Concepts the focus in Maths and Science

I REFER to “A student’s perspective” (Letters, Nov 3). The writer claims that “the importance of the PPSMI policy (teaching of Science and Mathematics in English) is evident when searching the internet for scientific terms”. He/she explains further that the search for “jasad Golgi” on Google returned a significantly lower number of hits than “Golgi apparatus”.

I found this amusing. As a former science stream student, an engineering graduate and now a practising reservoir engineer, I was taught that universal scientific and mathematical principles do not change regardless of the language of instruction. Therefore, is it not only logical that the writer should translate the term into English first, and then go on his/her quest for the articles required?

Language is only a medium – the main goal of the subjects of Science and Maths is to instil and cultivate analytical skills in students. The main focus should be on how to enable them to grasp the basic concepts in both subjects. According to Unesco, there is no better language of instruction to achieve this than the student’s own mother tongue. In the Malaysian context, this should be Bahasa Melayu, our national language as enshrined in the Constitution.

I was in the last batch of students in the national education system to sit for SPM pre-PPSMI. A few months shy of the exam, I was selected to be on the school team to the National Science Quiz Competition. As part of the preparations, my Chemistry teacher lent me a copy of her textbook, which was in English. A year later, I found out that the book is usually used by pre-university students. I did not have any problem digesting the material. Yes, the language and terms took a bit of time to adjust to, but once I got the hang of it, it was smooth sailing.

This particular experience was repeated less than a year later when I attended Universiti Teknologi Petronas, where the medium of instruction was English. The lectures, assignments and thick textbooks in English did not cause me to falter me because I knew the national education system had given me the skills necessary to survive in such an environment.

Not only was I able to grasp the basic concepts in Science and Maths by the time I graduated from high school, but I was also lucky because back then communicative skills in English were taught where they should be – in the English Language subject. One thing for sure, I did not have to relearn everything as the writer of the said letter claims.

I also do not agree with his/her statement that our Science and Maths teachers are incompetent because “of the previous system where BM was the medium of instruction”. Please be reminded that these teachers are NOT teaching the English Language as a subject. Rather, they are unjustly burdened with an extra task that is not in their area of expertise. This is unfair to them. As one of the many stakeholders in the PPSMI issue, their wellbeing should be taken into consideration as well.

I wonder what would happen if in a few decades English were no longer the main language of the world. Would we have to change the medium of instruction then, too?

Hazwani Rameli
Kuala Lumpur

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