Those who have been part of the previous policy the PPSMI, where mathematics and science were taught in English in and before 2010 have been given the option to continue studying both subjects in English until they complete their Form Five, with the last batch being 2020. Before the compromise was struck last year, there were fears that students under the PPSMI would have no option but to fully switch to Bahasa Malaysia with immediate effect.
There is still much confusion out there, but this is expected during the transition period. The Ministry of Education, in the last two weeks or so, has placed advertorials in major newspapers (including The Edge) to explain in an FAQ (frequently asked question) fact sheet what the new policy entails.
One FAQ explains why it was introduced: Studies conducted by various parties have indicated that PPSMI could not be implemented as planned. The report also disclosed that students found it difficult to understand mathematics and science in English. Students took a longer time to understand the concept of mathematics and science as they did not understand the English language.
This has forced teachers to also teach these subjects in Bahasa Malaysia so that students can understand both subjects. This problem is quite persistent not only in the rural areas but also in towns. If PPSMI is continued, a large number of students in this country will fail to master both mathematics and science and, consequently, they will be left behind. The Ministry of Education studies have shown that most schools are (already) teaching and learning mathematics and science in Bahasa Malaysia (or using both languages). Many have argued otherwise with various non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and English-language advocates presenting their own findings.
They want PPSMI to remain, but the government is standing firm in its stance that MBMMBI is the best policy for the majority. Going by the continued public debate, however, including in the mainstream media, the push to retain PPSMI will continue. Although I have raised the question before in this column on closing the chapter on the PPSMI debate, I still believe the advocates may have a valid case. But let me highlight my position first as a parent with three children in primary school. My youngest, Arissa, is in Year One. She will study mathematics and science in Bahasa Malaysia. I have no qualms about that, as I enrolled her in a government school Sekolah Rendah Kebangsaan Seafield USJ6 in Subang Jaya and not a private school. So, she will follow the MBMMBI syllabus. But I believe her command of English will not be affected, as the language is widely used at home .. . and she and learns a lot just from watching the Sponge Bob Square Pants and Strawberry Shortcake cartoons on TV. Arinah and Aqil are in Years Three and Five respectively.
The school has asked parents to fill up a form (as stipulated by the director-general of education) to indicate their preference from three choices: studying mathematics and science in English only, using dual-language (both English and Bahasa Malaysia) and using only Bahasa Malaysia. I have opted for both of them to continue in English but, judging from the reply to my enquiries, the school administrative staff say it is most likely the majoriÂty of the classes at SRK Seafield will opt to use both languages in the teaching of mathematics and science.
To streamline the classes according to language preference will take some time, as classes have already been streamed according to the overall grading. But will parents and students be assured that they will get what they prefer at SRK Seafield? That might not be the case during the transition period, but I am confident English will still be used widely in the school as the studentsâ€™ mathematics and science textbooks are in English. I was told that, in many schools, the textbooks are in Bahasa Malaysia which means the preferred medium will be Bahasa Malaysia. So, where is the choice here? Filling up the preference form a survey of sorts can be useful and provide an indication of how many students at SRK Seafield opted for mathematics and science to be taught in English, dual-language or Bahasa Malaysia. Expand this to cover a bigger area and one can gauge the preference of students and parents throughout Subang Jaya and the various districts in Selangor.
A nationwide survey will provide the percentages for the whole country and indicate the areas and schools where there is such demand. On a smaller scale, the Education Ministry has carried out such a survey for those who enrolled in Form One this year. A study by the MBMMBI task force indicated that only 11% of Form One classes opted to study both subjects in English, 34% wanted Bahasa Malaysia and 55% preferred both languages.
The government said this showed that its move to replace PPSMI with MBMBBI was right. A continuous survey over the next few years will give a better indication of the percentage that opts for PPSMI. If we consistently have 10% to 15% who want English to be used as the medium of instruction and we know the district where the demand is the highest, then why not allocate dedicated classes or schools that will continue to follow the PPSMI policy? The Parent Action Group for Education Malaysia wants this to be done. It suggests that for a start, the ministry converts 5% of primary schools and 9% of secondary schools which are already PPSMI-proficient into permanent PPSMI schools
I believe that having 10% of schools as permanent PPSMI schools is a doable target, as it would require a smaller number of teachers who are competent and proficient in English to execute the programme effectively. And, with PPSMI having being implemented for eight years, surely there are enough competent teaching staff within the education system to meet this target. So, instead of changing policies again in the futurewhich is always a possibility why not have a sort of permanent system in place, one with MBMMBI and PPSMI schools, that gives parents and students the right to choose what they want?