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PPSMI: What the student say

In 2001, the Federal government changed the medium of instruction for Mathematics and Science to English, prompting an outcry from vernacular educationist groups. Currently, the Education Ministry is studying the feasibility of maintaining the policy or switching the language of instruction for these two subjects back to Bahasa Malaysia or in the case of vernacular schools, back to their respective languages.
Malaysiakini spoke to students of SM Bukit Bandaraya in Bangsar to get their views on the teaching of Maths and Science in English after 6 years of implementation.

Six years after Malaysian schools first began using English exclusively to teach maths and science, some race-based interest groups are demanding a return to the old ways. The policy, referred to as PPSMI, was introduced by former premier Mahathir Mohamad in 2003 to arrest the decline in English standards, but many objected vehemently from the start.

Before 2003, the two subjects had been taught in Malay in national schools, and in Chinese and Tamil in vernacular schools. The issue is being revisited following the roundtable talks held by the Education Ministry on it last year, from July to December. Some groups said PPSMI erodes their respective languages and cultures. And politicians fear that if they support it, they will lose the support of the many rural Malaysians who say their children cannot cope with English.

On Monday, the five states under opposition coalition Pakatan Rakyat united against the policy. PPSMI had dealt a blow to the "sanctity of Malay", its executive council members in charge of education said. On the same day, opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim spoke out against the policy on his blog. The importance given to English showed that "after half-a-century of independence, the narrow-minded colonial mentality still haunts us", he wrote. Barisan Nasional member parties - such as the Malaysian Chinese Association, Gerakan and the Malaysian Indian Congress - have also been calling for a return to the mother tongue.

Joining them are groups such as Chinese educationists Dong Jiao Zong (DJZ) and the Federation of Malay Writers Associations (Gapena). On Feb 15, Gapena plans to organise a protest in KL dubbed the 152 Rally after Article 152 of the federal constitution, which holds that Malay is the official language. Eight Chinese associations, including DJZ, have urged the government to abolish the policy. Otherwise, they say they will take part in protests held by the Malay organisations.

Community opponents of the policy have been waiting for this day. It was pushed through over their objections, with the government insisting that dissenters wait for the first batch of primary school pupils to finish six years of studies under this system before passing judgment. Last year, the six years were up. In December, the keenly awaited results of the UPSR - the equivalent of Singapore"s PSLE - were announced. But nothing was resolved, because the figures were interpreted differently by opposing camps. "The Education Ministry says the results are better. We beg to differ," a Gapena spokesman told The Straits Times. The ministry noted a surge in the number of pupils who chose to do this year"s maths and science papers in English - they could have done them in Chinese, Tamil or a mix of the languages - as a sign the policy was working. The number who opted to sit for the exams in English shot up by 200 times for maths and 100 times for science.


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