Saturday, December 20, 2008

Maths and Science in English? An alternative viewpoint

The debate if Maths and Science should be in English or in Bahasa Malaysia is missing the point.

It is obvious that it is not enough to have these two subjects to be taught in the language if our goal is proficiency. We need a reading subject too. I propose History in place of mathematics. History is nearest to reading a storybook. Loads of words, description of people, places, events and subject matters – including Maths and Science! As the Chinese would say “One leg kick “or in Penang hokkien “ hamplang” - meaning covering all.

Instead of debating for petty self interest and political expediency, we should put our politics aside and focus on what is needed for our people to not just survive but do well in the future. To really score, we need to be proficient in 4 languages in the future. So our subjects in school should be divided between these 4 languages. Let me elaborate.

For national unity - Bahasa Malaysia.

Let’s allocate South East Asian Studies and History of Malaysia ( yes this should be a separate subject to general history), Arts, Music, Civic (yes we need this subject back in full force) and Malay literature – should include an in-depth study of Peribahasa as it is the gems of Malay tradition.

To deal with the globalised world – English – Science because currently it is the language of knowledge and the main language today facilitating the World Wide Web. History as explained earlier should also be in English.

For business and socio-politics – Mandarin and Arabic – yes Arabic too unless you want a small group of people who claim to know the language to monopolise Islam and run policies that affects your lives without question. Being Arabic illiterate you will be deem to be not qualified to give your opinions. To make things work, the masses must be able to question policy makers. And, pls don’t think if you are not a Muslim you will not be affected – don’t be in denial, just look around you.

China most likely will be the most powerful nation in the world, so Mandarin is a must. Not just for the Chinese but all Malaysians. We allocate Mathematics to be taught in Mandarin. Yes maths should be in Mandarin, not English. Anyone who is familiar with the Chinese language or dialects would see how they are a superior platform for maths. Common sense will show you that the Chinese language and dialects has numbers in their DNA. Even in naming the 7 days of the week is by numbering – in hokkien Monday is ‘Pai It’ (day one), Tuesday is ‘Pai Ji’ day two, Wednesday is ‘ Pai Sa’ Day three, and so on.

My house number is 164, in Cantonese its ‘ Yat Lok See’ meaning ‘All the way Die!”. So my Chinese friends advise me to add a “B” by my address as “B” looks like the number 8 – a good number for the Chinese. So now my ‘mooi pai” (house number) is transformed into ‘Yat Lok See Fat” meaning ‘ All the way (mati-mati pun) good fortune!”.

For Arabic - geography. Like history, it carries a lot of words and stories too. Arabic will become one of the most important language (again).The Chinese are united by the language, the Muslims by the Quran and the Arabic language. Arabic used to be the language of science and knowledge but now has lost its glory together with the Muslim civilization. But the passion of the Muslim is burning (currently mostly still in the wrong ‘pots’) and Islam will make its impact felt – in both good ( eg - universal values of the Quran) and bad ( eg. Like the myopic banning of Yoga). Best we know the language too.

The above ideas represent a conceptual outlook. It will take a long time to deal with the needs, strategy and planning - like at what stage do we introduce which subject. But language is best taught during pre-school and earlier years – yes first start with the teaching of languages as the languages are the tools not the ends. In other words, focus on languages first as it will open future opportunities. Dont be parochial and sectarian. It is great for a malay to learn Mandarin and a Chinese and Indian to learn Arabic. Dont worry, all languages and cultures belong to God, so we all have a claim to them.

This idea will take a lot of work, political will and throwing away of prejudices but once we know the ‘WHYs’ we will find the ‘HOWs’.


Jahamy said...


I was thinking about whether science and maths should be in English or ? Since the issue seems to be clouded in politics. Interesting perspectives you wrote !


Mounirra said...

wonderful idea! If I were to live again and go back to school, I would be the first to enrol in such an education system :)