SHOULD MATHEMATICS AND SCIENCE BE TAUGHT IN ENGLISH
Is it necessary for our government to implement learning Mathematics and Science in English? This has been a big issue among students lately because it is said to disturb their routine lifestyle of studying. Basically, we know that our Malaysia’s education system encompasses education beginning from pre-school to university. Pre-tertiary education (pre-school to secondary education) is under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Education (MOE) while tertiary or higher education is the responsibility of the Ministry of Higher Education (MOHE). The vision of the Government is to make Malaysia a centre of educational excellence. The implementation of English language in Mathematics and Science has made a new aim in our education system now. Let us look back to our main point, which is why the teaching of Mathematics and Science in English has become a controversial issue, and several recommendations are made to resolve the issue.
Malaysia is a multicultural and multilingual country with Malay as the official national language. In order to unify the nation, a national education system with Malay as the medium of instruction is being adopted for all primary and secondary schools. In 2002, the government announced the implementation of a new policy in the national education system; English is made the language of instruction in schools for the teaching of Mathematics, Science and technology subjects. These subjects had formerly been taught in the Malay language. English as the language of instruction for Mathematics and Science (ELIMS or PPSMI as it is known in Malay) was implemented in stages, starting in 2003 for standard one (first grade of primary school), form one (first year of lower secondary) and the lower six (first year of upper secondary school). The decision to use English was based on the rationale that mastery of English is regarded as an important mechanism for direct acquisition of knowledge in the field of science and technology (Ainan, 2003).
The first controversial issue is that learning English in a second language is seen as unsuitable when children encounter difficulty in interpreting the meaning of Mathematics and Science discourse. The purpose of teaching Science and Mathematics in English is to enable students to acquire proficiency in English while learning Science. Many educational issues are crucial when learning takes place in students’ second language. In Malaysia, most learners encounter English for the first time in school. They find it harder to adapt the new change in our education system. This inadvertently impairs students learning abilities since learning in these subjects may be compressed within a complex linguistic classroom. The problem of learning Science through a second language is compounded by other factors, such as teachers who are not proficient in English and the lack of good Science textbooks (Ong, 2004). The government can’t come up with a good explanation when the issue of teachers who are not proficient in English were debated in the parliament because they were too busy in governing the economy of our country.
The second most controversial issue in implementing English in teaching Mathematics and Science is that the non-Malay students who are the majority residence in urban areas indicated their preference of the use of English in learning Mathematics and Science while the rural students, were not supportive on the use of English language. Malaysian students and teachers are multicultural and have multilingual backgrounds. The implementation of PPSMI created great concern among parents and educators on the quality of Mathematics and Science education as both teachers and students are not proficient in the English language (The Star, 2006). This is expected as Malay language has been the language of instruction for more than four decades. Moreover, the teaching of non-science and Mathematics subjects in schools continue to use Malay language. In a study to provide some baseline data for this concern, Juriah Long and colleagues (The Star, 2006) found that 60% of Mathematics and Science teachers were not fluent in the English language while only 45% said they are comfortable in using the language to teach. The students from the rural area find difficult to adapt and score in Mathematics and Science subject compare to the students from the urban areas especially the non-Malay student can do better as they are more suitable in the second language compare to Malay language. If these matter continue, it will create havoc among the people in our country and this time, it will be worse than the ’13th May’ tragedy.
The implementation of English in teaching Mathematics and Science should be carry out and the government have come up with some solutions in improving this policy to overcome these problems. In order to compensate for students’ weakness in English language, the teacher must take on the role of a translator in class. The teacher describe the teaching in the class as using first in the English, then repeat the explanation again in Malay for the benefits of those who have low English proficiency. More time will be needed to convey the same concept compared to when Malay language was used as the medium of instruction. Teaching time for Science and Mathematics may need to be increased. It is recommended that teachers continue to carry out code switching when conducting their Science and Mathematics lessons. In addition, teaching strategies may need to be modified so that students will not be denied a quality Science and Mathematics education. So far, much of the thrust of this policy has focused on upgrading the linguistic skills of teachers and providing them with technical support. Even extremely proficient and experienced teachers cannot teach their subjects entirely in English if the students are incapable of understanding them. This finding is supported by the information released by the Ministry of Education based on the mandated national level public examinations for all form three students (The Star, 2005). They found that despite learning Science and Mathematics in English for three years, only 33% of the Science candidates and 27% of the Mathematics candidates used English to answer questions. Most of the candidates, however, preferred to answer in either Malay or a mixture of both languages. For valid assessment of Science and Mathematics, the use of dual-language test-booklet as a language accommodation need to continue to ensure students are assess on their Science and Mathematics achievement and not their language ability.
The government should be positive minded in enhancing the knowledge of our future students by implementing the policy of teaching Mathematics and Science in English so that our country can produce more efficient and dedicated students who are high in knowledge and good proficiency in English language. Thus, the linguistic abilities of their students are crucial in deciding to what extent teachers can implement PPSMI. All the teachers show their main concern when teaching in English, making sure that students could understand the lesson. It is almost a reflexive action among teachers that as soon as their students look lost or seem unable to comprehend, they resort to translating the terms or specific portion of that lesson. Therefore, in classes where the majority of the students are academically able and linguistically proficient, the teachers must teach their lessons entirely in English. Meanwhile, with weaker classes, these teachers should use more Malay in class, by way of translation. As a result, instead of teaching Mathematics and Science in English, many teachers will end up teaching these subjects in English and Malay. This pedagogical response has much to do with the pressure that teachers feel about "covering the syllabus" within specific timelines so that students will be ready for school exams and mandated public exams. These exams take place at set times during the school year. This being the case, on the spot translation offers them the fastest route to achieving their goal of increasing students’ comprehension.