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Language tussle

I WAS brought up in a rather apolitical background, though back in school, I had teachers preaching the whole concept of “Takkan hilang Melayu di dunia”, complete with the image of that bronze cast sculpture of Hang Tuah right next to it. Those were simpler days.

I went through both primary and secondary schools in Bahasa Melayu, now labelled Bahasa Malaysia. However, I remember that during canteen breaks, everyone reverted either to English or Mandarin, depending on which crowd you hung out with.

Personally, I don’t care what language science and mathematics are taught in. It could be done in Hindi or even Urdu, and I would still be nonplussed. I consider this a lingual issue, and I’m no Bahasa Malaysia linguist.

It should not be an issue involving political parties who are merely trying to win over the Malay Malaysian community’s vote, especially for the upcoming triple by-elections. This was obvious when it was reported that there were opposition party banners seen during the recent demonstration against the Teaching of Maths and Science in English (ETeMS, or better known by its Malay acronym PPSMI), by the Gabungan Mansuhkan PPSMI (GMP) movement.


A protester against the teaching of maths and science in English donning a Parti Keadilan Rakyat flag
as a cape during the GMP gathering on 7 March

Even more interesting is that PAS spiritual leader Datuk Nik Aziz Nik Mat agreed with the protest, while both DAP and Parti Keadilan Rakyat kept mum about it. The Kelantan Menteri Besar even stated that they are not exploiting this issue for political gain.

But the politics doesn’t end there.

Dissent in Umno

In the recent Umno general assembly, Johor delegate Ayub Rahmat asked the supreme council to abolish the policy of teaching mathematics and science in English. He stated that only 4% of Malay Malaysians increased their proficiency in the English language, quoting from a study by a non-governmental organisation called Pembina. The contents of the report can be viewed here.

However, this delegate’s point of view received dissent from within his own state, when the head of the Umno division in Pulai spoke up and said the division welcomes the policy and wants it to proceed.

Ayub’s wasn’t the lone voice against the policy. Kedah delegate Kamal Saidin made a statement saying he wanted Bahasa Malaysia to be brought back instead of using the “Jewish language”.

Yet, just a day earlier, the Puteri Umno wing clearly stated that they will continue to support the teaching of maths and science in English. So there is no consensus on the issue, even within Umno.

Academicians and politicians also have differing views on the subject.

Prof Dr Sidek Baba of the International Islamic University Malaysia Education Department launches into a conspiracy theory, stating that the use of English is a subtle approach by the West to conquer the world. Or in his exact quote to Bernama: “The approach of the West [was] in using their own language to take over a foreign country, this was a long-term policy done subtly to take over a country.”

Whereas former Science, Technology and Innovation Minister and Member of Parliament for Rompin Datuk Seri Jamaluddin Jarjis believes English is the way forward. In an interview with the New Straits Times, he states: “Various studies have shown that to compete in the global knowledge marketplace, competency in the global language is mandatory.”

The ministry responds

One has to wonder just what exactly is the Ministry of Education doing about all this drama?

Responses from minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein have varied. On 10 March, he was quoted by Bernama as saying: “I believe we can come up with a formula, taking into consideration the situation we are currently in.

“In making a decision on the issue, we will also take into account the capability in implementing the policy at primary school level and in rural schools.”

On 12 March in The Star he said a decision on the policy would be reached by the end of the month.


Hishammuddin (Pic courtesy
of theSun)
On 20 March in the New Straits Times, it was announced that he had met with the GMP for a discussion, stating that he wanted input from all quarters, even after a paper had been handed to various ministries before being brought to Parliament.

And the most recent report on 30 March by Bernama states that the Ministry of Education will neither fully accept nor reject PPSMI.

What people want

But while politicians are divided on this issue, I cannot help but wonder what the people’s say on this issue are.

Firstly, let’s look at some opinion sections. In The Star, USM’s Shahida Sulaiman basically praises the idea, but notes the hurried implementation. In her own words: “The teaching and learning of science and mathematics in English is a wise initiative but its implementation in 2003 was a bit rush (sic) as most teachers involved were not ready.”

The opinions of Zulkipli Ismail from Kuching are also very relative: “The main point here is that whoever has superior knowledge and technology that other people want so much, can dictate what language to use — take it or leave it.”

