Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The Intellectual Prison of Patriotism - Malaysia, English Language and the Last Refuge of the Linguist

ENGLISH OR BAHASA MELAYU? Malaysia is currently in the midst of a debate about education. The present government is abandoning the proposal to continue with the teaching of Science and Mathematics in government schools in the English language (PPSMI). The government has faced criticism in the implementation of the initiative because it was found that a substantial number of the maths and science teachers end up teaching in a mix of English and Bahasa Melayu (the national language of Malaysia) because of their lack of proficiency in English. This alone should not be the reason to drop PPSMI.

GOOD INTENTIONS? Malaysia has always suffered because of the good intentions of the government. In order to up the chances of the Malays passing in the secondary schools (among other reasons), the government dropped the English medium (When? Before my time, so it must have been in the 70s) of teaching in government schools. Thus, most of the current crop of teachers are all products of the present medium of teaching. As for yours truly, although I was educated in the system between 1977 to 1987, I was taught by teachers from the earlier generation, ergo my good luck.

DROPPING QUALITY? So we have many more Malays passing and scoring in secondary schools, and later in the local tertiary system. But sadly, their command of the English language is still weak and when faced with the reality of private sector work conditions, their poor English is a clear and apparent handicap. As someone who has interviewed many, many law graduates, the evidence is painfully clear. And this is strange because law is taught in the English medium in the local universities. So how did these kids manage to get through law school?

WHO CARES? WE DON'T. The government ministers are not too worried about all this because of course, many of their children go to private schools or have intensive English tuitions after school hours. In any event, because of their prosperity, their children are more likely to be exposed to the English language early and this continuous throughout their childhood. The politicians will not have to witness in silent agony as their children in college / university muddle through trying to make sense of the overwhelmingly English text and reference books. Why don't we enact a law that would prohibit politicians from sending their kids to private schools, locally or overseas? I am sure they WILL care then.

THE JAPANESE CAN DO IT! Opponents of the teaching of Maths and Science in English points out to countries like France, Germany and Japan, where they say that teaching in the national language did not hamper these countries' progress and development. This is an ingenious argument which fails to acknowledge certain historical facts about such countries -

  • They are industrial countries with at least one whole century of industrial innovation and development. Malaysia was for most of the 20th century an agriculture based economy, and even then, the technical and commercial aspects were mostly in the English language.
  • They have a very large and highly developed translation industry which produces text and reference books. I am not sure of the figure, but I can be you that Malaysia's translation industry is not as thriving as that in Indonesia.
  • Their publishing industry is relatively independent of government control and censorship. Malaysia's publishing sector is controlled and manipulated through censorship and publishing laws, and this has a repressive effect on book and magazine projects.
  • The reading culture of these countries are developed in their national language, with extensive publications of books, websites and periodicals covering all sorts of topics. Malay language reading habits encompass religious books and magazines, consumer and retail-centric periodicals and scandal magazines and websites.  

IT'S REALLY SO DIFFICULT! The Education Minister says that the Government will not implement the teaching of Science and Maths in English because it is too difficult and confusing. Isn't that what you are paid to resolve, you and the entire Ministry of Education? Sigh.

INTELLECTUAL PRISON. I am really saddened by the Malaysian Government decision. I love my country but this sort of patriotism is self-defeating. For to my mind, they are condemning another whole generation of the indigenous Malays to intellectual servitude. And intellectual servitude is just one small leap away from cultural, economic, religious and political servitude. The government (and the opposition, really) is happy with this because this means that the Malays shall not be reading the English websites, blogs and magazines, which by their nature tend to be much more open, diverse and progressive. A fitting prison for a whole race of people, to the gratification of politicians and religious preachers who do not desire to be challenged.

Well, damn it. Let's challenge them. Pay and educate the teachers better, increase the budget for education, and for goodness sake, if we need to spend to bridge the English Divide in Malaysia, spend the money. Because if we don't, Malaysia's slide in education will continue, and when educational standards decline, everything declines. 

Pax Taufiqa.

PS: Sorry, this is not my normal writing, but I feel very strongly about this. Back to the normal Sinners' Almanac programming in the next posting.


Uncle said...

Bravo, brave sir! During your time, did you learn Maths and Science in English? And look at you now! Excellent command of the English language! How's your Bahasa Melayu, kind sir?

Asam kandis mari dihiris
Manis sekali rasa isinya
Dilihat manis dipandang manis
Lebih manis hati budinya

The implementation of must be done in such a way that both parties are happy. Ensure bahasa Melayu will flourish, bt not at the expense of intellectual drain out.My two-sen la...

Milky Tea said...

I don't think the politicians in either government or opposition have the motivation or will to keep one side happy, so to keep both sides happy is nigh impossible.

Uncle said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Uncle said...

And therein lies the all pertinent issue...the political divide or what I would call, pancing undi... The following pantun is apt:

Turun ka-sawah memakai tudong,
Padi di-huma layu lengkesa;
Sa-ekor sawa sa-ekor tedong,
Bersama2 mengadu bisa.

Hence we and our children will get the bisa if we're not cautious...

Milky Tea said...

Yea, man. Everyone is baiting the electorate for their vote, mortgaging the future with short term promises.
We have to be careful with our children, but I have faith that they will be better than us, insyaAllah!