Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Teaching Maths & Science Revisited...and More

I have been increasingly troubled by the proposed change in policy on the teaching of maths and science. Maths and science are now being taught in English in all schools on the argument that it will help the country to advance technologically (hence, the maths and science) and internationally (hence, the English). The proposed policy change is that the teaching of maths and science will revert to the vernacular by 2012 but without the neglect of learning English as a language in all schools. In my last post, I have suggested some refinements to the proposed policy change, as per the views put forward by, among others, de minimis and sakmongkol AK47. I suggested there that the quality of the teaching staff may be a problem and there is a way to tackle it.

In this post, I wish to point out that problem areas still exist in my earlier policy proposal and hereby suggested a more elaborate but probably more comprehensive and satisfying way to go about thinking and dealing with it.

1. I shall conveniently classified any of the ethnic languages as vernacular: Bahasa Melayu, Mandarin and Tamil. I think the urban community would like to consider English as their vernacular. Let is then grant everybody their wishes.

Consider the medium of instruction for all subjects in these 4 types of schools:
Rural schools: BM
Chinese schools: Mandarin
Tamil schools: Tamil
Urban schools: English

We discover that keeping very silent in the whole debate are the international schools which are, in fact, English schools. By right, in the land of liberalisation, there should be no barrier to entry into international schools for students as well as private educators.

2. If, for the sake of national integration, we add in a layer of BM (one language or literature class) so that all students in the country can communicate with each other. We get this:
Rural schools: BM/BM
Chinese schools: Mandarin/BM
Tamil schools: Tamil/BM
Urban schools: English/BM

We find that the students of rural schools will be disadvantaged by being monolingual, and the students of the other schools will be bilingual (which is better).

3. Let us then introduce, for the sake of international integration, another layer of English (one language or literature class) so that all students in the country can communicate with students outside the country. We get this:
Rural schools: BM/BM/English
Chinese schools: Mandarin/BM/English
Tamil schools: Tamil/BM/English
Urban schools: English/BM/English

We find that the Chinese and Tamil schools become trilingual, while the rural and urban schools (aka national schools) are only bilingual (BM and English).

It appears, from the above analysis, that the restrictive structure of the rural schools may be holding back the advancement of the urban schools in terms of curriculum development.

4. The logical way to resolve the above imbalance across the entire school system is also to introduce Mandarin or Tamil to rural schools, and Mandarin or Tamil to urban schools.

In rural schools in Sabah and Sarawak, their own languages can be introduced instead of Mandarin or Tamil, i.e., Iban, Bidayuh, Kayan, Kenyah, Kelabit, Lunbawan, Penan, Kadazan, Dusun, etc.

I would add Arabic for those who may be interested to build ties with the Middle East.

So, the picture will come out like this:
Rural schools: BM/English/Mandarin or Tamil or Arabic or an indigenous language
Chinese schools: Mandarin/BM/English
Tamil schools: Tamil/BM/English
Urban schools: English/BM/Mandarin or Tamil or Arabic

The above analysis shows that insufficient resources may have been put into the study and promotion of the many languages that exist naturally in a multicultural society such as Malaysia's.

1. In line with the wave of liberalisation at home, we may want Dewan Bahasa Dan Pustaka to open up to the other above language to make the organisation more expansive, with such ambituous projects as the BM/English/Iban dictionary, BM/Arab/Iban dictionary, etc.

2. The government should publish bilingual BM/English textbooks for all the subjects that are being offered in national-type schools: History, Geography, Maths, Science, etc. for primary and secondary schools.

3. By implication, therefore, there should be similar changes in the universities where students from any types of schools should be eligible to enter any of the local universities - if our local universities are so keen to welcome foreign students ostensibly to improve the diversity of the campus population.

For now, I am fairly happy with what I have said about the required change for the education system in terms of the language aspect. I am happy because my proposed perspective is outside looking and therefore more liberating, at least, to the mind. The current education system that we have, and the current thinking on the teaching policy, seem to me to be conservative.

If Malaysia is to grow at a rapid pace, we should liberalise our education system and invite innovation and creativity in the way we manage the education system and our kids. Education lies in the services sector which the new government sees to be the next engine of growth. Let us start the education engine by bootstrapping it so that it will drive the rest of the economy into high-income growth filled with brain-filled ideas.

In line with outsourcing and PFIs and what-not, I suggest the Ministry of Education should focus on policy and product design (and make sure the design is first-class) and then to make known to the public the precise nature of the product so that the private sector with all the excess liquidity can participate in this great stride forward in educating our future leaders, in addition to the development expenditure (for schools and facilities) and operating expenditures (for qualified teachers and lecturers) that the Ministry of Education will fight to allocate for education.


hishamh said...

An anecdote to bring home the problem you're talking about here:

My wife is a lecturer in one of our local national universities - the medium of instruction is BM, except for the English department. She told me of two brothers and a sister from the Middle East who enrolled but are now looking to transfer to IIU, simply because they cannot cope with the language barrier.

The change in policy has had the academic staff of this particular university in a self-congratulatory mood, but their short-sightedness boggles the mind. It also illustrates the enormous divide between what industry and business are demanding and what academia thinks is important.

I'm seriously thinking of saving up as much as I can to put my daughter through an international school.

walla said...

Voltaire once said that the holy roman empire was neither holy nor roman nor an empire in any way.

The same may be said of our national education system - that it is neither national nor educational nor a system in any way.

But there is a saving grace. At least it is scientific, one may argue.

