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Science Competencies for Tomorrow’s World Pt I

* Language Dilema – True the major impediment of the success for Malay students in both subjects is largely came from the inability to absorb Maths & Science lessons due to the language barrier.

* The quality of teaching method for the English subjects, Maths & Science have also contributed to this factor.

* The option to answer in Bahasa had complicate further the issue. How could a person learn a subject in English and take the examination in another language?

* Study has shown that students came from less advantage socio-economy background have performed negatively.

Science & Maths in English or Bahasa?

The issue of whether English should be the medium of learning Maths and Science  is a never ending debate, culminated in the “Gerakan Mansuhkan PPSMI (GMP)” memorandum to Yang Di-pertuan Agong. <click here to link. Before dwelling into things, let us simplify arguments in support or against the movement:

What will be the future of our children???

What will be the future of our children???

Pro PPSMI

Educational perspective:

  • evolving  spectrum  and new discoveries requires immediate acquisition of the knowledge, hence the need to use universal language
  • if Bahasa is used, meanings / significance / impact would be lost in translation.
  • Ability of Bahasa to evolve parallel with the expansion of Maths & Science is questionable.
  • mastery of English language is strengthened through its usage in  Maths & Science.

Economy/job related:

  • wide application in modern/future generation knoeledge based economy
  • easier understanding on subject matters once in the higher learning/universities
  • Malaysia’s economy is not self sufficient unlike Japan/Korea/China (economics of scale).  The globalization of our economy is unavoidable. In order for Malaysians, in particular Malays, to be prepared for globalisation of  human capital need to be conversant in the universal language apart fr0m equally competent in the  technical basics of Maths & Science.

Against PPSMI (GMP)

Education perspective:

  • The failure of English as the medium of Mathematics & Science amongst Malay students: only 46.6% of total students answered in English. (Note: Classroom subjects/textbooks are taught  in English whilst during examination students are given choices to answer either in English or  Bahasa or both!)
  • Inability in mastering the English language have affects their ability and performance in both Mathematics and Science subjects (double whammy since the Malays are weak in Maths & Science, let alone if they are taught in English).
  • Teachers’ inadequate command of English has dissipated the delivery effectiveness of subject matters being taught.

Idealism perspective:

  • The success of countries like China, Korea,  Japan,  Vietnam, European countries, Rusia and Scandinavia using  their native languages in their educational syllabus and yet have shown considerable progress in the technical based  industries.
  • The 37 years of teaching Bahasa in Science and Mathematics (prior to the change in language medium in 2003) had proven that the old system was able to produce  successful Malay professionals, scholars and entrepreneurs.
  • The notion of 280 million Melayu-Indonesia should justify the viability of wide usage of Bahasa Melayu-Indonesia in the modern era and technology application.

GM”s perspective

In understanding the merits of both arguments, and based on scenarios in other countries,  GM has concluded  following:

Why Malaysia could not afford to have Bahasa as the main language in its educational, business, and technology policies?


  • Firstly, we have to re-identify what is Bahasa Malaysia or Bahasa Melayu or Bahasa Indonesia.  True, the notion of 280 million Melayu-Indonesia (note: Malay Malaysian is around 14 million) is more than enough for the viability and total adaptation of this language (the scale).  With this, Bahasa Melayu could be the main language not only in Science & Maths  but could be extended to the wider application in business, research labs, computer data , computer programming, marines, business, stock markets. And to further strengthening the position of Bahasa Melayu in this part of the world, Ringgit could be the regional currency.  I would be so proud if this is true..
  • Bahasa Indonesia is not the same as Bahasa Melayu/Malaysia.  Perhaps more than 50% variance in the vocabulary.   I, myself having difficulties comprehend articles in bahasa Indonesia, let alone learning Science & Mathematics in bahasa Indonesia.  Could Dewan Bahasa & Pustaka work hand in hand with the Indonesia ‘s counterpart in developing the hybrid Melayu_Indonesia bahasa? Of course subject to the agreement of the RRI’s counterpart.
  • Malaysia’s current technology framework have long adopted English as the medium of communication (mostly from transfer of technology policies rather than owned development).  In reverting to Bahasa, it would create a language gap between schools and higher learnings, or market place.  Unlike, Korea,Russia,  Japan and China, these economies are self sufficient, and have the economics of scale. They have hundreds of up to date Research and Development laboratories, with  thousands of local scientists and researchers.  They  are also forefront in the development of ICT, so they could afford to have information programming in their mothers’ tongue.
  • Malaysia demographic is particularly unique. It is not too big and yet not too small. Nevertheless, Malaysia’s economy is very much subjected by the globalization.  This is what they called ‘trade economy’.  Hence, it is an open economy, which is subjected to superior nations or international  trade cultures/policies/norms/acts.    There is very limited place for Bahasa in this kind of market economy

Why Malay students are laggard in the subject of Maths & Science?

