I have been thinking lately about mastery of a language - or anything for that matter. What does it take and what does it mean to be a master.
To master anything, one must have the passion for it. Without passion, we are but pure mediocrity however smart we may imagine ourselves to be.
To master a language, we must appreciate the beauty of a language to express our emotions as precisely as we can. To do this, we must read the literature and the poetry, as well as the folklore and the fairy tales - for this is where the wisdom of our ancestors are passed down, by word of mouth, in stories that captivate our minds and captures our hearts - of love for the things that define us.
To master the Malay language, there are literature books written by lovers of the Malay language to display its natural beauty by bringing out the sounds that make our poetry and our songs a delight to our souls.
To master the English language, there are plenty of literature books to read. We older students were suckled on Shakespeare, Coleridge, Dickens, Walter de la Mare, Laurie Lee and V.S. Naipaul. We have translated versions of the Greek authors such as Euripides, Sophocles, Plato and Aristotle. We might even have enjoyed Lin Yutang, the Chinese classics or Vyasa, even if in English.
But Maths and Science are such technical subjects which do not lend themselves to easy translation. It can be done but it will have to take many years for the translations to be good and the language that is being translated into to be stable. Otherwise, we are likely to end up with codelike words which look like bad spelling. This will not be helpful to our children when we want them to be at par with children all over the world and compete in order to make our nation proud. We may be at risk as a scientific nation to immerse our children in bad translations of things which the translators may not be masters of in the first place. A bad translation of a masterpiece is a badly translated book.
Our history has shown that poor students in rural areas are capable of competiting with the best of the urban students if they are given inspired teachers and well-equipped schools. In this day and age, in this day of modern technology when information reaches all the little nooks and corners, it must be intense efforts of teachers of doing a consistently bad job to produce bad students. If teaching nowadays is not easy, this is the nature of the job and this is modern living - I don't believe there is any job now that can be said to be easy - where the person doing the job can be half asleep and hope that their incompetency will have no impact.
There is nowhere to hide in modern life except in badly concocted statistics. This goes for bad financing schemes, bad banking practices, bad accounting practices, bad politics, bad economics and bad teaching. There is a reason for governments for developing countries to constantly underfund the national statistical organisations - so that the truth will not emerge - so that they can survive on rhetoric.