Wednesday, April 01, 2009
english, english, english
I am an engineer.
But that tells you nothing of my background.
I am an urbanite. I grew up in the city and went to a private school. Up until Form 5, I was surrounded by peers with impeccable English and a horrible command of BM. In college, I met people who couldn't pronounce 'autopsy'. It beggared belief. But I picked up a lot of BM, even from the Chinese guys and actually became pretty good with it, complete with the slang and appropriate lingo.
I now work for a large engineering firm. I now stay in the East Coast of Peninsular Malaysia. In close to 3 years, I can count with one hand the number of times I have spoken to a shopkeeper in English. At work, while the engineers and management staff are from all over the country, the majority of our manpower, the skilled technicians/mechanics are from around here. And even with my fairly good (or so I thought) BM, I struggled to pick up the local lingo. And if 'autopsy' beggared belied, how about a guy who didn't know what 'blame' meant?
I have lived in both worlds. I have been through both extremes. I have seen all there is to see. I went from one end of the scale to the other. I had an intern under me a year ago who was doing his diploma in a local polytechnic. That kid was one of the smartest kids I worked with, he picked up things very quickly even faster than some engineers. But his learning curve was limited because I don't think he understood half the things I said.
At the end of his first week, I sat down with him and asked, "So, what di'cha learn today?"
He stared back at me.
I repeated myself, slowly, "What did you learn today?"
I see two eyes still staring back at me.
"What. did. you. learn. today?"
"Apa yang mu belajo hari ni?"
And only that got him going. It then occured to me that that kid had no idea what I was talking about the whole week. Many of you reading this are going to go nuts, most of you are going to be judgemental, and all of you are wondering how he passed SPM English. That reaction is normal. That was the same reaction most of my friends had when I told them that story. But these are the same friends who didn't understand something so simple when I told them the 'dok nak makang' story.
Seeing both worlds gives me a great perspective. I know how hard it is to change a set-in-clay mentality. But I still believe that English is absolutely vital for Science and Maths. I have seen many great technicians/mechanics stiffled because they can't really converse in English. I know many good engineers who can't get far because they are unable to sell their ideas in English.
A simple example: There are must be more than 20 ways to describe a failure of a material - tearing, shearing, cracking, rubbing, buckling, stretching, beaching, twisting, bending.....I could go on and on but I think you get the point. Are there Malay words for all those technical terms? Yes, I am sure there are. How many people in the industry know the Malay words for those terms? Almost nobody. So, you may know what sort of failure occured but since you cannot describe it in English, that counts for naught doesn't it?
I write this because I just read an absolutely mind-bogglingly ridiculous editorial in Malaysiakini titled, 'Maths and Science: The case for BM'. Among the ridiculous points made:
Close to 70 percent were not confident enough to sit the exam in English. In absolute numbers, that’s 352,641 pupils. It is mother tongue instruction that’s most effective for children as countless studies have shown. Unesco endorses this formulation. The European Union similarly adopts a mother tongue education policy.
So? Shall we also adopt a full mother tongue policy? Shall we then allow each student to answer their exam questions in their respective mother tongues? And since when was a child's lack of confidence in doing something a factor in whether he needs to do it? If he lacks confidence in learning to ride a bike, does this mean that we stop teaching him altogether?
Is it so incomprehensible to the vocally pro-PPSMI urbanites that English is alien to the majority of rural children?
Agreed. Many urbanites do not understand the problem. Which explains the long introduction to this post. But if this is her real opinion, I fear for this writer's children. Apparently, just because something is 'alien' and the child lacks confidence, it is a license to exempt the child from doing it. We must not confuse between what is easy to do and what needs to be done. The fact that it is difficult to implement and change their mindset is proof that we need to work harder to make it work, not to bloody give up on it just because it is hard to do.
A most oft-cited argument in favour of PPSMI is that the bulk of reference material is in English. But we’re talking about seven year olds and 11 year olds. They don’t need to refer to advanced textbooks and academic papers. They’re not required to write a thesis using English jargon. Foundation level Math and Science deals with basic concepts that can be explained just as well in BM or vernacular. Even at ages 13 to 15, schoolgoers don’t specialise in Math and Science. Not everybody aspires to be a scientist.
No, they don't need to refer to advanced textbooks or academic papers. But they will, eventually. And there are loads of awesome textbooks out there, even from our Singaporean neighbours, that are written in English, and would make awesome reference material. Such short termism is scary. Just because something is not important now, it doesn't mean we don't need to learn it to prepare for the future!!
