Friday, November 4, 2011

PPSMI: The Language of Politics

With Muhyiddin Yassin slamming the door shut on PPSMI, the debate continues to rage on within both Barisan Nasional and Pakatan Rakyat alike. PKR comes out to support the abolishment, whereas the DAP wants to give parents the choice.

PAGE, the English rights action group is submitting 7,000 petitions in favour of the teaching of maths and science in English to the Prime Minister. Gerakan is also whispering that they would prefer that parents have the choice. How did we get into this place in the beginning?

The implementation of PPSMI created controversy back in 2003, but if one were to gauge the results of the 2004 General Elections which swept Barisan Nasional back to power with the biggest majority in their history, there is little evidence to suggest that the implementation of this policy was detrimental.

After a while, we hear praise for the government policy being forward thinking from different sections of the society. The mainstream media also ran pieces about English competency amongst teachers, and how many had struggled to cope with the teaching of the subjects in English. Obviously, this did not reflect well on the federal government, who then spent millions on books, training courses and computer software to train the teachers to become competent.

I strongly suspect that the decision to reverse the policy to teach maths and science in English is based more on the fact that the teachers did not want to make the additional effort to learn English, rather than poor results, especially in the rural areas. At times, one hears stories as to how children who can speak better English than their teachers would proceed to torment and taunt them for their poor command of the  language.

Malaysian parents are by-and-large extremely concerned about their children's education, in order for their children to secure their future, both socially and financially. We had the Education Ministry boast of the best UPSR results in history not too long ago, but obviously dissatisfied, the government has decided that teaching maths and science in Malay once again would further raise the standards.

With the General Election fast approaching, the Deputy Prime Minister is obviously intent to prevent what are traditional Barisan strongholds fall to the Opposition. He has cleverly observed that because heritage and pride are something deeply emotional, he waves the flag of "I'm Malay first, Malaysian second" despite this being in direct contradiction with Najib's 1Malaysia. Therefore touting the fact that he is a nationalist and defender of the race, he gets rid of PPSMI to raise up the Malay language once again.

He then introduces the idea of "Uphold the Malay language, Strengthen English" or MBMMBI, without a concrete plan as to the implementation. Despite the DPM's claims that the change was not a rushed decision, I would beg to differ. Aside from saying that English proficiency would improve through more contact hours, he has failed to explain what methods would be undertaken to reverse the appalling degradation of English standards in our local school system.

Nevertheless, this is a calculated political gamble which could land Umno/BN some crucial swing votes in the rural areas. Their logic would be that proponents of PPSMI are from urban areas, and since urban areas are against BN anyway, they would have to pander to the sentiments of the rural population in order to retain the federal government. PKR has not ignored this effect, which is why they have also come out to say that they support the change in policy.

Pakatan Rakyat as a whole is also unable to provide a satisfactory alternative policy. The policy contained in the Buku Jingga speaks about direct fund allocation to the school system, producing qualified teachers, reviewing teacher's salaries and reduction in bureaucracy.

However, this does not tackle the most crucial reform needed, which is to revamp the curriculum. We need to know how to train our next generation as critical-thinkers by doing away with the current robotic system of information regurgitation. If Pakatan Rakyat can set out a clear plan as to how they would reform education, this would truly strengthen their position as an alternative government.

Unfortunately, the current batch of Form four students would be collateral damage as a result of this political war. All over the country, whatever they have learnt in English, they would have to re-learn in Bahasa Malaysia in order to sit their SPM. It is tragic that a new policy would potentially cripple an entire generation of school children to further political gain.*

Barisan Nasional has clearly shown that despite 54 years of experience, they continue to put their own rice bowls as priority, even if it means destroying the next generation. Muhyiddin Yassin accused PAGE as "ketinggalan zaman". Perhaps it is you sir, who are behind the times.

*Shortly after this article was published on Free Malaysia Today, Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin announced that the current batch of students would continue the PPSMI until the completion of their SPM exams. Primary schools would completely phase our PPSMI by 2016 while Secondary schools would do so by 2021. I applaud the cabinet for seeing sense and doing the right thing for our children. However, I would continue to urge them to unveil their roadmap as to how to improve English proficiency in our school children and make English a compulsory pass subject. 
(12:09am 5/11/2011)

Published in:

Free Malaysia Today (
Malaysia Chronicle (
Malaysia Today (


  1. We've often heard that China is going ga-ga over English, but I've never heard that they'd teach other subjects in that language. Ever thought of that?

    European school schedules prove that longer hours is not the key to success, but the quality of the pedagogy and the syllabus. In Germany, pupils get to learn German for 3 hours and English for 3 hours only. On top of that, there's little access to English media besides the Internet; it's compulsory to dub all foreign movies and TV shows, including English ones, to German. Yet their command of both languages are excellent. Here, we have 6 hours for BM and 6 hours for English, living alongside a lot of English media, where are we?

  2. Actually, this article is not so much a defence of PPSMI than pointing out the inherent flaws in policy. The reason why I believe PPSMI should be retained at this moment in time is that until we are able to teach English in a better and more practical way, we should not be so hasty to change the policy.