Of English, Math and Science: A Student’s Perspective

Blooms

- Winter in Full Bloom a.k.a Spring is Coming -

The picture has nothing to do with the post; it’s just my habit of posting pictures I took. So… Disregarding the fact that I’m a teacher trainee, I was a student taking SPM five years ago and I am still a student today. I’m simply sick and tired of random speculations and whatnot regarding the Malaysian government’s decision of reverting back to using Bahasa Malaysia in the teaching of Mathematics and Science. As a student, I don’t favour this change mainly because of the implementation.

Even if this change is inevitable, I think it is a lot better to take it slow. If it’s 2012, then make it so only Year 1 students of primary schools (or whatever year they start learning Science in full force) learn Mathematics and Science (MT) in English. Let them be the pioneers of the change. Why bother confusing the students who have studied MS in English for six years in primary schools so soon as they enter secondary schools? Let them study MS in English as they had for the past six years all the way to the university. I talked about this with my Mom (a retired English teacher) on the phone and she said, ‘Nah, they won’t feel the heat much. You know how in our place they don’t even teach Science, Maths and even English language in full English.

Guess what I think about this MS in English thingie? It’s somewhat of a non-issue in various places in the country, mostly the less developed parts where you often get remarks like ‘Berlagak la kau!’ or ‘Macam bagus je cakap orang putih. Tui’. Ironically, strong protests usually come from the same area. Before you go throwing bricks and attempt to kill me for calling it a non-issue, I’ll just share with you the outcome of my observations. I’ve been to a few schools (in Malaysia, including the short school-based experience in my first year), stopping by to observe how classes are taught. My observations were of course done discreetly.

Outcome of Observation: Most of the classes I’ve observed were bilingual in nature, meaning that the teachers and students used both English and BM.

It’s rare to see MS classes being taught in full English. Heck, even the standalone English subject isn’t taught fully in English. If you’ve been trained as a teacher, surely you remember the teaching approaches? I’m not exactly an A student, but I can refresh your memory if you’ve forgotten. So what are the principles of second language learning?

  1. Grammar-Translation Approach
  2. Direct Approach
  3. Reading Approach
  4. Audiolingual Method
  5. Community Language Learning
  6. The Silent Way
  7. Communicative Approach–Functional-Notional
  8. Total Physical Response

Look at the first approach on the list. When I learned about this, I immediately thought, ‘that kind of sums up the teaching of English in whatever subject I’ve learnt’. Maybe it produces minimal and slow effects, but it’s still the best way to deal with students who lack the commands (and vocabularies) of English.

In a way, teaching English in Malaysia couldn’t be worse than teaching English to second language learners (ESOL students) in native English countries. Take New Zealand for example. The English teacher in the classroom does not share the same mother tongue as his/her students who might be native speakers of Thai, Japanese, Chinese or Korean. Grammar-Translation is absolutely out in this case, so he/she must find other approaches to teach English effectively to ESOL students. Taxing, no?

People keep saying ‘few teachers are competent in English to teach the subject in that language’, but I call that opinion a total bullcrap. Teachers are not perfect, and so they seek to get better and better most of the time. With time and practice, teachers improve for the better.

I’m talking about teachers whose souls are into teaching the minds of the young here. I’m not talking about people who chose teaching as a profession because they couldn’t get anything better, or because it guarantees them a job. In plain Malay, ‘Habis dah tak ada pilihan, nak buat macam mana lagi?‘ or ‘Aku jadi cikgu ni sampai habis kontrak je. Lepas tu aku blah la‘ or even ‘Jadi cikgu la best. Banyak cuti‘ and so on so forth. I don’t mean to offend anyone, but if you’re offended, I’m not sorry. It’s just that to find a truly dedicated teacher is a bit of a task. The word ‘dedicated’ is not simply an English adjective for ‘berdedikasi’. Oh wait, wasn’t ‘dedikasi’ derived from English as well? What happened to the glorious term ‘berhemah’? In use in frozen documents, mostly.

Now back to the point I was making. It says something about our educators if teachers aren’t competent in English. They are in no way not competent. That’s like saying they don’t know how to use English in basic conversation. Some of them only lack the command of English. LACK is the proper word to use here. I wonder though… I always thought you learn those critical subjects mostly in English in universities (now where are my brother’s old notes, hm?). Defensive, am I not? It’s my thoughts and it’s my profession in about less than two years, so suck it up 😛

To those who protest or rejoice, or whatever, I hope you have at least attempted to read the curriculum specifications and the syllabi of English, Mathematics and Science before actually stating your claims. A little bit more research on how the subjects are actually taught and learnt would help your debate points. Trust me.

This post may or may not have a second part. Chances are… there will be a second part as I’m still inspired.

p.s/ Bahasa Inggeris tak boleh, tapi bahasa pinjaman yang makin berlambak (dan agak merepek, juga tak sedap mulut menyebut) tu boleh lah pula ya? Ironi, ironi.
p.p.s/ Oh my, what a long entry. I refuse to put it under ‘read more’ tag, though XD