Tuesday, May 05, 2009
Lingua fracas
In response to the pointless debate on whether or not to teach Maths and Science in English in Malaysian schools that just keeps cropping up (examples here, here and here), I sent another letter to The Star that subsequently went unpublished:
The current slew of letters weighing in on the debate regarding the use English as a medium of instruction for Maths and Science all miss the point slightly. Rather than harp on such superficial issues it seems to me that it would be more salient to discuss whether or not our students are being taught to think critically. The purpose of education is to instill the ability to reason from first principles, not to 'absorb knowledge quickly', whatever the language. In other words, it does not matter so much the language one thinks in as does the fact that one can think.

Of course, this does not mean that we should forego obtaining a reasonable level of proficiency in English. It is the world's lingua franca, after all. (In any case, language is not a zero-sum game in which competence in one automatically leads to ineptness in another. It does us no harm to learn the language that will allow us to communicate with the greatest number of people.) Know, however, that that is all it is—a method of communication—and that there is nothing intrinsically better or worse about English other than its widespread use.

In the end, it matters more what is being said than how it is being said. It is meaningless to argue about what is, in essence, a question of logistics when we may very well possess no content to begin with. What we ought to be more worried about is the debilitating emphasis in our education system on rote memorization at the expense of curiosity and independent thinking. This, far more than which language we choose to teach two subjects in, will have bearing on the future prospects of the nation.

Update, 7th May 2009:
Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, in his capacity as Education Minister, has stated that he is 'willing to listen to more views and accept memoranda on the issue before deciding whether the subjects should be taught in English or revert to Bahasa Malaysia', despite earlier assurances by his predecessor that such a decision would be made by mid-April of this year. Looks like all involved are set to wrangle over inconsequential matters for more months to come.

posted by Hong at 9:32 pm | Permalink |