Indeed, teachers and students are made test samples in the lab of political fortunes, policy ideas and trial-and-error hunches.

How else can one explain the procession of flip-flops, fudging of standards and creation of new hybrid species?


Academia including policy-makers should be paragons of intellectual integrity. And nothing else.

Taken as authoritative role models, they should not easily give in to their own personal beliefs that cannot find adequate factual support in the real world. For if the rest less brainy follow them down wrong paths, all will suffer in the end, including their own.

They should be more responsible-minded towards society and country as a whole. Even if doing so can destroy their own careers. If all stay responsible-minded, nothing will happen to any. If some only do that, everything will happen to all from the actions of the few.


Political correctness aside, the evolution of this nation may be defined as a continual tug-o-war between the policies of national integration and the policies of international integration.

All the policies, processes and practices start from the tension in that single piece of rope.

National integration is difficult to achieve in a multi-racial society because people want the freedom to practice their own beliefs, cultures, heritage and language. Or, for that matter, any other beliefs, cultures, heritage and language they wish. It's a free world.

When one says integration, one must first ask integrate to who or what. If it is integrating only to one, then it is submission, even if it is portrayed to be integrating to an ideal founded on specific elements. If it is integrating to all, then it is integration by differentiation.

(calculus teachers shouldn't wince so much)

International integration is easier. Because it is letting go the bird in hand for the two on the bush. It panders to the biggest change motivator. Greed.

A risk there is indeed. But so too with everything else in life. It is the risk of cost, real and opportunity. But the world has changed. Nothing is free. The air to breathe costs the price of the face mask, perhaps a jab or two. That being the new reality, to avoid change means to stand still in a world moving forward only. By the theory of relativity, that's receding. Economists will say it is also recession.

International integration means standards and practices by the best in the world tested in the labs of the world.

If one has not succeeded but others have succeeded, then it would be a foolish waste of time and other resources to continue hitting the head against the wall when solutions present themselves to be copied which can later be bespoked. Not to say, a big headache as well.

walla said...

In international integration, competition froths up the best; all do their best in the contest and one winner emerges whose methods consistently deliver the best results by all measures. In academic circles, this is peer review, the test of acceptance, the badge of future investment.

In this case, the risk of failure is reduced by the frequency of success. And success repeated earns points to build reserves, to reward effort which then motivates more progress, to reduce waste so that scarce resources can be husbanded for other demands on service.

Pick the best global method of fishing. It is eskimo. Teaching, singaporean. Macroeconomic policy, norwegian. Manufacturing, japanese. Communication, american. Tunnelling, swiss. Leathering, italian. Motoring, german. Cooking, french. Mountaineering, nepalese. Singing, filipino. Filing police reports, malaysian.

But each of these didn't come up on their own by their own in their own test-tubes. They came up because they researched and learned, propagated and invested, practiced and copied, set standards and delivered them. They networked to compete to win for the day. They wanted to survive materially first so that they can survive culturally and spiritually after. Empty stomachs make poor workers who will also be too vacuous to follow policies or champion causes.

International integration creates more options, increases the number of bets and provides agility against challenges in a fast-changing world.

National integration creates ten-second feel-good heart pulls somewhere in the left ventricle.

The best national integrator of any country will flounder in the arena of international integration if what he has is irrelevant in the global gladiator pit.


walla said...

It is 1969. The place, somewhere along Jalan Tebrau in Johor Baru. The old wiry malay man comes again. He goes from garden to garden. He doesn't say a word. He just plants them. There is no fertilizer. He picks up whatever compost he can find. From drains, even. Then after pruning and watering them, he goes away. Week after week. Months later they appear. Big red healthy heart-warming tomatoes. You look at the sky and give thanks for sending someone so gifted with green fingers to show once again another great creation.

It is 2019. We have achieved knowledge economy status. So essential for high income activities and service sector thrust.

You remember the old malay man. His grandson comes along to check on the tomato plant. It is a testimony to the grandfather's grace that it is still there. By some miracle.

The grandson is intelligent. He reads voraciously. So you show him this:


and then point him to this:


with http://is.gd/1zCJB as bonus...

He grins, crinkles his nose and says it's a twenty years old article, probably overtaken by new findings sixty times.

...then you wake up from your reverie about how you were trying to force low-cost into high-income. You knew it was an oxymoron. But you had to try. Because of the old tomato man. You had to freeze time by keeping low-cost to act as a time-bridge so that he can from can't-do get to can-do across the high-income gulf.

And the only way he can build that bridge is to build it using the bricks of know-how.

Just as you come to that conclusion, you fall asleep again. Age has its troubling features.

In the new dream, the grandson has taken up your links, read them thoroughly, understood completely what they meant even when he has had no training in that field, picked up the phone, sent the e-mails, texted the contacts, and put together the business plan based just on interacting fluently and confidently with others all over the world facing the same desire to make a difference.

He's going to mass-plant that Andean Lycopersicon esculentum in his father's plot of land somewhere in the outskirts of that city. It is high-income activity from high know-how from high-education that creates real intelligence that can switch from one field to another or tap other brains thereof.

So continuing the legacy and heritage of that good man. And the One looking after him.

That's national-international integration.


The last recruitment of foreign english teachers and the last foreign tour on immersion exercise and the last three or four blasts of financial imprudence have not shaken the legacy of the national policists that all are seeing today and the grandsons of 2019 will be facing soon enough.

What's the next assurance that the next bunch of billions will?