Go for English as the language for STEM education

The prime minister is on the right academic trajectory in saying more focus will be given to English and science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) in schools. This, he said, was to equip students to be better prepared for the future.

No Malaysian can deny the importance of Bahasa Malaysia as the national language. In fact, almost all Malaysians are able to communicate in this language of unity, though some may not be really proficient.

Bahasa Malaysia should be seen as an instrument to bring all the races together. Language enthusiasts in the country can, of course, do more to make Bahasa Malaysia the language of choice for communication and we must ensure that every citizen is comfortable with it.

As Bahasa Malaysia is the lingua franca of all Malaysians, English is the lingua franca of the world. No Malaysian should be left behind in the pursuit of knowledge by not being able to master the English language. After English comes Mandarin and many countries are now making it a compulsory subject in school.

When the world is looking to English as a language of commerce, science and technology, all Malaysian children should be advised to do the same. It is flawed to suggest that mastering English can only be achieved at the expense of Bahasa Malaysia and that it will make Malaysians less patriotic.

Thus far, no empirical evidence has shown that those who have mastered English are less patriotic or have dispensed with the national language.

Let’s not make children believe that learning English seriously is going to make them less Malaysian. Malaysians should not politicise language for some short- term personal benefit. Children in schools must be made to realise that English is the language of the internet, an indispensable tool to seek knowledge and do serious research at the advanced level.

Information, news and messages almost all over the world use English as the medium for communication. In nearly all countries in the world, news and information is transmitted in English besides their own national language. Even in many developing countries of Asia and Africa there are

newspapers in English. Over 90% of computer data is stored in English. Almost 70% of newspapers and bulletins in the world are in English. Almost 85% of all academic journals and scientific research materials are written in English. The most read papers by scholars and researchers in the world today are in English

English is indeed a language for science and technology. Almost all world conferences and seminars – from politics to the sciences – are in English. Ninety per cent of books in the world on various disciplines – from religion to science – are found in English. Our libraries are primarily stocked with books and reading material in English.

English has become a universally understood language in maritime and air traffic communication in all countries. Almost all electrical gadgets, technological tools and machines in the world are defined in English and the operation manuals are also in English. Most high-ranking educational

institutions in the world use English as the medium of instruction. This makes English an indispensable language for moving forward in this knowledge-based society.

If only children and educationists are constantly reminded of this reality, many will find it meaningful to learn English and become useful citizens of the country. It is up to responsible leaders in our society to instil this truth in our children.

Malaysians should not be carried away by their ingrained cultural sentiment but should weigh matters rationally when it concerns English, as this can benefit their children in a knowledge-based society.

The teaching and learning of science and mathematics in English (PPSMI) was once a government policy. It was to improve the command of the English language among children in primary and secondary schools in the country. The Science and Mathematics subjects were taught in English as opposed to Bahasa Malaysia used previously in all schools. This policy was introduced in 2003 but later became the subject of debate among academics, politicians and the public alike, which culminated in the announcement of the policy reversal in 2012.

This should not happen again. English as the language of instruction for STEM should be introduced in all national schools but under a Dual Language Programme where students can be given the option to learn these subjects in Bahasa Malaysia if this is their choice.

This is to ensure that parents and educationists do not later on put the blame on the system, like it happened to the PPSMI, when some children are unable to perform or adapt, content-wise, to these subjects in English.

The views expressed are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.