LETTER | The recent inclination from the Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad to re-introduce English as a teaching medium for science subjects at the primary level in all schools was not welcomed by local Chinese organisations including the United Chinese School Committees Association (or Dong Zong).
While this knee-jerk response is not something quite unexpected, we, too, are not clear on why this re-introduction should be made. In 2009, the Ministry of Education reviewed the overall effectiveness of PPSMI and concluded that the programme failed to reach its desired outcome thereby the decision was made to abolish PPSMI after consultation with various stakeholders.
A quick literature search on PPSMI found three UKM studies showing positive views for the programme, where improvements in the command of English language and the mastery of science subjects were observed at tertiary levels (see their articles in Social and Behavioral Sciences published in 2012). Besides the UKM studies, there is little information on the in-depth studies on the teaching of science and mathematics in English at the primary level.
Before the implementation of a new policy, have we asked, was there enough quality research done to study the effectiveness of the policy in the past? As educators, we are concerned that we are not able to ascertain whether the re-introduction of PPSMI will bring benefit or jeopardise yet again students and teachers like what happened in the past.
Assuming the majority of students in most national schools do not have a strong command of English, the concern for PPSMI not only revolves around the questionable effectiveness of using a non-first language (or mother language) to learn science and mathematics, but that teachers may also dilute the teaching content to suit the student’s ability to cope with the language.
A survey that targeted pre-university level students showed that the teachers struggled to deliver the subject content in English because they were trained using Bahasa Malaysia (study published in the journal English Language Teaching in May 2009).
A big question is do we have quality research and sufficient data to support the return of PPSMI policy? Was the re-introduction of the PPSMI policy supported by any scientific research or was it merely based on a leader’s personal opinion?
In the year 2009, the then minister for education Muhyiddin Yassin admitted that the change between “before” and “after” PPSMI was merely 2-3%, and that “the majority of the 60,000 teachers who taught the two subjects in English did not have sufficient training to be able to teach effectively”.
With this data, did the ministry or academics conduct any research to scientifically look into the effectiveness of the policy? If yes, was the data published in any report, reputable journal or discussed during conference proceedings like how the UKM researchers did for the PPSMI effectiveness at tertiary level?
More importantly, has our students' and teachers' command of the English language improved over the years? Did any researcher run a study to support the return of PPSMI? The proposal to re-introduce PPSMI at the primary level should be thoroughly evaluated and assessed using evidence-based research. In this context, the paramount need is to establish an autonomous and highly-reputable institute of education (e.g. National Institute of Education, Singapore; Finnish Institute for Educational Research, Finland.) to bringing together researchers, educators and policymakers to conduct comprehensive research.
This can then be translated into formulating educational policies to develop an effective and innovative educational system as well as better ways of teaching and learning practices.
In this era of big data, policy-making should be supported by strong research-based data and evidence. It is unwise to ignore these evidence, scientific data and analyses lest we repeat the same mistake of implementing an educational policy that is not sustainable.
The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.