KUALA LUMPUR, July 16 — Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad urged defenders of the national language to set aside their objections to the use of English in education, saying the learning of science and mathematics would be harmed otherwise.
The prime minister told the Dewan Rakyat during the Minister’s Question Time today that science and mathematics were fields of knowledge that advance rapidly and continually, and that insisting on teaching these in Bahasa Melayu would hamper Malaysian students.
“(New discoveries in) science and mathematics is not something that is pioneered in Bahasa Melayu as it is studied by those whose mother tongue is a different language. If we don’t understand the language, it will be difficult to translate the knowledge into Bahasa Melayu.
“If we understand their language, we will have direct access to any new knowledge that they find. To gain their knowledge, we must study their language. If we wait for someone to translate (into Bahasa Melayu) for us, it will never happen because no one (here) understands the language.
“That’s why I think the nationalistic pride to preserve Bahasa Melayu (at the expense of English or other languages) will get in the way of obtaining knowledge and we will not progress,” said Dr Mahathir said when answering a supplementary question Fahmi Fadzil (PH-Lembah Pantai).
The Langkawi lawmaker also pointed out that Greek had once been the lingua franca of the ancient world, but the Arabs had no qualms learning the language in order to gain access to Greek learning.
When Arabic then became the primary language of knowledge, European scholars similarly had to pick up Arabic in order to learn from them.
Dr Mahathir added that when the Arabs stopped pursuing science and mathematics, the language of knowledge was transferred to the Europeans.
Earlier, Fahmi asked if Putrajaya would reintroduce the teaching of science and mathematics in English (PPSMI) and whether the National Education Advisory Council has made any recommendations on the matter.
Dr Mahathir told the Lower House that they are still studying the matter but noted that the council was split between those that wanted PPSMI and those insistent on continuing with Bahasa Melayu.
PPSMI had been among Dr Mahathir’s final policies as the fourth prime minister but this was overturned by the Najib administration.