GOOD news! Sarawak is going ahead with implementing the programme of Teaching and Learning Science and Mathematics in English (PPSMI) in our schools. For confirmation of this news, please read the statement made by Assistant Minister of Education, Science, and Technological Research Dr Annuar Rapee in The Borneo Post on July 21.
The bad news is that the federal government has no plans to reintroduce that programme. For confirmation of this reference, please refer to the written answer to an oral question; the answer was attributed to the Minister of Education Dr Mohd Radzi Md Jidin, speaking in Parliament on July 16.
The policy of teaching and learning the subjects of Science and Mathematics in the English language in schools had been adopted by the previous federal government, but the present administration has a different idea. Apparently, it has succumbed to extreme pressures from various interest groups in the country to forget about the PPMSI.
As we are not in the full picture as to why the programme has been scrapped, we can only rely on the statement made by Dr Annuar Rapee as reported in the same newspaper. He was referring to the “research findings that claimed the policy had failed to improve English proficiency and performance in the two subjects and even led to racial polarisation”. Other than this, we have no information yet.
It would be worth the time for the citizens, especially the policymakers, to read the findings of that study in full, so that the implementation of the PPMSI programme in Sarawak or Sabah will not be adversely affected by repeating the shortcomings, if any.
My guess is that the so-called policy failure is about the competency and confidence of the teachers in teaching the two subjects in English. However, of the thousands of teachers in the country, there must be a few who have not mastered the English language – that’s normal. But to drop the whole programme is an insult to the many teachers who are good at English, having taught the two subjects without any problem.
Could there be some other reason or reasons then for scrapping the programme?
At first glance, two Education authorities in Malaysia are pulling in different directions. In the bigger picture, however, it is not necessarily so. For there is a fine print or a gem of a clue which is found in the Inter-Governmental Report 1962 (IGC) – more of this later.
Let me say that the Sarawak government’s stand in the choice of language for the teaching and learning of the two subjects is farsighted and commendable. It appears that partisan politics does not factor in the choice of that medium of instruction. I know that many parents are grateful for this bold move. Even though it looks like the state is going down a different direction or the state’s programme is off tangent vis-à-vis the federal policy, its attitude as reflected by Dr Annuar – begging the honour to differ – is quite in line with what the founders of Malaysia from Sarawak and North Borneo had wanted 58 years ago.
I think the move for Sarawak to strike out on its own in Education policy is a practical strategy, indeed farsighted. Remember what Confucius said, “To see the right and not do it is cowardice.”
The state has been preparing well for the implementation of this programme with effect from this year at the Primary 1 level. All this time and expenditure would have gone to waste if PPSMI was scrapped altogether.
According to Dr Annuar, 2,835 teachers and officers have been trained for PPMSI and they are raring to go, having spent some RM11 million on the teaching of teachers and preparation of the necessary tools (teaching modules, printing of text books, workbooks, teaching materials/aids).
This money is an investment worth many millions in returns in terms of the quality of education for our youth, potentially the future leaders of the country.
Linked to this are the state’s plans to build and manage five international schools, preparing students from rural areas for overseas exams. The medium of instruction in these schools will be English. This move is smart. Whoever conceived the idea deserves a pat on the back.
In fact, we are complying with what the founders of Malaysia from Sarawak and North Borneo had wanted. If you read the Inter-Governmental Report 1962 (IGC), you will be able to discern the reflection of intention of the founding fathers of Malaysia from Sarawak and North Borneo.
For instance, read the following paragraph of IGC:
“17. Education. Certain aspects of religious education have been dealt with under the heading ‘religion’.
(a) Although Education (item 13(a) of the Federal List in the Ninth Schedule) will be a federal subject, the present policy and system of administration of education in North Borneo and Sarawak (including their present ordinances) should be undisturbed and remain under the control of the government of the state until, that state otherwise agrees.
(i) the present policy in the Borneo States regarding the use of English should continue;
(ii) knowledge of the Malay language should not be required as a qualification for any educational opportunity until such time as the state government concerned considers that sufficient provision has been made to teach Malay in all schools in the state;
(iii) there should be no application to the Borneo States of any Federal requirements regarding religious education.”
Above was one of the many safeguards demanded and obtained by the Sarawak and North Borneo founders of Malaysia before they could agree to the proposal for their respective states to being a part of the Federation of Malaysia. It is the legacy of the founders that we should cherish for all times and in all places.
In the course of more than half a century into Malaysia, there may have been modifications made to the application of the general principles of IGC on specific matters but the substance is still there; in particular, the use of the English language in schools in Sarawak including its use in the learning and the teaching of Science and Mathematics will be as relevant as ever. I think.
Go ahead Sarawak!
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