Wednesday, June 24, 2009

MAHATHIR'S STAND ON THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE ISSUE

Former PM Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad was the keynote speaker on Day 2 of the ongoing 14th International Conference On Thinking (ICOT) at the KL Convention Centre. He spoke on Asian Leadership.

His message could be summed up in two sentences: If people don’t think wisely and they choose a bad leader (e.g. Bush Jr), the country will regress, and they would be stuck with him till the next election, or worse, indefinitely, if he is a dictator (e.g. Mao Tse Tung). People must learn to make informed decisions based on data and verified sources.

Well, nothing earth-shaking there.

What interested me more was his response to a question on where he stood vis-a-vis the current controversy involving the status of the English language in our country. This is the gist of his answer.

“I received my formal education entirely in English. That has not made me any more an Englishman or any less a Malay.

As for teaching Science and Math in English, the objective here is not so much to help students improve their English, but more to give them access to information and knowledge. We must learn the language that gives us the widest access to knowledge. At one time, it was Greek, at another time it was Arabic. Now it is English.
If another language supplants English, then we should learn that language. No doubt, people learn best in their mother tongue. But doesn’t it make more sense to learn English and be able to directly access knowledge ourselves than to do so through a translation of the knowledge into Malay?”

I’m sure what he said resonated with many people. The media was there in full force. Let’s see if this gets reported in the papers. Meanwhile, the Minister of Education has yet to make a stand on the issue.

It has already been six years since Science and Math were taught in English. How much longer do parents, teachers and students have to wait before the minister finally decides? It is not fair to play twiddle thumbs with the future of our youth.

3 comments:

Moonlake Lee said...

I'm not a Mahathir fan but I do agree with his comment that learning the language which gives the widest access to knowledge is the way to go. That is the right principle.

the big issue, however, is the implementation. How do you get people's level of English up to scratch? if the basic level of english is not there, the goal of the medium of instruction for Science and Math cannot be achieved.

The solution may lie in raising the level of English first.... or as they do in some of the engineering schools in Singapore when students' command of English is not up to the threshold - to offer remedial English classes to help them get over this hurdle.

el-f said...

The entire education system in Malaysia is in dire need of a complete overhaul. A good place to start is to introduce QC in the selection of applicants for teacher-training.If students can't speak or write proper English after eight or more years of learning it, that says a lot about the quality of teaching.

Antares said...

I can't believe you sprained your ankle just to listen to this recalcitrant old wanker state the obvious! ;-)