Malaysia risks lagging behind unless STEM taught in English, says group

G25, a group of retired high-ranking civil servants urged the government to re-introduce the policy of teaching science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects in English. — File pic
G25, a group of retired high-ranking civil servants urged the government to re-introduce the policy of teaching science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects in English. — File pic

KUALA LUMPUR, July 29 — Malaysia may fall behind other Asian countries if Putrajaya does not re-introduce the policy of teaching science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects in English, a group of retired high-ranking civil servants said today.

G25 pointed out that Japan’s Honda has adopted English as its official language to survive in the very competitive automotive industry,        while India and the Philippines continue to teach science and mathematics in English and have gained success.

“There are signs that if we do not take this bold step now we may be lagging behind countries that did not show much interest in learning the language up to a few years ago,” said G25 in a statement.

“Of course the Indians and the Filipinos never parted with the English language as they decided to retain the English medium for their Sciences and Mathematics. That is one of the reasons why India has become one of the world’s leaders in the IT industry and the Philippine economy is on the rise again,” the group added.

Putrajaya first introduced a policy of teaching science and mathematics in English, called PPSMI, in 2003, a move that G25 criticised as too hastily done that resulted in insufficient time to prepare for the change, such as teacher retraining. The policy was subsequently aborted in stages.

“Hence it was not surprising that initial formative evaluation of the project showed that the programme was not meeting the targets set. This was picked up by the ‘nationalists’ and those in the system who had been unhappy that they had to undergo this massive change,” said G25.

G25 also said it was unfair to compare the standard of English in local schools now with the standard in the years before Malaysia’s independence in 1957, pointing out that those educated in the pre-Merdeka days would have received more than 620,000 minutes of education in the English medium during their entire schooling from primary through secondary school.

Those who went to school after the English medium schools were converted to Malay medium only received slightly more than 120,000 minutes of English education when they studied the language during English periods from primary to secondary school.

“It needs to be pointed out that the children of post-Merdeka years come from all walks of life, from the remotest ‘kampungs’ in Sabah, Sarawak and the east coast states of the peninsula, whereas the children who went to the English medium schools during pre-Merdeka years were more from the urban or semi-urban areas, as most of the secondary schools were situated there,” said G25.

G25 said there needs to be a “considerable” number of Malaysians who are fluent in English in order to be on par with Malaysia’s trading partners during international negotiations, to be successful diplomats, and to run big corporations and industries, among others.

“Beyond teaching the STEM subjects in the medium of English and employing special methodologies to improve the teaching of the English language itself we need to mount special immersion programmes in English for those who are being prepared for these vocations or for those who show interest or inclination to pursue to that BBC/Oxford level,” said the group.

The group also urged the government to raise proficiency in Bahasa Malaysia, such as by establishing a centre of research and pedagogy in the national language.

“Unless the MOE is seen to be attentive to the needs of Bahasa Malaysia as the national language, whatever steps taken to upgrade English language proficiency in this country will always be opposed by the die-hard nationalists. However these same nationalists too need to be proficient in the English language for them to succeed in their respective careers in the wider world,” said G25.

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