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Dual-language programme: How political meddling is failing Malaysia’s students

Don't repeat mistakes and hope for different results!

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What do politicians pushing the dual-language programme (DLP) hope to achieve?

The programme, which originally started in 2003, was previously called “Pengajaran dan Pembelajaran Sains dan Matematik Dalam Bahasa Inggeris (PPSMI)” – the teaching of science and maths in English (now also in Malay).

Do these politicians have a clear objective? Are they experts in child education to say that the teaching of science and maths in English or Malay will improve students’ fluency in these languages? Has the programme achieved this?

Exam results show there was no improvement in English language proficiency. Worse, the children’s achievement in science and maths actually dropped.

This politician-initiated programme was touted to be able to kill two birds with one stone – language proficiency and science and maths competency!

It turned out to be a big failure, as research by experts shows. This is what the Chinese vernacular schools do not want repeated in their schools.

Now, the present education minister is introducing the DLP for teaching science and maths in Malay in Chinese schools. The minister says this is “to ensure the government’s commitment to uphold Bahasa Melayu [the Malay language] as our national language”.

This is not a truthful statement, as Malay is already a compulsory subject in all schools. She is giving the false impression that there is totally no Malay in Chinese schools and so her DLP program must be introduced to start teaching Malay in Chinese schools. This is far from the truth.

Any insinuation that the Chinese schools are not committed to upholding Malay as the national language if they do not have at least one DLP class for science and maths to be taught in Malay is mischievous.

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When Malay is a compulsory subject in all schools, how is Malay not being “upheld” in all the schools that it can only be “upheld” through the DLP?

The Chinese schools in Penang are correct to have objected to having a DLP class to teach science and maths in Malay in their schools. The requirement is to start just one class of at least 20 students, even if a school has 1,000 students or more.

How will teaching science and maths in Malay to these 20 students (who already have regular Malay lessons as in their timetables) “uphold Bahasa Melayu as our national language”?

This is nothing but pure political rhetoric to push politicians’ will on the public, regardless of consequences.

Dr Mahathir Mohamad started the PPSMI program in 2003. In 2009, then Deputy PM Mahiaddin Yasin announced that it would be stopped it in 2012, but it was then extended to 2014. [In 2011, the cabinet announced that the decision to end the PPSMI stood. Mahiaddin said the teaching of maths and science would be fully in Malay in primary schools by 2016 and in secondary schools by 2021.]

But in 2016, the PPSMI was rebranded as the DLP and started again, with 300 schools participating.

This kind of unwarranted messing with education by politicians is what has brought our education to where we are today – from being the best in Southeast Asia in the 1950s to among the worst today.

PRM agrees it is very important to improve the standard of Malay and English, but disagrees that the DLP is the way. It is unprofessional to teach science and maths in English (or in Malay) as a way of improving the command of those languages, as well as competency in the two subjects.

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It should be done the other way round: improve the command of the languages first and then only teach science and maths in those languages.

The real problem is that English and Malay are not being taught as second or third languages the right way from Standard One by teachers proficient in these languages.

Out of about 40,000 English language teachers, half of them are not competent in the language. The non-mother-tongue language teaching methodology (especially in the early years) is also not correct.

How is it that in the 1950s ethnic Malay children in English-medium schools could be so fluent in the English and Malay languages?

The formula was very simple – teach English by using English 100% of the time in each and every English lesson. Only competent, experienced teachers can do this. This is called the “immersion method”.

Nowadays, this has been discarded for the “translation method” – the mother tongue is used in the English (or Malay) language class to explain what is being taught in the other language.

Any language is first learnt by children through hearing it spoken and then imitating it. Later, they enrich it by reading aloud.

So in the first two to three years of schooling, a lot of spoken language (and reading) must be heard by the children for them to imitate what they hear.

There is no need to teach “grammar” or pronunciation using phonics. Just talk and talk in grammatically correct phrases and sentences, patiently, with clear pronunciation of each word, and do reading. The pupils will pick up the language very easily and correctly.

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Then proceed to written exercises: writing sentences, short paragraphs or essays and so on.

The politicians must stop meddling with children’s education. This is a very specialised field of work. It must be left in the hands of the experienced professionals. The politicians must not act as if they are experts in every field, including education.

Proper education and teaching of languages must start from Standard One. Once the children have a fairly good command of the languages (this can be achieved by the end of year three), teach them other subjects in those languages.

Trainee teachers being trained as language teachers must be fluent in the language. The training course is not for learning the language but for learning language teaching skills.

We would advise politicians to stop meddling with children’s education. These children are the future of the nation. Don’t turn them into liabilities by messing with their education.

Scrap the DLP as it has been damaging to children’s education. Don’t repeat mistakes and hope for different results!

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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