I think we have to take note that as a nation of democrats, this decision should be left to the rakyat to decide; not the so-called culture protectors and fear-mongers who preach an end to their culture through the learning of a foreign language.

And with the recent STPM recording that 92% took their papers in English, I think the rakyat have made up their minds.


Ahmad Hafidz Baharom is a paradox. He’s an anti-smoking chain smoker, an environmentalist who leaves his office lights on, a centrist who’s a lalang, and a twentysomething yuppie who dreams of being a slacker. Basically, he’s a lovable moron.

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7 Responses to “Language tussle”

  1. zool says:

    I think the one who is supposed to head the Education Ministry should have at least a history or background in education. He [or she] must have once been a teacher/principal/lecturer. Better still, a teacher in the rural kampungs or pedalamans. That way, the minister would know how rural children learn and study.

    Hishammuddin? Was he a rural person? Was he an educator? He was Education Minister while he was Ketua Pemuda Umno.

    To be a wise teacher, one should be old enough. I’ve never seen a young kung-fu/silat master :-)

  2. Dennis Madden says:

    The author said it with his last line. I’ll say it with my first:

    “And with the recent STPM recording that 92% took their papers in English, I think the rakyat have made up their minds.”

    I am thoroughly tired of the comments by people who cannot see the simple truth: there is no future for BM in the world of tomorrow!

    It’s almost irrelevant in the world of today.

    The debate should not be whether science and maths should be taught in English BUT whether the WHOLE education system should be dominated by English.

    If you have any care for the welfare and future of Malaysia and Malaysians, you would not consider any other alternative.

    But if your agenda is to keep Malaysians (Malays) dumb and ignorant, then go ahead with BM. If your agenda is to keep Malaysians (Malays) repressed by “protecting” them from radical and innovative writings from elsewhere, then go ahead with BM. If you want to strangle Malaysians (Malays) potential to achieve anything worthwhile in business, science or any other international endeavour, then go ahead with BM. If you want to entrench poverty and a bazaar mentality in Malaysians (Malays) then go ahead with BM.

    Umno et all have made some unbelievably awful decisions as to how this country should be governed, but by far the worst has been what they have done to the education system.

    Instead of preparing Malaysia for a post-oil era, when knowledge, imagination and creativity would be [pivotal], they have done everything imaginable to destroy the education system.

    Education has been dragged down to the level of the lowest common denominator, and mediocrity and corruption have been allowed to flourish.

    One has to ask why? And this one can’t go beyond linking the reality with the fact that education is the enemy of dogma.

  3. tangkup says:

    Kalau maths dan science diajar dalam Bahasa Malaysia, kaum India, Cina, Kadazan, Dayak [Malaysia] akan terus mempelajari Bahasa Inggeris. Ini bermakna [orang] Melayu [Malaysia] tetap belajar Bahasa Malaysia. Kesudahannya orang Melayu [Malaysia] (kecuali anak beranakan orang Melayu [Malaysia] yang berada seperti menteri-menteri, timbalan-timbalan menteri dan kakitangan kerajaan tertinggi) akan ketinggalan!! Ini adalah dasar Umno untuk menentukan KUASA ELITE dapat diteruskan melalui anak beranak mereka.

    Biarlah ajar kira-kira dan sains dalam Bahasa Inggeris supaya semua dapat hasilnya.

  4. cl says:

    What on earth was this site thinking to allow Dennis’s post? If so, there goes Malaysia’s cultural identity! The same would go for Thai, Tagalog, Hindi, even Korean cultural identity.

    Besides, the detractors are also suspicious of the grading system which is feared to be loosened up to prep up a good impression of PPSMI.

  5. I love a good argument. Thanks to the commenters for providing. :)

  6. Badrul says:

    To those who communicate fluently in English always prefer English as their means of communication. However, English proficiency isn’t the only way for a nation/race can be successfully developed/civilized. It’s all about basic communication or comprehension for students to easily churn-out the knowledge. This doesn’t mean that Bahasa Melayu couldn’t be the language of tomorrow. It’s hard to cope/learn a new Mathematics/Science concept/syllabus, but now it has become even harder to just understand the foreign language for the non-English speaker.

  7. Hafidz Baharom says:

    I agree with Badrul that English may not be the only language of the future with prominence, but that has to be supported by the will to establish and raise the standards of the Malay language on a global scale.

    In this sense, the Malay language’s authority, the DBP has failed miserably.


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