  • Language Dilema – True the major impediment of the success for  Malay students in both subjects is largely came from the inability to absorb Maths & Science lessons due to the language barrier.
  • The quality of teaching method for the English subjects, Maths & Science have also contributed to this factor.
  • The option to answer in Bahasa had complicate further the issue.  How could a person learn a subject in English and take the examination in another language?
  • Study has shown that students came from less advantage socio-economy background have performed negatively. Refer to OECD Programme for International Student Assessment.

Tak dapat berjalan tegak, terngesot-ngesot pun sampai juga

Part II:  Dilema of Malay students and  some suggestions to mitigate the increasing gaps between the Malay and non-Malay students.

Notes: PBSMI – Pengajaran dan Pembelajaran Sains & Matematik dalam bahasa Inggeris.

Further reading  – Excerpts

The OECD  Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA)

PISA is a collaborative process among the 30 member countries of the OECD and nearly 30 partner countries. It brings together scientific expertise from the participating countries and is steered by their governments on the basis of shared, policy-driven interests. PISA is an unprecedented attempt to measure student achievement, as is evident from some of its features:

    • The literacy approach: PISA aims to define each assessment area (mathematics, science, reading and problem solving) not mainly in terms of mastery of the school curriculum, but in terms of the knowledge and skills needed for full participation in society.
    • A long-term commitment: It will enable countries to monitor regularly and predictably their progress in meeting key learning objectives.
    • The age-group covered: By assessing 15-year-olds, i.e. young people near the end of their compulsory education, PISA provides a significant indication of the overall performance of school systems.
    • The relevance to lifelong learning: PISA does not limit itself to assessing students’ knowledge and skills but also asks them to report on their own motivation to learn, their beliefs about themselves and their learning strategies.

PISA Are Students Ready for a Technology-Rich World?: What PISA Studies Tell Us?

Information and communication technology (ICT) is associated with unprecedented global flows of information, products, people, capital and ideas, connecting vast networks of individuals across geographic boundaries at negligible marginal cost. ICT is an important part of the policy agendas of OECD countries, with profound implications for education, both because ICT can facilitate new forms of learning and because it has become important for young people to master ICT in preparation for adult life. But how extensive is access to ICT in schools and informal settings and how is it used by students?

OECD’s latest PISA survey of the knowledge and skills of 15-year-olds

Students from families with a more advantaged socio-economic background were more likely to show a general interest in science, and this relationship was strongest in Ireland,France, Belgium and Switzerland. One significant feature of a student’s background was whether they had a parent in a science-related career.

In Australia, Canada, Finland, Japan and New Zealand, at least one in seven students reached the top two levels of scientific literacy. In Greece, Italy, Mexico, Portugal, Spain and Turkey, by contrast, the proportion was lower than one in 20. On average across the OECD, students in private schools outperformed students in public schools in most countries. The picture changed, however, when the socio-economic background of students and schools was taken into account, with public schools taking the lead.

Streaming at an early age tends to increase the impact of socio-economic background on student performance, PISA 2006 indicates. The earlier students were stratified into separate institutions or programmes, the stronger was the impact which the school’s average socio-economic background had on performance. Schools that divided students by ability for all subjects tended to have lower student performance on average.

The survey identified considerable interest among students in some scientific issues. Most, for example, were aware of environmental issues such as forest clearing and greenhouse gases. However, they were generally pessimistic about the future, with fewer than one in six believing that problems such as air pollution and nuclear waste disposal would improve over the next 20 years. Those who performed better in science showed greater awareness of environmental issues but were also more pessimistic.

link to http://oberon.sourceoecd.org/vl=2464728/cl=20/nw=1/rpsv/home.htm

Filed under: Malay Dilema

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