Sunday November 13, 2011
The learning of Science and Mathematics in English has always been a contentious issue which has generated much comment and finally there seems to be light at the end of the tunnel.
THE uncertainty is finally over. The question on what language will be the medium of instruction for students who started studying under the Teaching and Learning of Science and Mathematics in English (PPSMI) policy for the following year, has been answered.
Students have been assured that as long as they have learnt the two subjects under the PPSMI policy, they can continue to do so until they finish Form Five.
Many parents and students heaved a sigh of relief.
As with any well-intentioned plan, it is the implementation process which is just as important.
On the ground, it is schools which have to put this into action and to do so, the heads and supporting staff need to fully understand the announcement as well as know how they will execute this.
The Education Ministry should look into setting up a team dealing strictly with this issue from now until the first quarter of next year so that school heads and their staff are clear on their mission.
Perhaps something along the lines of an operations room staffed with officials who are able to adequately explain the issue as well as come up with suggestions.
At the start of the PPSMI policy in 2003, then Education director-general the late Tan Sri Rafie Mahat chaired a daily crisis meeting to tackle all teething problems.
Resolved at last:
Muhyiddin and Deputy Education Minister Datuk Dr Wee Ka Siong walking towards a conference room at the Putrajaya International Convention Centre during the PPSMI soft landing announcement.
Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin announced last Friday that students who have started learning Science and Mathematics in English will continue to do so until they complete their studies in Form Five.
Muhyiddin, who is Education Minister, said schools would have the option to teach Science and Mathematics fully in English, Bahasa Malaysia, or bilingually.
When asked how schools would implement this, Education director-general Datuk Seri Abd Ghafar Mahmud said schools will be able to accommodate students according to their needs.
“For example, a school in Taman Tun Dr Ismail (TTDI) in Kuala Lumpur would have students from both TTDI and Sungai Penchala.
“Students from TTDI may opt for English while those from Sungai Penchala may want to be taught in Bahasa Malaysia but this will not be a problem,” he said.
Abd Ghafar said this meant schools could have classes within the same form teaching the two subjects in either English or Bahasa Malaysia.
Muhyiddin said the public examinations for the two subjects will continue to be bilingual.
“It is up to students to choose to answer in any language they are comfortable in.
“They can even answer one question in English and another in Bahasa Malaysia in the same examination paper,” he said.
The two subjects will be fully taught in Bahasa Malaysia by 2016 for primary schools, and by 2021 for secondary schools.
Muhyiddin reiterated at another event that the PPSMI policy had already been reversed.
When the Government announced the reversal of the PPSMI policy in 2009, he said it was not a hurried decision or based on politics.
“It was based on what’s best for the people and country as the ministry has enough data on its implementation, outcome and assessment,” he said.
He said the abolition of the PPSMI policy did not mean that the Government was ignoring the importance of mastering English.
“Under the policy on Upholding Bahasa Malaysia and Strengthening English (MBMMBI), the ministry is implementing new initiatives to improve the mastery of English among students,” he said, adding that MBMMBI started this year.
Getting it done
An Education Ministry circular dated Nov 4 has been sent out to schools which clearly spells out that the PPSMI is no longer in effect.
However, it points out that students who have learnt Science and Maths in English can continue until Form Five.
The circular provides a breakdown on the medium of instruction for the teaching of the two subjects in national primary and secondary schools and Chinese and Tamil (vernacular) schools until students under the PPSMI complete their secondary schooling.
It also explains the use of language in the Ujian Pencapaian Sekolah Rendah (UPSR), Penilaian Menengah Rendah (PMR) and Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM).
But it does not explain how schools decide if the two subjects are fully in English, Bahasa Malaysia, or bilingually.
When pressed for more information, Muhyiddin said last week that this meant the medium of instruction for the two subjects in schools would be based on the needs of children and teachers.
“The school would know better than me,” he said.
The question is whether there are enough teachers and more so, are they able to handle teaching the two subjects in both languages?
A primary school headmistress in an urban school said that most parents would want to continue in English.
“I don’t think it will be a problem for us (to continue in English),” she added.
Most teachers, she added, also wanted to continue receiving the incentive payment for those teaching Science and Mathematics (BISP).
Under the incentive, primary school teachers involved in teaching the two subjects in English receive an additional 10% to their existing salaries while those in secondary schools get 5%.
Another primary school headmistress feels teachers will not find it easy to teach Bahasa Malaysia in one class and English in another.
“Not all teachers can teach well in both languages.
“It may be feasible in schools that are larger as they have many classes but it needs a lof of planning by the administrators to avoid problems,” she shared.
A secondary school principal in Kedah said her students are high achievers and as such, she is confident that parents would want them to continue learning the two subjects in English.
“We have enough teachers to do so,” she added.
A Tamil school headmaster said the school had just received the circular.
“I am planning to meet the parents of all the pupils soon.
“The problem at my school has been that a majority of parents want their children to learn the two subjects in English and a small minority want to be taught in Tamil so it is hard for us to split our resources,” he said.
Another principal said the school’s curriculum committee had met over the matter.
“We want to continue in English for as long as we can,” she said.
One school head said the issue over the medium of instruction would be discussed at the next PTA meeting.
A school principal in Kuala Lumpur said she would be holding a PTA meeting but was confident most parents would opt for their children to continue learning the two subjects in English.
Parent Action Group for Education Malaysia (PAGE) chairman Datin Noor Azimah Abdul Rahim said not having a mechanism on the medium of instruction would mean that schools were free to decide.
“This is good because no one way is most suitable as schools differ from each other by culture, mentality, lifestyle, parental influence, and socio-economic conditions,” she said.
Noor Azimah also made several suggestions on what schools might want to consider including a meeting for all parents chaired by the principal.
“We could have a show of hands to decide but the principal will have to be objective and not influence any decision.
“Alternatively, the principal could send out letters to parents and on behalf of their children, they pick the choice of language,” she said.
This, she added, would be most appropriate.
The PPSMI policy was initiated by former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and implemented in phases, beginning with Year One, Form One and Lower Six students in 2003.
At the time, it was also announced that Form Six students would not be affected by the reversal so as to help them in their transition to tertiary studies.