PPSMI – not the Magic Bullet

By Feizrul Nor Nurbi

Before anything, let me clearly state that I am not pro-Bahasa Melayu or even pro-English. I am pro-Quality.

It is sad to read the labels put on me from my previous 3 articles, from the type that can make a lady blush to those who tried to psycho-analyze me. But somehow I have stirred the people into discussion, so that is one reason to smile.

A few arguments have caught my eyes. Do allow me to put down my 2 cents worth of view here:

(1) – English, or more precisely the usage of English as the medium of instruction replacing Bahasa Melayu, is not a magic bullet that will solve the problem of our rotten education system. Let us be clear on that. I have had comments arguing the state of our teachers, the syllabus, the methodology – all in common agreement of the rotten state but it baffles me that these people would think that upon returning English as medium of instruction, all the problems will vanish and we’ll live happily ever after.

Really? Is that even remotely true? Is it somehow our problematic teachers who can’t teach in BM will now magically able to articulate their subjects to the students if it is in English? Will our yawn-inducing syllabus turn exciting when we flick the language switch from BM to English?

If that so, my oh my, why have not we think of it earlier. Perhaps it would have saved me from dozing off in History class when I was back in school. Should have told the teacher “Sorry Sir/Ma’am, it’s not you, it’s the language. Please teach us in English so that we won’t doze off in your class”.

To me, it does not matter the language you use to deliver knowledge – as long as quality is there, it will shine through.

Now with DAP throwing their support behind the PPSMI movement, it is intriguing to see if the policy is re-instated – then what? Will all those parents baying for blood return to their routine life feeling smug and patting themselves at the back and exclamating ‘Problem solved!’?

If yes, and assuming this group is the majority (it is not!) then I pity the country for the future that we are heading to. If not, then my question to these people – why fix something trivial when from the start we could have focused our effort on something more significant, like fixing the broken education system itself?

Since DAP has state their stand in this matter, I would like to call on Pakatan Rakyat to state your common stand and also come out with a masterplan detailing how it intends to fix the education system once they gain power. Education is a sensitive matter that warrants attention from these politicians, thus it is only fair that they produce something similar to the ‘Buku Jingga’ on these issues.

(2) – Again, I am not pro-BM or pro-English. So please refrain from throwing all those racist assumptions my way.

I am also a concerned parent from a middle class family living in the suburbs. I have been lucky to receive quality English learning experience from exceptional teachers back in school in laid-back Kuala Kangsar. And no, this was no English-medium school. I was Science-inclined, thus resulting in my career in IT with an MNC which values my ability to speak and write good English and the value that I bring to my work as an IT professional.

(3) – The explicit and implicit notion that ridicules Bahasa Melayu as the Bahasa Kebangsaan really astounds me. There were those willing to discard BM altogether, arguing the language has nothing to contribute in this globalized era, while some have shown an alarming outright disgust at the language altogether!.Some were glorifying English like it’s the Queen-Mother herself talking, all the while making the argument in substandard, broken English! Also those who in their hatred for UMNO seem ready to discard everything and anything even sparsely related to the party – hence their view that BM has to go.

Does the parents know that by asking their children to choose English over BM it instills in them the notion that the Bahasa Kebangsaan is inadequate, a weak language – something that deserves no respect and appreciation? Thus knowingly or unknowingly these parents have become a barrier to this nation’s drive for unity.

Please stop poisoning the young minds.

Again, the gist of their argument is that not speaking in BM does not make them less Malaysian. Well fellow Malaysians – what does make you Malaysian? It is the roti canai and teh tarik you have every morning? That income tax you pay? Please pray tell and share with me what makes you Malaysian, when there so may things that separates us – the religion we pray to, the schools our children attend, the sports that we play, the festivities we celebrate, the communities we stay in.

The list is endless.

Yes there are those who have manage to bridge the gap – we have Malays that play basketball, we have Chinese and Indian students in national schools, we go to open houses to celebrate with the other races, but after the game is finished, the school bell rang and the open houses are closed – we comfortably return back to our safe havens, retreating back to our racial stereotypes in the comfort of our own people.

Having a common language will in some way bridge the chasm of racial polarization that we have today. The role of one common language as a unifier in nation building cannot be denied. It opens more room for interaction, more exchanges of thought, which will in turn leads to better understanding and dispelling the myths, misconceptions and prejudices that we have of one another.

Please note that in the pre-independence Perlembagaan Rakyat drafted by PUTERA-AMCJA which were helmed by likes Ahmad Boestamam, Tan Cheng Lock and leaders from the MIC and other groups, it was stated the agreement for all different races to adopt ‘Melayu’ as their national entity and Bahasa Melayu as the national language!

Did I shock you? Sound too good to be true, isn’t it? Surely it could have saved us the hassle when filling up those government forms at the very least. If you don’t believe me then perhaps a simple search on Google about PUTERA-AMCJA and Perlembagaan Rakyat would suffice.

Certainly these leaders from our nation’s history were willing to sacrifice for a nation which at that point were not even formed yet. And all of them recognized the importance one national identity of a united people for the sake of the country.

It is disappointing to note how far we have drifted apart since then, after over 50 years of divide and conquer rule by the current ruling party.

(4) – Those parents who said their kids will face a mountain to climb when the teaching of Science and Mathematics returns to Bahasa Melayu from English, a question for you all – how pathetic is your kids’ proficiency in BM? Because the way I see it if your language skills are adequate then changing medium would not be a problem. Do you mean to say your kids who learned to do multiplications in English suddenly forgot all of it when it is changed to ‘sifir darab’?

Reading my previous 3 articles, one would have noted the common theme in all of them – the call for channeling all our efforts to remedy and fix our broken national education system. It is important for us not to be sidetracked by red-herring issues such as the PPSMI brouhaha, while intensely demanding our rights as parents of our school-going children and as citizen of this great nation.