represents rural parents, also feels the same. JMM has an incredible online Malay base that is not to be underestimated.

The Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (IDEAS), Malaysia’s second leading think tank, has fallen in line too with its founder president, giving the much needed royal endorsement.

Together, we believe that the option must be given to parents to represent their children, and no one else.

Parents in Penang and Malacca are very restless. Parents in Selangor are gathering themselves together again. So are those in Kuala Lumpur. Do not underestimate the parents in Perak and Johor either.

We urge all education stakeholders to e-mail us your support as we want to collaborate with groups of influence to show to the Government that we are not all urban and neither are we isolated.

Let us put the past behind us and begin afresh. Let us instead start small, with the schools that parents want PPSMI to be retained, but allow the option to other schools to be able to do the same in the future.

Double the cash allowance for the Science and Mathematics teachers who enjoy and want to continue teaching these subjects in English.

Visit www.pagemalaysia.org to vote for the “Yes to PPSMI Option” and send the link to everyone you know, students included. Also look out for the Facebook poll “1M Malaysians Say Yes to PPSMI as an Option”, add your friends to the group, and get your friends to do the same. Make it viral.

Let us turn this into a success story for our children, for Malaysia and for many under-developed and developing countries to emulate.

PAGE is a national education watchdog. Kudos to our past Education Ministers for enlightening us on the benefits of a good education which we have enjoyed and now want for our children.