YES, but I am also damn sure that their research paper which gave them that Nobel Prize was written in English, not Japanese! And we really have to stop comparing ourselves to the Germans and Japanese. They have really awesome technology and all that technology is documented in German and Japanese, which makes great reference for their students.
Three scientists of Japanese ethnicity shared the 2008 Nobel Prize for their work in subatomic physics. They obtained their PhDs from Nagoya University and University of Tokyo. They learned their Math and Science in Japanese…I’m sure.
We too, have great technology in our heritage. We have boat makers who could build their seaworthy fishing boats without using a single nail. Was that technology documented anywhere? No, it was passed down by word of mouth from father to son, and so that technology is dying.
And for modern technology, we are no where close to achieving what the Germans and Japanese have achieved. Our technology is pittance compared to theirs. One day, if and when we do attain their level of technology and we can sustain it ourselves, then fine, by all means teach Maths and Science in Kelantan dialect. Because then, it wouldn't matter. But to learn from others, you need to speak the language that they speak.
In national-type schools similarly, the school’s Chinese character is lost while ‘doubling’ wastes precious time when Math and Science are taught overlapping in both English and Chinese.I find it hilarious that the crazy Chinese educationists are so bent on teaching it in Mandarin to preserve culture and to supposedly enable us to do business there, when in fact in China, people are rushing to learn English!!
Chinese primary schools are feeders to the independent Chinese high schools whose students take the UEC. This exam is recognised for entry to universities in Taiwan, China, Singapore, Australia and some European countries.
And anybody from an Australian or UK university will tell you that Chinese students who went there (no doubt that academically they were accepted) with a bad command of English did horribly and suffered a great deal to catch up. Never mind that people like me struggled with the Scottish/Irish accent of my lecturers, the Chinese bloke didn't understand a word he was saying! And won't you guess, his first year results were absolutely crap. Smart guy, but what could he do when he couldn't understand anything?
I've decided to leave the best for last: I was reading through the memorandum submitted by GMP to the King calling for the abolishment of teaching Maths and Science in English. The most ridiculous point of all:
Tidak mereka tahu bahawa sebelum tahun 2003 jumlah tesis Sarjana Sains (M.Sc.) dalam bidang sains dan matematik yang ditulis dalam bahasa Melayu berjumlah lebih 2,000 (dua ribu buah) manakala tesis Doktor Falasfah (Ph.D.) dalam bidang tersebut yang ditulis dalam bahasa Melayu berjumlah lebih kurang 400 buah?Is that something to be proud of?!?? Are you fucking kidding me? I can't believe that they are using that as an argument FOR their cause! I would never have guessed it! 2400 research papers in the entire history of our universities is seriously embarrassing! It is nothing more than a piss in the ocean! It is no where near what MIT churns out IN A SINGLE YEAR! And we expect our students to limit their reference material to those 2400 papers? Even Kinokuniya has more than 2400 different books for fucks sakes!
I can summarize from all this that their points are simple: It is damn bloody difficult to do, and since other people aren't doing it, and since we've been doing it all along and turned out fine (ish) hence we don't need to rock the boat - let's keep things they was it is, shall we? What message are we sending to our children - that it is okay to take the easy way out in life? That we do not need to overcome obstacles - that we can just bypass those obstacles?
This attitude is more than just Maths and Science in English. This sickening attitude reflects the mentality of Malaysians who are content on sticking to the status quo and not doing anything to improve themselves. And we are never going to be a developed nation with this kind of attitude.
But yeah, be a less protective over the Malay identity and just approach it with a more open mind. Additional effort should never be an issue. It is something we are all expected to put in in the workforce and if you cannot even do it as a student... what's the point? It's not a valid reason. Familiarity with a different language never hurt anybody and in the case of Maths and Science, it's even vital. Just open up a bit for once and start looking at the bigger picture.
wawasan 2020? lets see how it comes..
but i'm not against the learning-english issue. i was from a chinese independent school which emphasizes on english and we use english for UEC science and maths. and mind you, we do well overseas. there were only a few schools doing this in my year but i'm sure more will do the same in the future.
Really. You would think that after 50 years we have more things to worry about than people trying to 'control' Chinese schools and trying to brainwash little Chinese kids into being less racist, the same way how PAS controls some sekolah agama and 'controls' kids.
There is a bigger picture behind the silly notion of Chinese language and culture.