LETTER | I am currently teaching Mathematics in English at a public university. At this moment, I do not wish for it to change. Higher education is different. Students are more matured and adapting is a skill that students need to acquire in higher education.
On the other hand, primary and secondary schools are different. Schools are places where almost every one of our citizens goes to. To learn, get educated and possibly change their way of living, in terms of improving.
Therefore, it is simple mathematics that we should cater to the majority, rather than the minority. I have been to many schools in rural areas over the years and at the secondary school level, the majority still cannot express themselves very well in English. Don’t get me wrong, the English standard has improved a lot compared to 10 years ago and comparing our people to others in some Southeast Asian countries would show that our English is way better. And our kids are doing better in English perhaps due to advancements in technology too.
And I assume you guys who are reading this do not have much problem in reading and conversing in English. But it’s a different thing to talk about daily life or to have a scientific conversation. My fear is that when at a young age, we teach our kids to use English terms, what they learn is only the terms itself. The concept is not being understood. My fear is that, when we force students to learn in a foreign language, it does not promote Stem, it makes them fearful of this area.
And these fears have a lot basis. I went to "Google Scholar" and searched for "teaching Mathematics in English’ and there are many findings showing that it is not a good idea.
An educated and informed decision needs to be made based on research and findings. Not a personal one. Otherwise, if I am a minister, I would be demanding everyone to learn in German because I find Germans are really good at mathematics.
Here are few rebuttals from arguments I heard online
Argument: But it is going to be difficult to cope at university because one had learnt in Bahasa Melayu his/her entire life
Rebuttal: How about those who can’t even get to university because they had poor grades due to language incompetency? They may have had better grades if they were taught in a language they understood.
Argument: But there is a lot of literature in English
Rebuttal: We have enough literature in BM for our school students. Make them good in Maths, Science and English, and learning in a university in whatever language will be fine. Plus I never heard anyone complaining about sending their kids to do a Bachelors in Japan or Germany even when the kids need to learn Japanese or Deutsch respectively when they reach there.
Argument: It is a lot easier to learn Mathematics in English
Rebuttal: Perhaps for someone who is good in English. For someone who has basic command. For people who are currently having a good career and forget that many are struggling with issues. If the majority of the B40 says this, then I will rest my case.
Final remark. I heard a lot of arguments where people say that they wish that they had learnt in English during school so they do not struggle at university and in life afterwards.
I beg to differ. I learnt Mathematics and Science in Bahasa Melayu from Standard 1 to Form 5. I learnt in Bahasa Melayu during the first year of my degree until my final year. I only started learning in English because I was studying for my Masters in the UK. My grades were not so good. Not because of the English medium but because I didn’t take a lot of pure Mathematics papers, so that’s my bad. Never ever do I regret learning in Bahasa Melayu.
If anything, I am proud of it. I manage to understand the concepts well because of the Malay language. And I am proud to have learnt in BM as I am to see my fellow friends who are from poor families now able to be my fellow colleague in university as doctors and engineers. I once even won the best postgraduate presentation at my faculty when I was in the UK, beating other English native speakers. It was never because I learnt Mathematics in English during my school and undergraduate years.
Stop worrying about the medium of language. Focus on the approach to improve our kids’ understanding. Think of what will happen to our citizens in rural areas if the English medium is implemented. And go and do research. Don’t base anything on a personal opinion especially when this issue has both people agreeing and opposing.
The writer is a senior lecturer at the School of Mathematical Sciences, USM.
The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.