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DLP controversy: Recycling of failed PPSMI

Put aside egos and overhaul the teaching of languages where it matters most - the first three years of schooling

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Education Minister Fadhlina Sidek last week urged the public to remain objective over the recently introduced dual-language programme (DLP) guidelines.

The principal aim of the DLP, as touted by the Ministry of Education, is that it will improve the children’s command of the language used in the DLP classes (initially English and now also Malay).

This is but a perception or figment of the imagination of the person who first mooted the idea of the DLP to improve the command of languages. Others are merely toeing the line (because the idea came from somebody ‘big’, the then PM himself even though he is not an educationist). 

The programme was first introduced in 2003 as “Pengajaran dan Pembelajaran Sains dan Matematik Dalam Bahasa Inggeris” (PPSMI) – the teaching of maths and science in English. 

At one point, the programme was discontinued, only to be quietly restarted later.

The present DLP is a recycling and rebranding of this failed programme.

Was the PPSMI successful? Education expert Prof Ishak Haron says it was a failure. His research found that using English as the medium of instruction reduced students’ understanding and interest in maths and science.

That failed programme is now being re-introduced as the DLP: at least one class will have science and maths taught in Malay in Chinese vernacular schools.

These and all other schools already have compulsory Malay-language classes. Just improve the teaching of Malay in these classes.

Agreed, all schoolchildren should be proficient in both Malay and English. Many have not reached an acceptable level of competence.

READ MORE:  Are we serious about improving English proficiency or just bulls****ing!

But this is because of the ineffective teaching of these languages in the early years of schooling, that is, from Standards One to Three. Young children pick up languages fast by listening to these languages being spoken correctly and then imitating what they hear.

The minister should instead look into the teaching of languages in the first three years of schooling. The problem lies here. This is where the most competent language teachers are needed. It is far easier to lay a strong language foundation at this level than to do corrective work later.

The policy statement that the DLP aims to “uphold the Malay language and strengthen the command of English” means nothing if it fails to achieve its goal, as proven by the failure of the former PPSMI.

So, forcing compliance with a failed programme is unwise as it will not lead to different outcomes.

In the 1950s, there was no such thing as the DLP. But ethnic Malay and ethnic minority children were able to achieve high competency in both the Malay and English languages. So why not adopt the language teaching methodology of that time to “uphold the Malay language and strengthen the command of English” today?

 Put aside egos and overhaul the teaching of languages where it matters most – the first three years of schooling.  

The views expressed in Aliran's media statements and the NGO statements we have endorsed reflect Aliran's official stand. Views and opinions expressed in other pieces published here do not necessarily reflect Aliran's official position.

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30 Jun 2024 6.06am

An interesting test would be a count of how many children of politicians speak a second language. They tend to be successful in life ventures unavailable to mono language speakers.

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